On February 22nd, 2014, what some are calling one of the most, if not THE most important piece of sports memorabilia ever will be sold in a public auction by Heritage Auctions in New York. What makes this watch so valuable? Why are the sporting community and horological community getting so excited? Let’s find out…
It is a bit childish to try to assess if George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth was really the greatest baseball player of all time. My personal feeling is that unless you saw two men compete on the same day, on the same field under the same conditions – it’s all speculation. The legend of Babe Ruth has not really diminished in the 79 years since he retired. Statistically speaking, Ruth’s career numbers for things like Batting, On-Base, Slugging and Home Runs still rank in the top 10 for the league. 79 years of technological, training enhancements, performance enhancements and a guy whose training table was covered with beer and hot-dogs.
(Yeah – whatever – what’s so special about this watch? Why should I buy it?)
The watch itself is a 14kt gold Gruen Verithin, with a pentagonal case. Inside it has a manual wind movement. (Not exactly ground-breaking.)
The back of the case is adorned with a lovely image of a pitcher, catcher and batter with some other decorative carvings. (Interesting – NICE perhaps – but still not earth shattering!) … with the name “BABE RUTH” arching over the top of the frieze style carving.
The inside of the caseback has an interesting set of inscriptions. The first (according to history) is the one from the Commissioner of Baseball TO “GEORGE H. RUTH”. That is the one that links the watch back to The Bambino. That is the one that cements its status as THE watch. The second set of inscription (which actually appears OVER the original inscription) is the one the Babe had added to present it to his friend… er, rather to his ‘pal’, Charles Schewfel.
The 1923 season represented a few crucial turning-points in the history of the New York Yankees. It was the season that they first played in Yankee Stadium. The Championship that they won in 1923 was the first of 27 in franchise history. It put the Yankees on the map as the dominant team in baseball and acts as the foundation of what makes them one of the most successful teams in sports today.
Horologically there aren’t too many stand-outs for this particular watch. The movement is marked “Gruen Watch Co” with the designation “Verithin” below it. The movement is also marked to note it has 19-jewels and has been temperature compensated in 8 positions. Further, it is marked “Suisse”. (By this point Gruen had outsourced all of its movements to it’s manufacture in Biel/Bienne. It has “Cincinnati” inscribed on the case-back. All of this stacks-up and is consistent with the merger of the separate Ohio and Swiss based concerns that provided the cases, movements and assembly of finished watches. It would be nice if a dedicated Gruen historian could observe if there were any anomalies that stood-out due to its precarious placement right at the cusp of all of the corporate events that took place around that period of time.
(Shouldn’t this be a Championship ring instead of a watch?)
Another interesting thing about this watch is that it represents a sort-of stutter-step in the history of sports memorabilia. The 1922 Champions the New York Giants got rings. The ’23 Yankees got watches. Rings weren’t presented to the baseball’s champions again until 1927. By the 1930’s rings were the standard-issue for winners of the ‘October Classic.’
So, the fact that it’s a watch and NOT a ring make it rare. The fact that it even exists after a colorful history (fitting considering the colorful life of its owner!) also adds to its mystique! The watch was bequeathed to a friend pal of Ruth (Schewfel) before dying in 1948. The watch then got passed to a relative, Schewfel’s nephew, Lewis Fern. The watch remained in Fern’s possession many years before being sold privately to a collector 26 years ago.
A quick note about Championship Rings: They aren’t all they are cracked-up to be! These days a player, coach, ball-girl, bat-boy, team trainer… will all get rings. Those rings get pawned all the time. Also, players get an allotment of rings that can be distributed to friends and family. Once again, those rings get hawked all the time. They are usually slightly different from the ‘official’ rings given to players and owners but none-the-less tied to the championship team. My point is this – these rings aren’t exactly as rare as you would be lead to believe, and unless they have air-tight provenance that leads back to a historic event or memorable player – they are worth their weight in scrap.
Armed with these few bits of trivia and a hefty amount of cash, find your way to Heritage Auctions’ Sports Collectibles Platinum Night Auction on the 22nd of February. Bid early and often! The pocket watch is expected to fetch up to $ 750,000 USD. Perhaps we will revisit this piece again after it passes the Graves’ watch in price!
Here’s the link to Heritage Auctions: ha.com