There are certain moments in your life as a watch collector that you just don’t forget. The first time you strap on a vintage Rolex. The first time you hear a truly exceptional minute repeater. They’re milestones that also set the tone for everything that comes after. I can say, without reservation, that the afternoon I got to spend with René Beyer in the Uhrenmuseum Beyer is one of those moments for me.
René represents the eighth generation of his family’s involvement in the watch and jewelry industry, which started with the founding of their store in Switzerland way back in 1760. In case you need a little perspective, this means that Beyer family members have been selling watches since before the French Revolution and the founding of the United States. But beyond his comprehensive knowledge of the history of watches and clocks, his skills as a watchmaker (yeah, he doesn’t just sell the things), and his family’s incredible collection, some of which is on display in the public museum that sits underneath Beyer Chronometrie on Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse, René is someone with a ton of passion and generosity. I honestly think he’d have spent another few hours walking us around the museum, regaling us with tales of restoring decrepit marine chronometers, and pursuing elusive watches.
René’s personal collection is one that has its roots in previous generations of his family, as many great collections do, and you can hear it in his voice when he talks about certain watches – they do far more for him than just keep time. Without further ado, this is Talking Watches with industry legend René Beyer.
Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz
This was René’s first watch. Not a bad way to start! The watch was a gift from his father when he was just 16 years old and it bears his initials on the back. He wore this watch through his early years of schooling and his travels around the world learning the watch business, and it’s a watch he still wears from time to time (usually on special occasions).
Rolex Two-Tone Datejust
Next up is another Datejust. René generally prefers to wear white metals, whether steel, titanium, or platinum, but he acquired this watch in the 1990s when two-tone was in fashion. Everyone needs a little bling sometimes, right?
Rolex Day-Date In White Gold
This is a special one for René. His father used to wear this watch a lot and when he passed away in 2002 and the family was dividing up his personal watches, this is the one René wanted most. It’s a simple white gold Day-Date on a President bracelet, but it has tremendous sentimental value. His father’s close friend André Heiniger, the former President of Rolex, also had the same watch.
Rolex Day-Date For The 250th Anniversary Of Beyer Chronometrie
For the 250th anniversary of Beyer, Rolex created a special version of the platinum Day-Date available exclusively through the Swiss retailer. The signature ice blue dial (only available on Rolex’s platinum models) has blued Roman numerals and blued hand, as well as a commemorative engraving on the caseback. René wears it for special occasions, especially when he visits Rolex.
Rolex Day-Date Given To Rene’s Father By Hans Wilsdorf
René’s family has had a special relationship with Rolex for a very long time, going all the way back to founder Hans Wilsdorf. In fact, this very early Day-Date in yellow gold was a personal gift from Wilsdorf to René’s grandfather Theodor as a thank you for his support and commitment to the brand.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Worn To The Summit Of Mount Everest In 1953
This watch is one of the Rolex Explorers. When Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay summited Mt. Everest in 1953, making them the first two people to ever do so, this very watch was along for the ride. It’s even still on the original leather strap meant to fit over a coat. After the expedition it was sent back to Rolex for testing and then eventually found its way into the Beyer Museum, where it can be seen on display today – René thinks it’s important that people have the chance to see this watch for themselves. If I’m being totally honest, picking this watch up gave me goosebumps.
Rolex Deep Sea Special
This is a watch you almost never see. When Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard descended into the Mariana Trench in the bathyscaphe Trieste in 1960, Rolex had a very unusual watch called the Deep Sea Special strapped to the outside of the submersible. Later, to commemorate the achievement of the watch’s survival, Rolex made a handful in two-tone steel and yellow gold for special partners, Beyer among them. This is yet another piece of exploration history.
Patek Philippe Pre-Series Reference 5170 For 250th Anniversary Of Beyer Chronometrie
It’s not all about Rolex for René though. Before the reference 5170 was officially released, Patek Philippe made a limited series of 50 watches for Beyer’s 250th anniversary that had a beautiful white dial (double-signed, of course) featuring a tachymeter scale and applied Roman numerals at 12 and six.
Patek Philippe Reference 5205G For The Fifth Anniversary Of Beyer’s Patek Boutique
Beyer was the very first retailer in Switzerland to be granted a partner-owned Patek Philippe boutique back in 2011. When the store turned five years old (in 2016), Patek and Beyer commemorated the partnership with this watch, a 5205G annual calendar with a beautiful blue dial and a special caseback.
Patek Philippe Reference 3450
Back in 1983, when René began working in the family shop, this was the very first watch he ever sold. Not a bad way to start, right? Actually, he sold a Swatch first, but on the very same day he convinced his aunt and uncle to purchase this double-signed 3450 as an investment. Now the watch is a part of his private collection, and he does wear it from time to time, though he will eventually donate it to the museum.
Patek Philippe Reference 3940 For 225th Anniversary Of Beyer Chronometrie
René’s father Theodor “Teddy” Beyer was very close with Patek Philippe owner and CEO Philippe Stern, as the two weathered some of the worst times for the Swiss watch industry together. So, for the 225th anniversary of Beyer Chronometrie (in 1985), Patek Philippe allowed Beyer to have the first 25 pieces of the now-iconic reference 3940 perpetual calendar. These watches come with a salmon dial bearing a double signature and individual numbers in the sub-register at six o’clock. This is number one, naturally, making it the very first production 3940 ever. It’s a symbol to René of the two companies’ close partnership and personal relationship.
Patek Philippe Reference 2499 With Beyer Signature
For René, the reference 2499 is the most beautiful watch of the 20th century. This classic yellow gold example has, you guessed it, a Beyer signature at six o’clock, making it even more personal and special.
Patek Philippe Tourbillon Reference 866500
At the same time that Patek and Beyer were working together on the 3940 you see above, Teddy Beyer remembered having seen a special tourbillon that he really wanted to have. It turned out there were three of the movements made, but only one was cased at the time. This watch was cased up and offered to Teddy for the museum as a “gift” – he had to purchase it, but the opportunity was considered a gift by Patek Philippe. It’s one of René’s favorite watches in the collection. (The movement is a very unusual, 50 second tourbillon made in the 1950s for the observatory time trials; you can find out more here).
Patek Philippe Reference 2597
The reference 2597 is one of those watches that you very rarely see, but it’s extremely special. Despite not having a Beyer signature or any special engraving, it’s extremely important to René because he remembers his father telling stories about visiting the Henry Stern Watch Agency in New York when Patek was developing this travel complication (you push the buttons on the left of the case to jump the hour hand in one-hour increment when traveling). Beyer was also one of the very few retailers globally to ever sell it watch. It has a red sticker on the caseback so that everyone in the museum knows this watch is never to be offered for sale.
George Daniels Pocket Watch
Teddy Beyer was a longtime friend of George Daniels and always wanted one of the master’s watches. However, Daniels used to tell Beyer, “Oh, I don’t have anything that’s right for you. Just wait.” Finally, one night on the Isle of Man, Daniels pulled this out of his pocket, wrapped in his handkerchief, and told him he finally had his watch. That was it – Beyer didn’t ask any questions and of course purchased the watch. This isn’t the only Daniels watch in the Beyer museum, but it is the most precious.
A. Lange & Söhne Langematik Sax-o-Mat
Most of René’s watches are Swiss, but this Lange is very special to him. When the brand relaunched in 1994, he was part of a small delegation invited to Glashütte to see the relaunch of the brand, so he feels a particular affinity for them. This isn’t the most well-known Lange model, but he likes the automatic movement with the zero-reset function for the seconds and the black dial with luminous hands. To him, this is a very practical, wearable piece.
Mondaine Swiss Railway Watch
Going the other direction, this was is about as Swiss as it gets. The Mondaine Swiss Railway watch is modeled on the clocks found at every railway station in the country and this model even mimics the clocks’ unique function of stopping the seconds hand for two seconds at the top of each minute, providing a precise “moment” for each minute. It’s a cool function to see in person, especially on a watch. René loves the watch’s sense of creativity and that it proves a great watch doesn’t have to be expensive.
Breitling Super Constellation No. 00/10
Outside his passion for watches, René is an avid transport enthusiast, including everything from ships to cars to trains to airplanes. This Breitling – number 00/10 – was created for the crew of a Super Constellation airplane after Breitling’s restoration and the plane’s subsequent flight. René was a supporter of the project and Breitling thanked him with this special piece.