The word “used” naturally turns people off, but in the world of watches, collectors clamor for used — or vintage — timepieces. If you are interested in starting a watch collection, adding to a watch collection or owning a piece of history, you may want to go online tomorrow (September 30) and do a little vintage watch buying at the Antiquorum Auctioneers’ “Important Modern and Vintage Timepieces” auction, which will take place in New York City.
Among the top lots going up for sale is one of the earliest known Rolex Sea-Dwellers that belonged to filmmaker and oceanographer Philippe Cousteau (son of the legendary Jacques Cousteau). It is anticipated that the watch — an extremely rare find — will fetch between $100,000 and $150,000.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller is one of the more important diving watches designed in the second half of the 20th century. The collaboration with diving professionals and government agencies guided Rolex to introduce the first-ever use of the helium gas escape valve in a wristwatch so it could sustain intense underwater pressure. The rare Sea-Dweller up for sale (Ref. 1665) went through several revisions in order to perfect the design, allowing many of the deepest diving missions. This watch bears one of the earliest serial numbers (1'602'920), placing it in the era of Single Red Sea-Dwellers, of which only six are known to exist. The watch is a center seconds, stainless steel chronometer with Double-Red Sea-Dweller logo, helium escape valve and Oyster FlipLock bracelet.
Philippe Cousteau, who learned to dive at the age of five, drew attention to the amazing world of underwater life in the movie “The Silent World,” which won him the prestigious Palme D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956. He became the lead photographer on many of his father’s expeditions on the oceanographic research vessel the Calypso and produced numerous important documentaries about underwater life. After having worn the watch for 10 years, Philippe gifted it to Thomas Horton, who was a close friend of the Cousteau family. The watch is sold with a letter from Thomas Horton’s son, who recounts his early childhood memories about his father and the Cousteau family. It is also accompanied by several 8 X 10 photos showing Philippe Cousteau wearing the watch, a book “Diving Companions” by Jacques Cousteau and Philippe Diole, and other items.
If you are more of a land lover than a sea lover, you may want to take a look at the Rolex Paul Newman Oyster Cosmograph Daytona watch (Ref. 6239), which features a black dial and steel case. Circa 1964, the watch is a chronograph with tachymeter bezel and Oyster bracelet. It is expected to sell for between $75,000 and $100,000. Other great finds include a set of four Vacheron Constantin Metiers D’Art Les Masques 2008 self-winding watches. The four include cases crafted in platinum, 18-karat rose, 18-karat yellow gold and 18-karat white gold — each with a distinctive Mask dial. Estimated sale price is $500,000 to 700,000.
In that same half-million-dollar-and-up range is another attention grabber: the astronomical self-winding minute repeater, Ref. 5213, from Patek Philippe. The 18-karat white gold watch with retrograde perpetual calendar and moon phases is further accompanied by a fitted box, Certificate of Origin and a leather folder with instructions. If this timepiece catches your attention, you will have to dig deep into your pockets. Antiquorum experts expect it to fetch between $550,000 and $750,000.
Of course, there are dozens upon dozens of other timepiece brands up for bid. The important thing about buying at auction is you need to know what you want before you go into it. But that’s a story for another day.