1950-1960, not a bad time to be alive. Sure, it is easy to romanticise and get carried away with golden age, probably stemming from some erroneous notion that a different time period is always better than one’s current predicament.
For a moment though, just briefly, let’s indulge in this idea – because the watches I’m covering today demand it. Imagine walking into the equivalent of Watches of Switzerland or Wempe 70 years ago and seeing a spread of what was available to buy – brand new!
Sure, 1 out of 3 of the watches in question today in the upcoming Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: FIVE has a special provenance – the ‘Bao Dai’ Ref. 6062, but it was entirely feasible for one to order a standard Ref. 6062 or even a Patek Philippe 2499, as long as your wallet allowed it. Not only that, but seeing Submariners, GMT Masters, Speedmasters, Patek’s and so on from that period, surely this must’ve been a high point for watch design.
Now, let’s compare that to today – still think it’s golden age thinking?
1952 ROLEX 6062 ‘BAO DAI’
The earliest of the three watches I will be covering today is perhaps the most important Rolex that exists. Nicknamed ‘Bao Dai’ after its original owner – the last emperor of Vietnam, it is not only because of this, but because of its unique configuration. 6062s in their own right are rare as Rolex did not make many watches with moon phases, but this example is one of only three that features a black glossy gilt dial and diamond indices. That said, of the three in existence this is only one to feature diamonds at 2, 4, 8, 10 and 12.
The story goes that Bao Dai, in the spring of 1954 was in Geneva to discuss with world powers and negotiate with the Viet Minh on the future of Vietnam. Staying at the Hotel des Bregues (Four Seasons today), he strolls across the street to the Rolex retailer Chronomètrie Philippe Beguin and in a few words requests for the rarest and most precious Rolex ever made.
After refusing what was available, the shop eventually brought in what you see here today, the 6062. Not bad. You see Bao Dai embodied what was the archetypal mid-century lifestyle of excess – with custom-built Ferraris, yachts and villas along the Riviera, you can only imagine.
So far, we have two things going for this watch, the imperial provenance, and the uniqueness of a black dialled, diamond index 6062. To top it off – the condition. The dial remains flawless and glossy, in part thanks to the super tight Oyster case with the gilt writing still shining bright. There are whispers that this may break the record for the most expensive Rolex ever sold and to be fair, I wouldn’t be surprised. Give me this over a Daytona any day.
Estimate: more than CHF 1,500,000
1959 ROLEX 6538 ‘BIG CROWN’
Fast forward a few years to 1959, and you have another Rolex on the other side of the spectrum. Aggressive, muscular and utilitarian – the Rolex Ref. 6358 ‘Big Crown’, the very reference immortalised on-screen by a certain Sean Connery playing James Bond.
In its own right, this is a rare piece, nicknamed the ‘Big Crown’ due to its unusually large 8mm crown, it is made even more unusual due to it being a ‘four liner’, with a chronometer rating text beneath its depth rating. But what elevates this example, just like the ‘Bao Dai’ 6062, is its completeness. First of all, it comes as a full set, and when I say full, I really mean that. Accompanied with its box and certificate, you also get the original hang tag, Rolex anchor, sales tag and wallet. Furthermore, this Sub is still attached to its original bracelet, a very rare ‘big logo’ bracelet, stamped ’59’. It’s bezel and case are in great condition as well, with the bevels still fully intact and thick. The dial is nicely aged, slightly spidered with matching patina on the dial’s lumes with its original gilt hands.
I really am not sure how Phillips continuously manages to consign such great examples, but I guess it really is in-keeping with Aurel Bacs’ philosophy – condition is everything.
Estimate: CHF 200,000 – 400,000
1960 PATEK PHILIPPE 2499
The Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 2499 is a watch that I am familiar with. It is the definitive Patek Philippe flagship watch. A couple of years ago I wrote about three separate 2499s that came to auction and now we have another. You can read more in-depth about the 2499 here, but for now I will talk about this specific example.
Retailed by Tiffany & Co, this is only one of two second series 2499’s that bear the New York retailer’s stamp. Phillips claim, due to the uniqueness of the dial, with the Tiffany & Co. signature different in style and the use of batons, as opposed to Arabic numerals (which the other known example has) – this instantly makes this example perhaps more desirable.
It comes with a period correct weaved yellow gold bracelet that is both signed Tiffany & Co. on the clasp – a beautiful and elegant addition. I am very much a fan of the bracelets Patek used to produce for their timepieces as they were often quite unique in design and elaborate. I mean, if you are going to wear a 2499, there’s no point being shy about it – right?
To be fair, this is as esoteric in watch collecting as it gets. For me, a regular 2499 would bring me as much pleasure without the added premium, but hey once/if I own a 2499, maybe things might change.
Estimate: CHF 1,000,000 – 2,000,000
So, all in all, we have three quite different timepieces all produced in the span of 10 years. All beautifully designed with great details and flourishes, I really do think it was better back then – so sue me.
For more lot information on The Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: Five that will take place on the weekend of the 13th & 14th of May at La Reserve Hotel, Geneva, visit the official Phillips Watches website to view the entire catalogue.