Can you believe it’s ten already? It seems only yesterday that Aurel Bacs climbed into the rostrum and picked up the gavel for the first time under banner of the then new Phillips in Association with Bacs and Russo. Since then we’ve witnessed nine incredible sales plus nearly as many thematic auctions, including the game-changing (pardon the pun – the Phillips Game Changers auction takes place in New York in December) Glamorous Day-Date and Daytona Ultimatum. November’s themed sale is Double Signed and is a collection of watches that have retailers’ signatures on the dial or on the watch case, alongside the maker’s signature. I’ll come to that sale shortly, but first lets take a look at a few pieces from the two-night GWA: X.

The Geneva Watch Auction: X

Lot 187 – Omega Chronograph 2077-4
Lot 187: Omega Ref. 2077-4. A very charismatic stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with grey dial, tachymeter and pulsometer scales

In recent years, as prices of vintage Rolex Daytonas have sky-rocketed, collectors have looked closer at the pre-Daytona chronos. I’m not entirely sure that Omega chronos, let’s refer to them here as pre-Speedies, have ever had the price difference that Daytonas and pre-Daytonas had but I’ve certainly seen a rise in interest in them. Lot 187 is such a watch and is a delightful size at 38mm – and its in steel, which is always hugely appealing to collectors. 38mm would have been a big watch for 1945, the year that this watch was made, and the two-tone dial adds to the watch’s stature. These pieces often had more than one scale and this 2077-4 is no different, featuring both a tachymeter and pulsation scale. The latter is red and sits on the white band on a grey dial – what a great colour combination!

Lot 173 – Rolex Daytona ‘Big Blue’ 16528
Lot 173: Rolex Ref. 16528. An extremely rare and highly attractive yellow gold chronograph wristwatch with blue dial and bracelet

I know I always talk about automatic Daytonas – but I love them, especially when they are a little out of the ordinary. Lot 175 is an example of what is now known as the Big Blue or Chairman dial. The story behind these dials is not exactly clear and I’ve heard a couple of very credible versions of how they came to be. This isn’t the place to discuss the back story, but it is safe to say that these dials are of original Rolex (Singer) manufacture and are desirable – they make a 16528 worth ten times what it would be with a regular production dial. They are very sought after but importantly they look very very cool. The deep blue finish is a joy on the wrist, especially in the sunlight and it is unlike any other dial that was made for the Zenith-era automatic Daytonas. And I have a thing about blue dials in a Daytona – turquoise Beach, sodalite and the Big Blue. I need them all!

Lots 232-235 – ‘Four of A Kind’ The Patek Philippe Nautilus 3800

Ask anybody with even the merest interest in watches what currently is the most market-hyped watch, you will invariably get the answer of either the steel Daytona or Nautilus. Both watches command huge premiums over list price and getting one is virtually impossible, due to excessive waiting lists. One of the longest running references in the line is the 38mm reference 3800. Phillips have curated four lots of the rarest and most beautiful condition examples that represent the four main metal options for the 3800. Lot 232 is an all-steel watch reference 3800/1A with nicely aged blue dial. Lot 233 is a steel and yellow gold example reference 3800/1 with cool champagne dial. Lot 234 sees an all-white gold example reference 3800/1 with white dial. Finally lot 235 is a platinum example, reference 3800P. The 3800 was introduced in 1981 and was in the catalogue for approximately 25 years. For a long while collectors focused on the 42mm 3700 and the later 5711, but the slightly reduced size of the 3800 makes it a versatile and subtle choice for Nautilus lovers. This ‘full house’ will certainly be a winner o the night.

Lot 139 – Rolex Chronograph 4113 ‘Split Seconds’

The word rare is often bandied around with a certain abandon, most often aimed at increasing desirability (OK – I mean price). It can often be a matter of opinion too – but not so in the case of lot 139. This is an exceedingly rare Rolex chronograph dating to 1942 that is one of 12 made, all in steel and all in superb 44mm cases. The example offered by Phillips has been offered twice previously – both times by Christie’s and on the first occasion it was consigned by the original owner’s family. So there is a clear line of provenance. The watch is a spilt seconds chronograph and was never listed in a catalogue and research has uncovered that all discovered examples were owned by people in the motor racing industry. Rolex had never made such a watch before and haven’t since and so there is a theory that it was a prototype given to members of a racing team. Additionally, the 4113 is the first Rolex to sell at auction for over one million Swiss Francs – actually this watch when it sold at Chistie’s in 2011 for the second time. I love a big battle in the auction room and I’ll be sure to have a ring-side seat for this one on the 9th November.

Lot 243 – Rolex 1803 Pink Gold ‘El Dorado’
Lot 243: Rolex Ref. 1803. A very rare and impressive pink gold wristwatch with center seconds, day, date and brick link bracelet

Not all watches are built equal – sometimes not even the same model references and this pink gold 1803 is something of a rock star in the Day-Date world. Featured in Pucci Papaleo’s Day-Date book as well as John Goldberger’s 100 Superlative Rolex Watches, the ‘El Dorado’ is in incredibly well preserved condition as well as having a probably unique pink gold so-called brick link bracelet. Never has a model been fitted with such an array of different dials, bezels and bracelets as the Day-Date. It really was Rolex’s opportunity to showcase their incredible craftsmanship in the areas of jewelery work and gem setting. Lot 243 has a simple non-luminous dial in astounding condition – I love the circular brushed finish. The winning bidder will receive a copy of the Pucci Papleo book too…the perfect box and papers accompaniment!

[Update: 4 November 2019] I just saw this photograph of ‘El Dorado’ and it struck me how pink the watch looked compared to the picture in the catalogue. Chris Beccan has kindly let me use his picture to illustrate just how rosy rich the colour of the gold is on this 1803 and its bracelet.

Lot 243: Rolex Ref. 1803. A very rare and impressive pink gold wristwatch with center seconds, day, date and brick link bracelet (Image: Chris Beccan)

The Double Signed Sale

I have to say that I really love this idea – selecting 64 watches that were sold by well-known retailers who signed the watches. A lot put their signature on the dial, but others simply engraved the caseback (Asprey and Tudor) or stamped a lug back (Ricciardi). And of course, there were different reasons for such double-signing of watches. The vast majority of these pieces were realised before the vast-knowledge bank that is the internet existed. Often, the retailers were more famous than the watch brands they sold and clients liked the idea of having the name on the dial – Tiffany & co and Hermes are good examples of this. Almost 30 different retailers are represented in the sale and picking a few has not been easy at all!

Lot 6 – Rolex x Beyer: Bubbleback 1935
Lot 6: Rolex. A rare, attractive and exceptionally well-preserved stainless steel wristwatch with "bamboo" bracelet

The Bubbleback was the first example of an overcooked market crashing. In the 1990s, the 31mm Bubbleback was the hottest of the hot and people paid handsomely for them. For many years they were forgotten and enjoyed by a select few connoisseurs. Lot 6 is a beautifully preserved Bubbleback with early bamboo bracelet and interesting sector dial with radium hour markers and radium-filled blued-steel syringe hands. Its inclusion in the sale is due to the BEYER signature atop the small seconds sub dial. So many of these watches have been over polished or had the dial repainted and so it is rare to see one in such all-original condition. I’m unsure whether or not it will break any records, but it’s a key piece in the development of the Rolex Oyster with a great story.

Lot 26 – Patek Philippe x Gubelin: Amagnetic 2570-1
Lot 26: Patek Philippe Ref. 2570-1. An extremely rare and attractive anti-magnetic yellow gold wristwatch with elongated hour-markers

Most antimagnetic watches are steel, due to the fact that there were essentially tool watches – think Milgauss, Railmaster and Ingenieur. Patek, however, produced a small number of their Amagnetic watch in yellow and pink gold. The winning bidder of this watch will receive a copy of the re-edition of a book about these watches. I have seen the book and the details get pretty nerdy. Only 26 of these gold watches have appeared publicly. Out of that 26, only 10 have the most desirable dial version (as per this lot). Of that 10 only 6 were made from yellow gold. And out of those 6 how many have a double-signed dial? 2- making this a very rare watch! The watch is supported by both extracts from the Patek archive and the Gubelin archive. I think that’s the full house!

Lot 27 – Patek Philippe x Tiffany & Co: Nautilus 5980/1A
Lot 27: Patek Philippe Ref. 5980/1A. A rare and attractive stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with date and bracelet

I couldn’t possibly not highlight the Patek and Tiffany relationship when covering this sale. The partnership has become legendary and the tiny additional text on the dial takes the values into the stratosphere. Patek collectors love nothing more than an Instagram unboxing that begins with the baby blue T&Co bag! Lot 27 is a steel Nautilus reference 5980 chronograph with the signature just above the centre of the dial. I always liked the way that the chronograph was done on these watches. Instead of the two or three sub dials, the chronograph is contained in a so-called bullseye dial. Light the baby-blue touchpaper, sit back and watch this lot explode!

Lot 29 – Zenith x A. Cairelli: AMI Cronometro Tipo CP-2
Lot 29: Zenith. A very rare, oversized and attractive stainless steel chronograph wristwatch made for the Italian Air Force

This watch is actually a triple-signed piece. It’s a military piece that was issued to the Italian Air Force – the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) and the caseback has engravings confirming this. The 42mm steel pilots chronograph was one of 2500 Zenith pieces commissioned by the AMI. Not all 2500 were actually issued, however, which makes this watch special. All the pieces were supplied through Rome-based retailer A. Cairelli and the dials feature the signature on the lower half of the dial. This watch will do well – watch it fly!

Lot 53 – Rolex x Ricciardi: Mk2 Red Sub 1680
Lot 53: Rolex Ref. 1680. A very rare stainless steel wristwatch with center seconds, date, MKII "Single Red" dial, bracelet, guarantee and box

Rolex’s retailed by Ricciardi have always held a mythical fascination for vintage lovers. Interestingly, the dials were never signed, instead a stock number was engraved by hand on the rear of one of the lugs. The Argentina-based jeweler was established in 1932 and became the go-to destination for buyers of high-end jewellery and watches. Lot 54 is a very nice Red Submariner, with a Mk2 dial and charcoal insert. The package is completed by a Ricciardi signed Rolex box and Ricciardi stamped papers – both important pieces of provenance to have with these watches. Finally, the tell-tale stock number, 140456 in this case, is stamped on the back of the lower right lug.