Having brought watches “home” to Switzerland last month, auction houses are now taking them on the road. After heading East, towards Hong Kong, Christie’s is going in the opposite direction, towards New York, in order to present their latest catalogue. Held tomorrow at Rockefeller Plaza, the Rare Watches & Exceptional Complications sale presents a consolidated catalogue â only 169 lots are being offered â featuring historically important watches â don’t miss Ben’s take on the impossibly beautiful stainless-steel Lange 1 â and watches belonging to historically important men. These include a Ulysse Nardin pocket watch that traces back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Lot 43) and a small clock cased inside a white-gold airplane model, which belonged to the family of American aviator Charles Lindbergh (Lot 44).
Also deserving of some attention are, at the top end, two historically important minute repeating wristwatches from Vacheron Constantin â including a single-pusher chronograph and five-minute repeater sold in 1956, but with a pocket watch movement from 1899 Â (Lot 54) as well as the Maison’s first platinum minute repeating wristwatch (Lot 55) â and at the other end, a 55-year-old Vulcain diver with an alarm (Lot 18).
A very interesting part of the sale are a handful of early Daytonas, depicting the evolution of one of the most iconic, and certainly most collectible, sport watches of the 20th century. While the auction is not themed around them, the Daytonas (all belonging to different consigners) offer an interesting snapshot of the history of reference 6239. They are however, not without faults, and we will point out what needs pointing out.
The earliest Daytona, the Mark 1 âDouble Swiss Underline,â does not yet bear the iconic name of the collection it would later inspire. The watch was then known as the âRolex LeMans,” and Rolex, making a push for the American market in the early 1960s, ultimately decided to drop it in 1964 in favor of the U.S. automobile track. The Mark 1 is called the âDouble Swiss Underlineâ because the word âSwissâ appears twice on the dial â once at 6 o’clock and another, discernible only before the watch is cased, on the edge of the dial â while a small silver underline appears below the Rolex Cosmograph signature.
Christie’s is offering two examples of the Mark 1, with contrasting dials. The first, Lot 141, has what is known as a panda dial (a silvered matte dial with three black subsidiary dials) while Lot 142 offers the reverse look. Both watches feature the long and thin hour and minute hands that define early Double Swiss Underline examples. However, both show signs of polishing (Lot 142 more than Lot 141), perhaps explaining why Christie’s is estimating only between $60,000 and $90,000 for each. Lot 141 also appears to have a replacement central chronograph hand. A similar example, with the original arrow hand, was sold at Christie’s Geneva in November 2013 at the Rolex Daytona: Lesson One sale for $296,250.
The “floating Daytona” was the first reference 6239 with the watch’s new name displayed prominently on the dial, slightly below where the underline would have stood. Several other changes were made. The stainless-steel bezel was redesigned, and while it is still calibrated to a maximum 300 units per hour, the graduation was simplified and the 275 mark dropped. The dial also welcomed the addition of two -T- letters surrounding the SWISS designation at 6 o’clock, to indicate the use of tritium inside the hands and on the dots adjoining the indexes.
Again, Christie’s has reunited both the black dial and white dial versions of this early Daytona reference (lots 143 and 144). Lot 143 comes with the original JB Champion bracelet made in the USA for imported Rolex watches. Christie’s has set the value for both watches between $30,000 and $50,000.
Also in available at this auction, Lot 145 is a very rare reference 6239 with Tiffany & Co. dial. It has all of the traits of the previous reference 6239, including the new 300 tachymeter scale and the double -T- indicating the use of tritium, but it features the signature of the American retailer, which confirms the watch was made especially for the North American market. Because of the scarcity of Tiffany & Co. dials, this reference 6239 has been given a higher estimate than the lots which precede it. Christie’s has set the low estimate for this watch at $50,000.
Finally, Christie’s is offering what many consider to be the ultimate Daytona, the âPaul Newmanâ Daytona reference 6239, which is instantly recognizable for its tropical dial, which features an Art Deco-style font for the numerals in the subsidiary dials with hash marks ending in small squares, and a black outer track. This one is fresh to market, offered for the first time by a descendant of its original owner, and it seems to have captured the imagination of the auction house. According to Christie’s, Lot 146 currently belongs to Garth S. Estadt, a Green Beret who received the watch from his father upon his West Point graduation, and wore it thereafter during missions with the Special Forces, in which case it has been kept in remarkable condition. Curiously, the lume dots seem to have been just as adventurous as Estadt, and have found a way of encroaching onto the dial. Christie’s has confirmed that it was recently polished during its last trip to the manufacture.
To browse the Christie’s Rare Watches & Exceptional Complications catalogue, please click here.