No milestone to report on this week – just another roundup of what might be five of the most compelling vintage timepieces available for purchase. Included in this installment are a group of early Breitlings, making up a salesman’s set, along with two uniquely complicated tool watches from both Heuer and Favre Leuba, and a steal of a Longines. In an effort to ensure you don’t leave this webpage without at least one dropped jaw, there’s also an Oyster Perpetual with important Air Force provenance.
Breitling Salesman’s Set
When sharing pieces of early watchmaking marketing materials, or vintage brand-related ephemera, I usually like to underscore the importance played by these articles in present times. Though they’ll serve no substantive purpose in your day-to-day life, these articles offer a glimpse into the way now celebrated watches were once marketed and sold, which is of extreme value to horological scholars and enthusiasts alike. I could easily dig up another poster, book, or retail display, but in the spirit of starting off strong, we’ve got a beast of a different sort.
The way in which watches are sold to retailers is a worthwhile rabbit hole to go down, should you wish to further understand the industry’s evolution. Before the trade shows (which are going by the wayside) were the primary avenue of choice for watchmaker-to-retailer sales, brands and their distributors got creative by hitting the pavement with sets like this one from Breitling. Containing three 30mm pieces touting chronograph complications and full calendar moon-phases, this set of samples would’ve been intended to make Breitling’s capabilities as a watchmaker known, and ultimately expand their retailer network. Based on where the brand is at now, I’d say this angle was a worthwhile play.
Being a salesman’s set of samples and not a collection of watches purchased for someone’s own use, all three pieces remain in excellent, unworn condition, and still with their original box marked with cursive text reading “Samples.” I’d almost argue that the box should be of greater interest than the watches, as the watches you’ve likely seen in some form before, but the box tells of the brand’s structure and strategy. As for whether or not the next owner should actually wear these is one hundred percent up to them, but in the interest of historical preservation, I’d personally hold off.
The Miami dealer Matthew Bain has this set listed on his site for $ 8,500. Additional photos can be found here.
1970s Time-Only Longines
A different set of motivators guides the collector who gets into vintage watches today versus the one that’s been at it for 20 years now. Talk to a few individuals that fit the latter description, and you’ll learn that many got in the game as a result of the lower prices once commanded by the old fare. We both know that’s no longer the case, though I still suggest looking in the direction of vintage to those with smaller budgets after a watch. Believe it or not, deals do still exist, and if you’ve got a moment, I’d now like to bring one to your attention.
A while back, I worked on the retail side of the industry, where I quickly learned there’s little to be had in the way of new, high-quality watches under the $ 500 mark from important brands. But this Longines couldn’t be a better piece of proof that there are still deals to be had, and attractive ones at that, considering how this time-only reference from the 1970s was configured and preserved.
There’s a lot to like about this one, including its clean, sunburst-finish dial, plus the sharp, tonneau-shaped case and Cal. 284 movement that’s far more attractively finished than you’d expect for the price point. What I like most about this piece is the fact that its original Longines bracelet is still attached to the watch. As someone who would gladly pay the seller’s asking price for the bracelet alone, I view the head as somewhat of a bonus, and oh, is it a welcome one. You’re going to want to act quickly – I’ve got a feeling this one won’t last.
An eBay seller based out of Vancouver, British Columbia is offering this one up for CAD 450, which equates roughly to just under $ 350. You’ve also got the option to make an offer, so maybe the deal gets even sweeter?
Heuer Orvis Solunagraph Ref. 2446 SF
They say you’re not supposed to judge books by their cover, but to be fair, I’ve found some seriously great books by way of that somewhat shallow tactic of discovery. With that said, the rule is most definitely true when after vintage watches, as all too often, terrific finds are guised behind a cloak made up of decades upon decades of gunk and grime. As always, never allow yourself to be fooled by a cracked crystal, scuffed case, or dirt-seized bezel, and you just might end up with one of these Orvis-branded Heuers sitting pretty on your wrist.
Like other models of the back catalog, this high and low tide-indicating Solunagraph is the result of a partnership with a sporting goods manufacturer. Heuer produced this updated take on the Mareographe for the fishing and hunting retailer Orvis and branded them as such for their eventual sale in an Orvis outpost. Today’s Solunagraph corresponds with the reference number 2446 SF, and though case numbers can’t be made out in the provided photos, this example likely dates back to the early 1970s, when the second execution of the model entered the picture. This one certainly falls under that subcategory of the reference, based on the presence of its white painted hands and cartoonish lines that trace the interior of the tide-indicating subdial.
Despite the aforementioned gunk and grime that’s developed on the surface of this auction piece, it’s an otherwise perfect-looking example, checking all the boxes a prospective buyer would have for a rare and unconventionally complicated Heuer. Apart from the aftermarket bracelet, everything would appear to be original and nicely aged, like the flawless dial, correct hands, and rotating bezel that’s faded to a muted tone of grey. I’d be willing to bet that all this one needs is a good polishing or replacement of its crystal, a little surface steam cleaning, and potentially an overhaul of the movement.
Merrill’s Auctioneers and Appraisers of Williston, Vermont, is offering this Solunagraph in a sale taking place this morning. Its estimate has been set at $ 3,000 – $ 6,000.
1961 Favre Leuba Bivouac Ref. 53213
Having mentioned one tool watch with a specific sort of functionality, I thought we’d double down with mention of another favorite that seldom emerges. It also would appear as if a theme of sorts is starting to emerge, as for the third week in a row, we’re talking about a Favre Leuba, but this time, it’s no Deep Blue. Instead, it’s a model that exists somewhat within a category of its own, given the exceedingly few pieces equipped with an altimeter barometer. If you’ve written off the often loud styling of Favre Leubas in the past, this might be the one to turn things around for you.
1962 marked the introduction of this reference in Favre Leuba’s lineup, where it was positioned and marketed as a mountaineer’s timepiece. Using atmospheric pressure, the internal barometer yields altitude readings while indicating changes that might suggest adverse incoming conditions. In other words, this watch can get you out of a bind before the bind makes itself known. This complication proved especially useful on the several expeditions to Antarctica, Matterhorn ascents, and trips up the Grandes Jorasses that the Bivouac was used for, confirming that it’s not just another pretty face with some half-decent marketing behind it.
Rather conveniently, casebacks of this reference were engraved with their respective years of production, eliminating the possibility of any sort of guessing game. This particular example dates back to 1961 and is likely the cleanest I’ve come across to date. Most I’ve seen will have worn bezels, along with visibly aged dials, but this one is about as good as it gets. Further supporting that theory is the original crown that’s still in place, the dimension of the bezel’s rugged, coin edge, and the black paint which can still be found in the caseback’s engravings. Bivouacs aren’t exactly the it watch on everyone’s hit list, but interest can always be piqued with an outstanding example, and that’s exactly what this is.
Antikauktion Krefeld, in Germany, is offering this one up in an auction on September 19, with a starting bid of €1,800.
1953 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Ref. 6085 w/ Brock & Co. Signature
I don’t know about you, but what many saw as the more noteworthy announcement of the week left me a little more than underwhelmed and confused. Instead, it was the new crop of Oyster Perpetuals that had me dialing up the AD, which I’d deem one of the most exciting Rolex announcements in a good long while. Before a debate concerning whether colored dials should equate to excitement emerges, shift your focus towards this OP. We’ve had a solid showing this week, but in an attempt to end off stronger than usual, we’re bringing out the proverbial big guns.
You’re looking at a Ref. 6085 Oyster Perpetual which dates back to 1953, though no ordinary example by any stretch. This well-preserved piece was originally retailed in Los Angeles by Brock & Co – the same retailer that sold Clark Gable his Rolex – where it was purchased as a celebratory gift for one Major General Harold E. “Tom” Collins upon setting a speed record of 707.889 mph in an F86D Sabre Jet. Who awarded Collins with the watch is pretty fascinating too, seeing as it’s none other than James H. “Dutch” Kindelberger, the CEO of North American Aviation, who manufactured the F86D Sabre.
All of this provenance is extremely well documented, along with the career of Collins himself, through a series of official government and Air Force documents including a DD214. In addition, the watch is being sold with a series of Collins’ Society of Experimental Test Pilots membership cards, plus two House of Representatives and Senate visitor’s passes of his. But wait! There’s more! You’ve also got photos of the Major General wearing the watch, his flight cap, jacket, nameplates, and more. This really is the stuff of dreams for Rolex collectors after something of historic substance.
San Francisco’s Fog City Vintage has the asking price set at $ 14,850 on this one, which seems reasonable given its significance. Get the full scoop here.