We’re back with yet another varied selection of watches, with a little bit of upcoming heat at auction for good measure. Obscure pieces rule this week’s roost, with picks like a Tudor Submariner with U.S. Navy provenance and a late-model Ranchero many remain unaware of. For the dressy crowd, there’s an ultra-rare world timer Calatrava from Patek Philippe, along with an early Vacheron Constantin with a unique winding position. And just because it’s impossibly cool, a Yema Bipole Duopoly, which you’re surely going to want. Time to get down to it.
Early iterations of Rolex’s Explorer are widely regarded as being perfect watches — fit for truly any occasion and produced to the absolute highest standards. I’d argue the same could be said for the admittedly less popular albeit still wonderfully crafted Ranchero from Omega. As the story goes, the brand produced the collection for a brief period beginning in 1958 with the Ref. CK2990. As a result of poor reception in Spanish speaking countries, the watch was quickly discontinued, despite sporting a set of broad arrow hands and a traditionally styled dial. Most know this as the full Ranchero story, but what many overlook is its eventual, and similarly brief, return.
The Ranchero was brought back into the fold once again in the mid-1970s in the form of the Ref. 136.0106 at which you’re currently looking. Unlike its predecessor, the watch now featured a date complication and a set of syringe-shaped hands, but like the one that started it all, the powering caliber remained hand-wound. While it’s definitely an aesthetic departure from the late-1950s styling that characterized the original, it’s still very much in line with the no-nonsense, tool-watch ethos of the Ranchero with a to-the-point appearance both on and off the wrist.
Apart from its rarity, this particular example is special due to the condition it’s being offered in. Just as you’d hope for, its 36mm stainless steel case has seemingly never been polished, and the black, applied logo dial looks to have aged without a single flaw. Fitted by Omega with legibility in mind, this example has the original and correct white hands, which are filled with a tritium luminous compound to match the applications on the dial. This is just one of those watches you don’t see every day, and if you’re not concerned with keeping up with the Joneses, this could make a great daily wearer.
A seller in Belgium is offering the seldom-seen Ranchero reference on their site for €1,750. You know what to do if this one speaks to you.
Though I don’t have the wrist to sport most sub 35mm watches, many of these dimensions are some of my favorites. In fact, what’s likely my only regret in watch collecting was the sale of an early, 34-something-mm IWC “Calatrava” in steel, which was beautiful despite not really fitting my needs. While doing the rounds of checking out upcoming auction catalogues of note, a watch along similarly elegant lines from Vacheron Constantin made itself known, and for reasons you’ll quickly understand, it had to be included in this week’s column. This one dates back to 1943 and has all the period cool and then some to its design.
Powered by high-grade Lépine movements, these smaller Vacherons come in at just 31mm across, but with a utilitarian case shape and defining crown at the 12 o’clock position, there’s a distinctive magic to them. The manufacture originally opted for the unconventional crown placement in an attempt to yield a more elegant design, but in doing so created an altogether alternative appearance, not so far off from the cues followed by independent watchmakers of today. Examples were produced in stainless steel and yellow gold, like this particular one that just so happens to be fitted with a black dial.
In addition to the coveted black dial, this one’s case is remarkably thick, with deep hallmarks on both the case and bracelet. That’s right: It’s also got a beads-of-rice-style bracelet in matching yellow gold, produced by none other than Gay Frères. To be perfectly clear, I don’t see this as being something you could wear every day unless you’re a suit and tie 24/7 type, but its charm will undoubtedly work its way into the heart of an unsuspecting collector. If you appreciate clean examples of early, unconventional watches, this is one to take a closer look at.
You’ll find this piece in the catalogue of Antiquorum’s upcoming June 28 sale in Geneva, where it’s being offered with an estimate of CHF 10,000 – 15,000. Get the full scoop and see the other lots here.
While on the topic of impossibly tasteful watches of more minuscule dimensions, I thought we’d keep things moving with the mention of another such watch coming up for sale at auction. Though there’s a debate to be had about the overall functionality of a world time watch, there’s no denying their allure, especially those from Patek Philippe. The Ref. 5131 first reinforced this notion for me, but after making my way through the back catalogue, I’ve come to terms with the ever resounding consensus that the early examples are where it’s at. If early is the name of the game, let’s go as early as we possibly can with this next one.
You’re looking at one of two examples ever made by Patek Philippe of the Ref. 96 Calatrava equipped with a world time complication, making it the Ref. 96HU. You’ve got this one, and then the other known piece is in the manufacture’s own museum – so chew on that for a bit. Like the Vacheron Constantin, it measures 31mm across, but it has a lengthier history to it in that its movement was completed in 1913 and then cased in 1937. All of this adds up to the watch ultimately being an experimental prototype, which you don’t hear every day, of a Patek predating their era of serial production.
To little surprise, this watch is coming direct from the collection of none other than industry titan Jean-Claude Biver, who’s had it in his collection for some time now. To address the elephant in the room, this example is indeed in less than ideal condition, but there literally is not a single other example to opt for instead. Again, it’s not something I could ever see on my wrist, but still the sort of watch I’d meet with nothing but amazement. Not to sound too overly hyped, but this is simply one of the single most significant Patek Philippes at auction in recent history.
Phillips’ two day Geneve sale begins on June 27, and this piece is featured in the catalogue. Its estimate has been set at CHF 300,000 – 600,000, but I’d expect it to cross that threshold given the past performance of vintage world time Pateks at auction.
Once upon a time, telling someone you were after a watch of the following sort would’ve made for a very different response than you’d get today. “Made with a range of futuristic materials and fitted on a red kevlar strap with a multicolored dial” sounds totally normal in an age of sold-out Richard Milles commanding unspeakable numbers, but 1989 was an entirely different story. Come to think of it, this next piece makes an excellent want-this-get-that-type alternative for the budget-conscious Mille-crazed, with a slight expedition-curious, tool watch edge. Before we get too worked up, let’s first get into the details.
Yema manufactured just 1,500 pieces of the Bipôle Duopoly pictured, which is powered by a quartz movement and equipped with an anti-magnetic compass. These were produced by the French brand for Dr. Jean-Louis Etienne and Will Steger’s 1989-1990 International Transantarctic Expedition, which was the first crossing of Antarctica using only dogsleds. Naturally, they’re as tough as nails, while still being a complex design, with sapphire crystals on either side. With the movement being contained centrally with free space surrounding, you can not only see the point at which the stem connects to the movement, but straight through the case to the strap.
Parts may be few and far between for the 48mm tool watch with see-through construction, but its singular functionality and associated history make it still sought after. They’ll pop up every now and then, but this is definitely the most complete I’ve seen to date, with the original boxes, papers, tags, manuals, spare screws, and screwdrivers for strap changes — plus both original straps to choose from. Relatively speaking, it’s not downright cheap, but for the money, I can’t think of a tool watch with more going for it.
The obscure tool watch is being sold by a dealer in the Netherlands, who’s asking a reasonable €450. Follow the link to claim it as your own.
I have a tough time picking favorites of anything, but if there’s one vintage Submariner I want to see upon glancing down at my wrist, it’s a Ref. 5513 dating back to the late 1960s. For me, this era’s case and dial combination just hits the spot, and while I could’ve wrapped up this week’s column with a relatively attractive example of the aforementioned reference, I thought we’d up the ante a little bit. After determining correctness, the vintage Rolex and Tudor buyer’s checklist of desirable traits generally covers condition, rarity, and appeal-intensifying provenance. If you’d like to go for an horological hat trick of sorts, then get a load of this Big Crown.
Just a few years back, a $162,500 record was set for the most expensive Tudor sold at auction, and being a Ref. 7924 Big Crown, it honestly didn’t come as much of a shock. Given the already gargantuan demand for clean Rolex examples, it only makes sense for the equally compelling sister brand variant to attract comparable attention, especially when offered in outstanding condition. With all this in mind, I believe the ante just got upped once again, as a better-looking example of the Ref. 7924 has emerged from the vintage watch collecting woodwork.
This is an incredibly well-preserved Submariner and offered in comparable condition to the record-setting piece, but what earns it its new top-dog title can be found on its caseback. This fresh-to-market example was also issued by the U.S. Navy, making it a MilSub and putting it in an entirely different class of vintage Tudor collecting. From the visibly cared-for bezel and insert, to the original chamfers, to the clean and ever-so-slightly brown dial, there’s so much to get excited about here. The Navy issued it first, at which point it was next sold by the original owner’s widow in an estate sale, and now it can be yours. Seems to me like a seriously interesting opportunity to connect yourself to a piece of history.
Kirill Yuzh of Lunar Oyster has this piece listed on his site. Its asking price has been set at $230,000. It should be fun to see what sort of collection this goes into.
Earlier this week, we wrote about the upcoming auction at Phillips in Geneva taking place June 27-28, 2020. The auction features a number of crazy watches including a handful from the collection of the one-and-only Jean-Claude Biver, many of which were featured on his Talking Watches episode back in 2014. Instead of bringing you our...
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