The Glorious History of the Wrist Watch

Back in the day, a long, long time ago, watches were not always worn on the wrist. A lot of the times, as you would see in the movies, these beautiful pieces of art would be carried inside of a pocket or linked to a chain.

Today, we have just one type of wristwatch – that has varied style and created by multiple brands. Over many hundreds of years, dating back to when the first pocket watch was invented in the early 1500’s, watches have evolved greatly. From being extremely large to petite enough for women to even wear. Then they became a tool for men to use and a fashion statement for women to wear and appreciate.

Just an old, good looking Day-Date. Ref 6611B from 1958, with original paperwork

Did you know? It took almost 200 years from the time the first pocket watch was invented to it having a minute hand? That is quite a while. In fact, the minute hand was introduced in Britain and France in the late 1600’s.

Caroline Murat, who was the Queen of Naples during the early 1800’s, received the very first wristwatch. This beautiful piece of art was created by Breguet.

Twenty years later, the keyless clock came about, which did away from having to wind with a key. Talk about a step ahead in convenience versus luxury!

As time progresses, famous names such as Patek Phillipe and Cartier make their way into the game. They begin to invent new customization’s such as the calendar for the watch, split seconds, and the first every prototype for the man’s watch.

During World War I, many of the soldiers were given “trench watches,” which brought a unique look to them, involving what looked like some sort of metal protected gate in front of the time itself.


WWII Army Pilot Airforce Navigation Wrist Compass

In 1930, Breitling developed and patented the first ever STOP watch.

Years have gone by up until this very moment, and may types of wrist watches have emerged from some of the world’s most famous creators.

From the skinniest to the most expensive, the world of watches brings forth a sense of style, and importance.

What makes a Rolex so special?

Out of all the watch brands out there (e.g. Patek Phillipe, Audemars Piguet, Tag Heuer, Hublot, etc.), Rolex stands out distinctively as having a very special, yet specific aesthetic. Not only are they elegant and world renown in its class, they are sporty, active and more importantly considered “tool watches.” In fact, that is how they originally started. In the 1950’s, Rolex came out with the Submariner, the Milgauss and the GMT. They were all designed to be used as tools.

So when you look at it from that angle, that is their main target – and in fact that is how Rolex is known for even to this day.

How interesting is that? They started off as tool watches back in the day, and now have turned into luxury watches.

“Of the main Rolex collection of gold bands, the 20 mm. Oyster is the hardest one to source.” -A. Ciani

Some of Rolex’s lower priced watches, such as the Submariner, has three qualities that still help keep it above ground when comparing to other watches. These qualities being that they are: self-winding, precision and waterproof.

More importantly, the fact that it takes about a year for the watch to be made shows how much they focus on quality.

Nice Rolex Submariner ref 5512 with open minute track four lines gilt dial, comes with original warranty, chronometer certification and instructions. Right from 1966! – A. Ciani

The testing is quite intense, along with the other variables they run through: accuracy, chronometer, and most importantly – timing.

The watch is tested so many times, including the clasp, so if you can be rest assured it won’t break when you get it.

If you take care of it accordingly and have it serviced properly. Or more importantly – restored by someone that understands the very specific details behind it. Then most likely you can relish in its infinite glory. In other words, reap the benefits of what makes a rolex so special.

One of the nicest things about Rolex is that anyone can wear them. They are made to be quite unisex and that is what makes them quite intriguing and refreshing. Since a lot of female watches carry diamonds and such, it makes it hard for men to wear them. Rolex watches carry the distinct feature of being presentable to both male and female.

At this point, you can say… “What makes a Rolex so special is that if you take care of this ‘prize of a watch’ properly… restore it when necessary… you win. Now you’re in a position where you can pass this treasure down to generation after generation, since ultimately it now can last you beyond a lifetime.”

Article from OM November 2019

When Francesca and Fabiana asked me to write something for this issue, they also mentioned that the magazine’s cover would feature Phillips in association with Bacs and Russo. So, the first thing I could think of was to share a couple of thoughts regarding auction houses and how their role in the world of vintage watches affects this market. It is actually a question I have been asked when invited to speak at the Hodinkee10 panel in NY last fall: and, sure enough, it turned out I could think something different from, “Very important contribution!
So helpful for the market! Such a great benchmark to learn about the value of watches!”.

In fact, I was the only one to offer a critical perspective, reminding everybody that – as a general rule – auction houses don’t do anything other than looking for inventory cheap enough to allow them to make a 25% commission in a market where even the highest qualified professionals average 15%. Obviously, this happens either at the expense of the unaware consignor, of the quality of the watches offered for sale, or of the unprepared buyer.

Furthermore, no market analysis is generally run, and inventory is thrown out there without the slightest clue of how the particular moment or other extemporaneous circumstances may affect the results: they cross their fingers hoping for the best, since buyer’s commission will be more as the hammer prices get higher, whether the client wins or loses. Selling the highest possible percentage of the offered lots is the only true concern of the department, as this is the only thing that the board will use evaluate the performance – and employment future – of every member of the team.

I have a whole collection of blood chilling stories about auction houses walking all over their own clients’ best interest just because they could but, believe it or not, these couple of paragraphs are not meant to denigrate auction houses. Public sales actually do offer some positive and interesting points as well. First, their sales’ records are public and can provide more than useful data to understand what’s going on in a market.

Also, they can give us a reasonable idea of what the true market value of a watch may be, if we are provided with some basic understanding of how to read the information. They give us – as sellers – the opportunity to reach a much wider basin of potential buyers, giving our items a much greater visibility than any other means would allow. This is a game changer if you are offering for sale something received with an estate, bought back in the day when the prices were a lot lower, or have a very, very special item that the dealer’s market is just not enough to understand and absorb.

As a buyer, you will be surprised of the opportunities to make amazing deals auctions may offer. Of course, you must be chasing a bargain, rather than a specific watch: like us dealers, who put a bid on half or more items on the catalog, hoping to nail just two or three good purchases. Seriously, if you think that the 25% buyer’s premium applied by the auction house makes all their watches too expensive, you are wrong: sadly for the seller, it is very possible that advantage may fall entirely on the buyer’s side. As far as which one is the best auction house out there, there are several variables that need to be taken into consideration.

First of all, some may be best to sell, others to buy; then, location: some perform better in Geneva, others are only good in their home country, others yet can sell in places where the competition can hardly sell at all. So far as selling, by the way, keep in mind that an auction house is only as good as the person who is managing the department at a specific time, just like your bank branch is all about that one employee or manager who really takes your business at heart. And that, no matter how many centuries they have been around. I don’t think this is the place where I should share the personal experiences have had in the past with some of the major auction houses out there but, since this is this issue’s cover, there are a few things I can tell you about Phillips in association with Bacs and Russo.

I have a love-hate relationship with these guys. In my intervention at the Hodinkee10 panel I had mentioned that there was one exception among auction houses with a habit of throwing watches out there regardless of the market and without any marketing strategy: I am glad to have a chance to say that I was referring to them. Aurel Bacs is a very tough negotiator and – most importantly – a rigid judge when it comes to selecting the best he can get. It may sound like a totally positive note, but wait until he raises his eyebrow before the watch you’re most proud of, and that you were thinking to do them a favor just offering it.

You will be surprised to learn how difficult it can be to consign a watch that really makes these guys happy, trust me: watches that most of the others will take without a second thought, in the blink of an eye, as long as the reserve price is right; be also prepared to see your offering turned down just because it’s simply not the right time in the market for it, or because there are already too many similar ones in the sales week your considering, and you would be the one taking the loss.

They prefer not selling at all, as opposed to score a bad sale. Which, to some statistical extent, is nevertheless unavoidable every now and then. Conversely, items that some of their competitors may be fearful to include in a sale maybe because of a plain rumor or a technical detail they can’t simply understand and/or explain, they will consider and decide on based on their own internal investigation and due diligence, eventually accepting it: be assured that if the watch is accepted for a sale it’s because it checked all their boxes and no stone has been left unturned. So, Phillips in association with Bacs and Russo. As I said, dealing with auction houses in general involves certain challenges for both buyers and sellers, and this one certainly makes no exception. On the other hand, these guys make THE exception when it comes to innovative approach to the business, awareness of the existing market moment, rigid but outside influence-free lot selection parameters.

All in all, prerogatives that may make dealing with them more difficult in many a way, but that certainly grant more clarity, unequivocal intentions and above market grade due diligence on all acquisitions. This said, obviously perfection is not of this world, and everyone can make a mistake every now and then: but I’ve got to say that these guys – albeit in their own way – strive to make as few as possible. Now, I have a great deal of inventory consigned with them, and the odds – that I openly accept – are that I may not be happy with the results. But that also means that a good number of buyers will have made an incredible purchase, so let the true market have the last word.

For more information on the article, you can Download it here.

A Man’s Cave

Looking at vintage watches from his very personal perspective, Alessandro Ciani focuses mainly on the “perfect balance” of their components in terms of aging, patina, preservation and even at the accessories that complement them, in order to come up with a complete picture to to contemplate. A deep connection with beauty, design, history and good taste is a key factor, and the environment whee this takes place on a daily basis certainly reflects the philosophy.

You may notice that most of the time, an office will have their standard break room, multiple cubicles, meeting room and of course, a lavatory. Pretty boring. Alessandro’s working space is a wide, open industrial like pace filled with a collection of eclectic, captivating vintage objects, not all necessarily related to the watch world. The excuse – standing to what he says – is that everything is for sale: but getting him to give a price for anything other than a watch is virtually impossible!

Open for private visits only over the last six years, the plans are to now move to something new that would make room for a one new idea. Where, he doesn’t know yet: we’ll see!

Want to visit? Contact him directly here to set up a date.