Bring a Loupe: A 1961 Patek Philippe Ref. 3433, A ’50s Omega Synchrobeat, And A Breitling Premier.

The last days of the year are upon us, and the auction season is just about to wrap up with the New York sales. You’ve already heard about the cover lots, so I thought we’d shed some light on a handful of outliers deserving of your attention. Since we haven’t had a thematic roundup lately, I thought we’d give one a go. The name of the game this week is old and gold.


1977 Rolex Ref. 1002/1005

When describing the vintage Rolex market to friends and family not familiar with the insanity in this corner of the collecting world, the impact on pricing which a single line of text on a dial can have never fails to induce shock and amazement. While there’s good reason for such prices, the stunned reactions are absolutely warranted. It’s just another comical truth of the vintage watch collecting game, but it’s what keeps things fun and exciting. Let’s kick things off with a most desirable retailer-signed piece. 

You’re looking at a humble Oyster Perpetual by Rolex, but it’s got a twist that kicks things up a notch. That’s the retailer signature indicating that it was originally sold by the French jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels. VC&A-signed Rolexes are some of the most sought after double-signed pieces to bear the crown. They are set apart from the rest by the bracelet stampings which give the watch’s original inventory number. This piece is signed “VCA 71183-1A.” 

Don’t be perplexed by what seems to be a double reference number for this piece. The Ref. 1002 and 1005 are, indeed, two different references, differentiated by fluted and smooth bezels. Rolex’s use of spare parts has resulted in certain watches often being described using both references. I’ve come across quite a few smooth-bezel pieces signed with the number 1002 between the lugs, which have casebacks engraved with the number 1005. Fear not, this is totally normal, and not unlike other instances in which the brand seemingly used spare parts during the production of certain references. 

On Wednesday, Sotheby’s will sell this Rolex in its sale of Important Watches with an estimate of $10,000—15,000 If interested in this piece, or if you want to take a look at over 270 lots included in the sale, click here


1953 Omega Synchrobeat Ref. OT 14.306

Collectors of American horology ought to get a kick out of this piece. It was a U.S. exclusive, originally imported by one of the last century’s most notable names in stateside timepiece distribution. Norman Morris began his career in the watch world at 15-years-old as an importer’s delivery boy. Naturally, he caught the bug, and established his own watch dealership just 10 years later. The entrepreneurial Morris quickly became the sole distributor of brands like Tissot, Omega, and Audemars Piguet for the United States, commissioning unique references like the dead-beat equipped Ref. OT 14.306. 

Omega received Morris’ order, and began a 1,000-piece production run of the Synchrobeat, using the Cal. 372. However, the caliber had lubrication problems, leading to a recall of 720 watches which had already been shipped. Omega successfully located 703 of the 720 watches, which were literally disassembled and destroyed, in what I like to imagine was a Tolkien-like manner atop whatever the Swiss equivalent of Mordor is. 

Only 17 examples of this accurately ticking mechanical watch escaped destruction, making the reference one of the least seen and most desirable Omega’s in existence. The way I see it, it would be a tremendously cool watch, even if the 1,000 planned pieces had hit the market. Knowing that it’s even more limited than the originally intended limited production affords it an all the more alluring status that few references enjoy. Whoever raises their paddle when this piece hits the block undoubtedly has some seriously good taste. 

You’ll find this piece included among other drool-worthy curiosities in Christie’s Important Watches & American Icons sale, taking place on Thursday, December 12th. They’ve set the estimate at $15,000—25,000, which is somewhat conservative given what examples have brought in before. Check it out here.


1961 Patek Philippe Ref. 3433

Picking favorites of anything can often be quite the difficult task, but it’s easier in certain instances than others. For example, if you ask me my favorite Submariner references, I’d likely be able to narrow it down two or three in a matter of seconds. But with a more varied horological family like Patek Philippe’s Calatrava, it’s not nearly as simple. This is due to the aesthetically diverse nature of its many references, with some decidedly dressy and others verging into tool watch territory. Smack dab in the middle you’ve got references that bridge the gap between the two extremes, sporting smart looks with unexpected technical prowess. Our next watch is such a reference, complete with a luxe British twist. 

This is the Ref. 3433, which Patek Philippe produced for roughly six years before discontinuing it. With a 36mm case executed in yellow gold and ornately stepped lugs, it’s got all the fixings of a conventional dress piece. But when you factor in a few curveballs, it only becomes more compelling. These include the waterproof screw-down caseback, and an automatic Cal. 27-460 movement. Should your interest still not be piqued, note that many examples of this Calatrava were fitted with Gay Frères manufactured bracelets, including this one. It’s sitting pretty on what I’d argue is the most attractive bracelet variant, with subtly engraved detailing. 

If you’re still not the slightest bit tempted, allow me to direct your attention to a small line of text above the subsidiary seconds register at six o’clock. This line reads “ASPREY,” indicating that this piece was originally retailed by the Bond Street luxury establishment that’s been in business for over two centuries. In Patek Philippe collecting circles, examples with Asprey signatures are among the most desirable retailer-signed pieces around, as a result of their rarity and the high regard in which the British brand is held. Its desirability is only intensified by the presence of the original Asprey box, and the fact that this piece is fresh to market, coming direct from the family of the original owner. Don’t let the New York sales steal all your attention, there’s magic up for grabs across the pond, too. 

Bonham’s will offer this rare Calatrava in their Fine Wristwatches sale on Wednesday, Dec. 11. Its estimate has been set at £10,000—15,000, and where it ends up is anyone’s guess. Find more details along with the rest of the catalog here


Breitling Premier Ref. 782

It’s always interesting to look back at how your collecting tastes have changed. Over the past few years, I’ve personally gravitated towards collecting very little, as I’ve learned to focus on quality over quantity, and have found more enjoyment in helping friends track down their grails. With that said, I’ve noticed my interest in Breitling chronographs has risen significantly over the last 12 months, with a particular focus on those from the 1940s and 50s. While the rest of the market has advanced, many references of this era have stood still, making for a handful of decent deals. 

Breitling’s Premier entered the picture around 1943 as a collection of chronographs “dedicated to everyday elegance.” This notion holds true to this day; if there was one word to sum up the many references in this collection, “elegant” would be it. Breitling’s Ref. 782 is certainly a stunner. It’s cased in 18k rose gold, with a number of pleasing details. These include the stepped lugs and bezel, which add extra dimension to the 35mm piece, along with a bit of patina on the case’s surface. With this oxidization and the well-defined, sharp edges, it’s safe to say that this piece hasn’t seen a polishing wheel in its years. 

Charming condition continues upon inspection of the dial, which is largely spotless, save for what seem to be a few minor marks on the two subdials, but nothing that would scare me away. The sole downside to this piece is the crown, which I believe to be replaced, though that’s not exactly a component that would be impossible to track down, should it bug you enough. Without a doubt, this is one of the cleanest examples of this reference I’ve come across. 

This Premier will be up for grabs tomorrow at Stuttgart’s Auktionshaus Eppli. In the same sale, you’ll also find a few other Breitling chronographs of note, so taking a look through the catalog is likely worth your time. Bidding begins at €2,800, so have at it!

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