Alex Barter on Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-Kin… terry on Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-Kin… Hans Henrik Friis on The genius of the watchma… Alex Barter on The genius of the watchma… Hans Henrik Friis on The genius of the watchma…
In 1934, Omega introduced their famous, manually wound calibre T.17 movement. The tonneau shaped movement was remarkable for having a 60 hour power reserve, meaning that the watch only required winding every second day….thus if the owner forgot to wind their watch for just one day, it would not stop.
The movement remains popular with collectors to this day. The photos above show the movement with its protective cover to the left (along with helpful instructions for the watchmaker on how to remove it) and to the right, the backplate of theT.17 calibre. During the 1930s and early 1940s, Omega produced several different rectangular models with the T.17 movement. The watch at the top of this post with T.17 movement is being sold through Black Bough and the watch below is from my own collection, also with T17 movement. Both these watches have very stylised Art Deco designed dials. Indeed the dials are both of extremely high quality and the printing is rendered in hard black enamel – the dial first being engraved for the tracking, signatures and numerals, was then filled with black enamel paint and fired. This produces a much harder wearing finish than standard printing and was a method of production used by the finest vintage dial makers.
In 1962, Rolex launched their Ref.1500 Oyster Perpetual Chronometer with Date. The model was initially available in stainless steel, 14ct and 18ct gold. With a chronometer rated automatic movement, the ref.1500 was shock resistant, antimagnetic and had automatic date advancement at midnight. The model continued to be made into the 1970s. Interestingly, the same year as the 1500’s launch, Rolex introduced the ref.6238 chronograph, now referred to by collectors as the Pre-Daytona. This chronograph is seen as the bridge between the vintage Rolex chronographs and the Daytona references which are some of the most iconic models ever made by Rolex. Today, the Pre-Daytona is a highly coveted model and, whilst some examples can be bought at auction under US$20,000 (£13,500), a few of the rarest examples have fetched over US$100,000 (£67,000). It’s interesting to see the ref.1500 and 6238 side by side; although of course they are entirely different models, they share similar characteristics such as the applied baton numerals, straight hands with luminescent infill and the font of the signatures and style of the minute track.
1962 was quite a year for launches at Rolex for it also saw the introduction of the Rolex Submariner ref.5513 and one of my all time favourites, the Rolex Explorer I ref.1016. More on those another time….
The reference 5500 Rolex Air-King is one of my favourite vintage Rolex Oysters. A classic everyday model that looks just as good paired with a formal suit as it does with jeans and a t-shirt. The model uses a calibre 1520 Rolex automatic movement – a real workhorse that is both accurate and reliable. Dials were made in a variety of colours including a classic silvered finish, champagne, grey and black. We’ve had a few through the shop at Black Bough…below a gallery of some of our favourites.
The black glossy dial of the Air-King above has a mesmerising depth to it. This example, made at the end of the 1970s, was fitted with a steel Rolex Jubilee bracelet.
The Air-King with charcoal grey dial is another vintage favourite with a lovely satin finish which changes in tone as it catches the light. This example was recently sold at Black Bough and was in wonderful original condition – Black Bough’s watchmaker, who overhauled the watch, opened the watch to find it in untouched condition.
Hard to beat the classic combination of silvered, satin finished dial paired with a 14ct gold case as shown on the watch above. This Air-King is hallmarked for the year 1970 and was supplied by Rolex to the UK market. The inside of the case back, alongside the usual Rolex Geneva stamps, signatures and Swiss hallmarks has UK import hallmarks for the year 1970 showing that this watch was supplied to Rolex UK. During this period, it was standard practice to duplicate the serial number of Oyster watches destined for the UK market inside the case back (in addition to the usual positioning of the case number between the lugs). Presumably this was in order to ensure that the main body of the case and its back did not become separated during the import hallmarking process. Of course, today, this is rather a nice detail for collectors. The watch, with further photographs showing the inside case back, movement and other images can be viewed on the Black Bough website by clicking here.
Lugs are one of my obsessions…and great lugs are hard to come by, especially on solid gold watches. The Universal pictured above has an outstanding profile with deeply flared, solid lugs which are entirely made from 18ct gold. Large lugs on gold watches are often hollow to restrict the amount of gold used – the best quality watch cases, such as that of this Universal, are never so stingy and have a weighty feel to them. This Universal is in superb condition for its age….the dial is much fresher than it appears in the photographs – the glare has accentuated the oxidation which in reality is very subtle and warm to the naked eye.
Talking of fancy lugs – the Americans produced some extremely innovative case designs during the 1930s-1950s, often with very unusual lug designs. The great majority of these watches were in gold filled/plated cases and offer great value for money. The watch above has a good quality Swiss movement by Gruen which was then cased and completed by the company’s U.S. subsidiary. We have recently acquired a collection of unusual American cased wristwatches which will be appearing over the coming weeks alongside some rather interesting Swiss watches.
From the Sotheby’s Archive:
To continue my series highlighting some historical watches that I sold whilst working at Sotheby’s, I dug out one of my catalogues from 1998 with the extraordinary Rolex wristwatch pictured below. The watch itself was a steel ref.3525, a very popular collector’s chronograph, but it was the provenance that went with it that was truly amazing. The client who brought the Rolex to us at Sotheby’s had an impeccable provenance for the watch; their story and the letter that accompanied the watch, showed that Rolex had supplied watches to British Officers who were German Prisoners of War. With such an extraordinary story, we took the watch and letter to Rolex in London to see what more they could tell us. They checked back with their headquarters in Geneva and looking through their archives confirmed that they did supply watches to a number of British officers in German camps during the war. They were all supplied on the understanding that no payment was to be made until the end of hostilities and Rolex confirmed that all had been duly paid for at the end of the war. The polite letter that accompanied the Sotheby’s lot was signed by Hans Wilsdorf himself (one of the co-founders of Rolex); I rather like the note that Hans Wilsdorf added to the letter in his own hand, which recommends, bearing in mind this was 1940, that all correspondence be sent by air mail to avoid delay.