We see a lot of watches here at HODINKEE HQ. Like, a lot. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that we see more watches than almost anyone on the planet, save a handful of folks in the auction world and dealer community. But we don’t see everything. One day we were talking about this over lunch and each of our editors expressed having at least one watch that’s their “white whale” – the one that continues to elude them and to occupy their thoughts. Here’s a round-up of our answers, which represent a diverse cross-section of super rare horology.
Cara Barrett – Rolex Day-Date In Steel
One of the most intriguing things about the watch world is the folklore that surrounds the super rare pieces. One of the watches that I have always heard about, but have never seen in the metal, is the stainless steel Rolex Day-Date. Not much is known about this watch, only that there are a small handful of them out there. It’s thought that they were made for teaching purposes at Rolex back in the day, but only one was ever sold commercially. None have come up for auction and I have heard of a few that have made their ways into private collections (including that one that was actually sold). I can only hope to see one in the metal soon.
Jon Bues – Rolex Kew A Chronometer
Before there was COSC, a number of independent observatories across Europe were responsible for testing and evaluating the accuracy of mechanical movements and officiating accuracy competitions. The observatories of Neuchâtel and Geneva in Switzerland, and Besançon, across the border in neighboring France, were among the best known. There was also England’s Kew Observatory, affiliated with the Greenwich Observatory, which applied its own highly rigorous methods over a period of 44 days, almost three times the length of a typical chronometer test. Rolex submitted movements to Kew, a small number of which were cased up in gold in 1954 and outfitted with dials designating their status as observatory chronometers that had earned the “Kew A” Certificate. While I know of a single collector who owns one of these rare watches, I’ve never actually seen one in person.
Jack Forster – Patek Philippe Observatory Tourbillon No. 861,115
This particular wristwatch is one that I’ve been aware of for many years, and it’s certainly not a White Whale in the sense that I’ve never seen it (on the other hand, Ahab saw Moby Dick at close enough quarters to lose a leg, so one instance of first person observation doesn’t necessarily disqualify it). It’s a fascinating piece. The movement was designed by the legendary André Bornand, who completed it in 1945, and in 1987, the movement was cased and worn as his personal watch by none other than the then-CEO of Patek Philippe, Phillipe Stern. I’ve only seen it once, at the Patek Museum in Geneva, and who knows what its value would be on the market … but it would probably be a lot. It is an incredible example of the art of the tourbillon, which represents one of the all-time high water marks in the pursuit of precision chronometry – and it’s one I’d love to have on my own wrist.
James Stacey – Doxa Gold Sub 300
Want to talk white whale? What about a gold-plated prototype Doxa Sub 300? Has their orange Professional dial ever looked better than when it’s surrounded by gold? This piece is very rare (possibly unique), I’ve never seen it in person, and comes to my attention via a post on Monochrome.com. Said to be a prototype from the late ’60s, this gold Sub 300 is something of a dive watch unicorn. I don’t generally lust after wild watches, but I have a thing for Doxa and this is undoubtedly one of the coolest and weirdest pieces from the brand’s incredible history – and it would be so much fun to wear.
Stephen Pulvirent – The First Omega Tourbillon Wristwatch
This is only a white whale for me because I’m kind of a dummy. I had the chance to see this very watch at a Phillips auction preview back in late 2017, but I was so focused on the Philippe Dufour Duality (which otherwise would be what you’d be reading about here) and the Paul Newman Daytona that I didn’t realize this Omega Tourbillon was sitting in a different glass case just a few dozen feet away. Like I said, this one’s on me. The watch itself is one of the very first tourbillon wristwatches ever made and it’s an a epic mix of horological history, serious watchmaking, and understated design. To me, it just doesn’t get much better than this, and the fact that my colleagues got to go hands-on with the watch only makes the longing stronger.