Spending so much time researching watches it is easy to misplace the forest for the trees. In the process of tracking down two more rare Rolex watches lead me into a bit of a hedge-maze. What I found at the end was surprising and disappointing…Surprisingly disappointing?
Last month, while looking into the existence of, or rather lack of a Rolex Perpetual Calendar movement watch got me to thinking: “What other types of watches had Rolex failed to make over the years?” Looking back, Rolex have done a pretty good job of ticking the boxes for most people’s specific needs or wants. But what about the frilly stuff that exists beyond 2 standard deviations from the mean? I made a list and began checking. Several surprising items went unchecked!
Oysters ala Tourbillon?
Indeed, Rolex, the great and mighty Rolex have NEVER produced a turbo! (Well, maybe they have in their R&D lab – but I’ve never seen one! If you have one – please let me know.) I’m not going to use this as a forum to debate the efficacy of the tourbillon as a timekeeping device, I’m just going to say that an apprentice cabinet maker would need to demonstrate the ability to craft a mortis and tendon joint to progress to Journeyman or Master. (This is not the first time Rolex missed the boat; George Daniels famously shopped his Co-Axial escapement to them and they declined) [Grade: Incomplete]
Splitting Hairs – Not Seconds
Rolex has had an off again/on again relationship with the chronograph over the past century. The auction in May for a über-rare Zerographe drummed-up a fair amount of interest. The recent Christie’s auction of 50 rare Daytona’s shows that collector’ appetites Rolex chronograph watches are, shall we say strong. What a lot of people don’t recognize is that much of Rolex’s chronographic output has been the result of reworked Valjoux and Zenith movements! When looking through the books and auction results for a Split-Seconds (aka Rattrappante) chronograph model 4113 was found! Once again, a rare bird; only 12 stainless steel 4113’s were produced. On further investigation, the Caliber 17 movement is a dolled-up version of the Valjoux 55! Scarcity of the model made it, until recently the first and second most expensive stainless steel Rolex ever sold at auction. (Now it is 2nd and 3rd.) [Grade: Incomplete]
Music to Our Ears
Many are the times that I wax rhapsodically about Seiko to other watch guys and gals. The Japanese brand that crushed the Swiss in the 70’s is still an unsung hero in the industry. No ‘serious’ collectors give them any shelf space in their vaults. They get pretty snippy when you compare them to Rolex: “Name one thing Seiko produce that Rolex don’t?” (If I had 1 EUR for every time I heard that!) Seiko did make a Sonnerie movement in their Credor line (skeletonized in red gold I believe). Rolex? (crickets) “WAIT! Tudor made the Advisor!” (Whispering) “No, they didn’t” [Grade: Incomplete]
No Skeletons in their past!
No Skeleton movements! A skeleton movement is NOT a simple procedure to undertake; you don’t just take a stock movement and drill-out some bits. The key is to vacate as much of the plates, bridges and barrels so as to leave only that which is essential without compromising on the rigidity of the watch. You can’t just strip the dial off and slap a display back on the watch and call it a skeleton… [Grade: Incomplete]
A Blind Spot in The Rear Window
Which leads me to the last bit. I looked high and low for a vintage Rolex Oyster with a display back… there isn’t one. You CAN buy a display back and affix it to your Oyster. However, that’s cheating and that will almost certainly VOID your warranty! Back at headquarters, Frank and I were talking over a friendly game of Monopoly (for REAL money!) when I told him of my latest Rolex dilemma. Frank looked up from his cash horde (hint: NEVER let the Dutch guy be the banker at Monopoly!) and chided me. “Of course they do!”
“Which one? Where?”
“The Prince! It’s got a display back and a manual wind movement.”
Sadly – he’s right. The Prince has a display back. Uph. In my zeal to find a vintage Rolex ‘sapphire sandwich’ I never once thought to look at the CURRENT line-up! [Grade: Incomplete Pass!]
Perhaps they feel they don’t have anything to prove? Perhaps they just plain don’t want to? I’ve been told that Swiss companies are notorious for getting into a ‘sweet-spot’ (business wise) and putting on cruise control until the tank runs dry. Rolex are obviously pretty happy with what they’ve created over the past 100+ years. In fairness, the brand has achieved an astounding level of recognition around the world; kids in slums from Calcutta to Detroit aspire to give-up or steal as many organs as it takes to own a Rolex one day.