Top 5 Lots At Phillips Auction 5

Its auction season again. And no-one touches Phillips when it comes to vintage watches. The fifth instalment of the Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo sale is taking place In Geneva on the 13-14th May 2017. Having had the privilege of seeing the lots in London this week, I can confirm there is lots to get the humble watch geek's pulse racing! Here are my top 5 (with some literature from Phillips on the lots provonance). 

1. 1967 Rolex launched the Sea-Dweller

In 1967 Rolex launched the Sea-Dweller dive watch, which established a new standard in performance and technology with its incredible depth rating of 2000 feet, or 610 meters, and the first ever integration of a helium escape valve (HEV). This advanced design allowed divers to dive deeper, and keep track of dive times without fear the watch may fail. Rolex developed the HEV in order to allow tiny helium atoms, which built up within the case during dives, to be released, thus reducing the risk of potential failure. When first released, Rolex was still working towards the patent for this new technology, and therefore early Sea- Dwellers were engraved with the wording “Patent Pending Rolex Oyster Gas Escape Valve” on the case back. 

Dating from 1967, the dial is a Mark 1 (Mk1) type with the double red printed Sea-Dweller on the first line, and Submariner 2000 on the second. The signature consisted of the red print placed on top of white, that over time, faded to a light pink tone. The Mark 1 dial is characterized by equal-sized fonts used for all words within these two lines of red text. The case back interior features the last three digits of the watch’s serial number - stamped 464, as well as IV.67. Furthermore, it’s fitted with its original Oyster bracelet, with a rare “Pat Pend”-signed extension piece.

Accompanied with extensive and original documentation, the watch was originally given “on loan” in 1971 by a Rolex authorized dealer based in Singapore. An employee of Divcon-Oceaneering AG at the time, he was asked by Rolex to test the watch and regularly provide status reports and images regarding the watch and its performance at sea. 

After providing in-depth analysis and test results, documenting the watch’s performance on oil-related dives in Indonesia and Malaysia, Rolex Geneva formally thanked him for his efforts in 1972. This letter also gifts the watch to the diver, after disclosing Rolex’s newly executed, exclusive agreement with COMEX that precluded them from working with other diving firms.

The owner’s records are the first official documents that show Rolex’s efforts to develop the HEV were not exclusive to COMEX. They are the most extensive set of documents, from original issue, to actual watch testing, to final communication from Rolex Geneva, to have surfaced for such an important dive watch.

Manufacturer: Rolex
Year: 1967
Reference No: 1665
Movement No: D049393
Case No: 2'117'464
Model Name: "Patent Pending" Sea-Dweller "Double Red" 
Material: Stainless steel
Calibre: Automatic, cal. 1570, 26 jewels
Bracelet/Strap: Stainless steel Rolex Oyster, stamped 9315, 
end links stamped 285, 200mm max. length
Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel twin lock folding clasp, stamped 3.70
Dimensions: 39.5mm Diameter
Signed: Case, dial, movement and bracelet signed, outer case back signed "Rolex Patent Pending Oyster Gas Escape Valve"
Accessories: Accompanied by Storekeeper's Delivery Note No. 68719 (The Borneo Company Singapore SDN BHD) for loan of one Sea Dweller 1665, case number 2117464, various Rolex correspondence, dive reports and typed test results of the watch from the original owner.

CHF100,000 - 200,000  
$99,100 - 198,000
€92,600 - 185,000


2.  Fifty Fathoms - Milspec I

Just after World War II, the offer of diver’s watches was low. When the French military combat divers’ elite troops’ captain Robert Maloubier and Lieutnant Claude Riffaud looked for a tool watch to accompany their frogmen in their missions, they were unable to find a watch that met all their requirements: a unidirectional rotating bezel , a water-resistant case, an automatic winding movement (to minimize the number of times the crown is pulled out) and protection from magnetic fields. By designing this watch, the two men actually set the standards for modern divers watches. While their search for a watch manufacture that would produce their watch was a daunting task, they met with Mr Fiechter, Blancpain’s CEO, the partner they had been looking for.

Since its launch in 1953, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms has gained iconic status within the watchmaking and diving world, having also undergone several variations. The present example is the very sought after MILSPEC I version with a humidity tester at 6 o’clock. Despite some military specifications, the present watch is a civilian version as shown by the two parts body case, the bi directional bezel and the luminous diamond hour marker at 12 o’clock. The back of the case is further engraved with the retailer’s name, in this case the diving equipment store Barakuda. 

Manufacturer: Blancpain
Year: circa 1970
Case No: 207'956
Model Name: Fifty Fathoms - Milspec I
Material: Stainless steel
Calibre: Automatic, cal. AS 1700., 17 jewels
Bracelet/Strap: Apollo Tropic strap, marked 20-21mm, reference 23055
Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel pin buckle
Dimensions: 41mm. Diameter
Signed: Case, dial and movement signed
Accessories: Accompanied by Blancpain Fifty Fathoms exhibition certificate and original paper tag from the 275th anniversary exhibition

CHF20,000 - 30,000  
$19,800 - 29,700
€18,500 - 27,800


3. Patek Philippe Ref 530 

There are certain references of Patek Philippe wristwatches that can be considered the ultimate in terms of rarity, desirability, and aesthetic beauty. The oversized chronograph reference 530, such as the present lot, is without any doubt, one of these.

Reference 530 was first launched in 1937, and remains one of the rarest chronograph models manufactured by the firm. Even though it takes design cues from its sister model, reference 130, the case size of reference 530 remains substantial even to today’s standards with a whopping 36.5mm. diameter.

The case and dial design of the present lot hit all the right notes. The perfect equilibrium between the case diameter and thickness, the powerful lugs and concave bezel speak of highly contemporary elegance. The gorgeous silver dial has turned a pleasing vanilla, the crisp hard enamel printing and ultra rare Breguet numerals exude beauty and grace. 

The present lot is the only known reference 530 in yellow gold with Breguet numerals (as confirmed by the Extract from the Archives). Since its production in 1949 this watch has appeared on the international auction market once, in 2011, flying past its high estimate and breaking the world record for a yellow gold reference 530. 


This reference 530 is not only rare but the Breguet numeral dial and incredible untouched condition give it almost a mythical status.

Manufacturer: Patek Philippe
Year: 1949
Reference No: 530
Movement No: 867'650
Case No: 511'605
Material: 18K yellow gold
Calibre: Manual, cal. 13"", 23 jewels
Bracelet/Strap: Leather
Clasp/Buckle: 18K yellow gold pin buckle signed PPCo
Dimensions: 36.5mm. Diameter
Signed: Case, dial, movement and buckle signed
Accessories: Accompanied by Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming manufacture in 1949 with Breguet numerals and subsequent sale on August 12th, 1950.
Literature: Reference 530 is illustrated in Patek Philippe Wristwatches by Martin Huber & Alan Banbery, second edition, p. 265

CHF300,000 - 600,000  
$297,000 - 595,000
€278,000 - 556,000


4. Patek Philippe 3700/11

The most interesting elements about Gerald Genta’s iconic designs are the stories that lay behind their creation. Recognized today as the greatest watch designer of the era with world famous successes such as Patek Philippe Nautilus, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Cartier Pasha, Universal Polerouter and many more, Mr Genta's creativity was boundless. The story behind the design of the Nautilus, besides the inspiration of the porthole, says that the designer sketched one of the most sought after designs in history in 5 minutes while watching Patek Philippe executives sitting in a corner of a hotel dining room. 

The present Nautilus Jumbo reference 3700/11 displays a definitely unique vintage look. The usually dark grey dial has dramatically turned to a gold tropical color that reminds us of a tiger’s eye chatoyant gemstone with its golden to red-brown color and silky lustre. 

Manufacturer: Patek Philippe
Year: 1980
Reference No: 3700/11
Movement No: 1'309'286
Case No: 540'831
Model Name: Nautilus "Jumbo" 
Material: Stainless steel
Calibre: Automatic, cal. 28-255C, 36 jewels
Bracelet/Strap: Stainless steel Nautilus bracelet, max length 195mm. 
Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel folding deployant clasp
Dimensions: 42mm. Diameter
Signed: Case, dial, movement and bracelet signed
Accessories: Accompanied by an Extract from the Archives confirming manufacture of the watch in 1980 and its subsequent sale on May 11th, 1982

CHF40,000 - 60,000  
$39,600 - 59,500
€37,100 - 55,600


5. Gübelin Chronograph 

Gübelin is a Swiss-based, family-owned, jewelry and watch retailer founded in 1854. What started out as a small watchmaker’s watch shop in the picturesque town of Lucerne has today become a Swiss powerhouse selling the most prestigious watch brands. 

Not content with putting its signature on dials next to the names of famous brands it retailed, Gübelin decided, in the early 1920s, to commission some of the greatest Swiss makers such as Audemars Piguet, Haas Neveux or Niton to create unique, attractive and sophisticated watches bearing solely the Gübelin signature on the dial.

The present lot from the 1950s is a mystery in the sense that Phillips say they have never seen another Gübelin square chronograph like it on the market. Its vividly contemporary 34mm. X 34mm. white gold case wears much larger on the wrist than the size suggests due to its square shape. The case is in fact quite similar if not identical to the Rolex reference 3529 but larger. 

Many elements set the present lot apart from other square chronographs from prestigious brands such as Rolex, Universal Geneve or Mathey-Tissot produced in the 1940s-1950s. First is its sheer size, almost 70% larger than those from the previously mentioned brands whose cases measured 26mm X 26mm or less. The second element is the white gold case, a metal we have not yet seen before in any other square chronograph of that era. These elements lead us to believe that this watch was executed upon special order and could quite possibly be a unique piece.

The case is superbly well preserved with perfectly crisp hallmarks above the bottom chronograph pusher and the top left lug, we are of the opinion the case has never been polished. 

Manufacturer: Gübelin
Year: circa 1950
Case No: 165'649
Material: 18k white gold
Calibre: Manual, cal.72, 17 jewels
Bracelet/Strap: Leather
Clasp/Buckle: 18k white gold buckle
Dimensions: 34mm. X 34mm.
Signed: Case, dial and movement signed

CHF20,000 - 40,000  
$19,800 - 39,600
€18,500 - 37,100