On November 8, Antiquorum is holding its “Important Modern and Vintage Timepieces” Geneva Auction which, due to the current state of the world, will take place both in person – at the Beau-Rivage Genève hotel – and online. The sale consists of a wide array of modern, vintage, and even neo-vintage timepieces (there is even a Rolex urn and a Rolex vacuum chamber being offered).
While there is no specific theme to this auction, I wanted to highlight a trio of (what can best be described as) true tool watches. All three of these pieces are dive watches, and each share one thing in common: None were available for purchase at retail, at any time. These were either issued watches or prototypes. Of course, without getting to see any of these pieces in the metal, it is difficult to make any qualitative determination about condition, aside from information provided in the auction catalog as well as independent research. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at these battle-tested and well-worn pieces that Antiquorum is offering up this month.
Omega Ref. 166.077 Seamaster Ploprof Prototype
Cole Pennington wrote a virtual treatise on this legendary diver from Omega last week. If you have not read that, I highly suggest it. When I saw that a Ploprof was coming up in this sale, I knew I had to include it. This particular Ploprof – the ref. 166.077 Seamaster Ploprof Prototype – is a watch which belonged to Christian Bonnici, a member of the Jacques Cousteau team and one of six Conshelf II aquanauts (a mission to test if people could live underwater). According to Antiquorum, this watch was delivered in July, 1971 and dived its last dive on February 10, 1972.
Boncinni worked with Cousteau at CEMA (Centre d’Etudes Marines Avanceds) from 1968-1972, and was also a COMEX engineer. Now the watch, which is being offered by his family, is a prototype, meaning that it is hard to compare it to any existing Ploprof of its time. When it comes to prototypes, anything goes. I say this because this watch has one defining feature which separates it from its counterparts, and that is the orientation of the crown. The Ploprof is known for having the crown on the left side of the watch, although it is still technically a right-handed watch (this feature existed to aid in one-handed operation of the bezel). You could write this watch off at first glance and call it a fake due to the reversed orientation of the crown. Conversely, you could see this watch for what it is, a one-off prototype owned by a true, dyed-in-the-wool, professional diver. Like I said, with prototypes, you just never know.
Some interesting features to note with this piece are the “Prototype” inscription on the caseback, as well as the inscribed “4 100” engraving indicating that this particular prototype was part of batch number four from Omega. Boncinni appears to have really put this watch through its paces, as it was intended. You can see a nice healthy chip on the crystal just above the one o’clock hour marker.
This prototype Ploprof comes with a dive log book which – according to the auction house – gives a complete detail of every dive the watch was a part of. While it may very well never dive again, this is a cool add-on, which allows the future owner to re-live those adventures and imagine what they must have been like.
Rolex Ref. 5514 Submariner COMEX in stainless steel
COMEX, which stands for Compagnie Maritime d’Expertise, is a professional French diving organization with a particular specialty for deep-diving operations and engineering. You may be familiar with the COMEX Submariner. For example, in June of this year, Antiquorum sold a 1680 version (matte dial Sub with a date, and the COMEX logo on the dial) for CHF 524,000. The 1680s were pretty much only available to COMEX members, and employees, which often meant that they were worn in an office environment, and not underwater. The COMEX Submariner 5514 – like this one up for auction – is one of the rare watches produced by Rolex for the diving organization which not only saw time in the water, but also on some particularly extreme dives.
One of the distinct features of a COMEX 5514 is the helium escape valve on the side of the case, as well as the COMEX wordmark and number on the caseback. Additionally, it has been said that the 5514 reference did not have the COMEX logo on the dial from the factory. (If you want to see an example of such a watch, check out John Mayer’s second episode of Talking Watches.) Due to the extreme conditions that the COMEX divers operated in, the watches were often sent back to Rolex for servicing, and as a result, some dials, and other parts, were replaced. In this case, the service resulted in a dial with the COMEX logo. This practice of servicing the watch might also explain some inconsistencies in terms of lume color (Antiquorum notes that the hands are, in fact, service hands). Needless to say, a COMEX 5514 is exceedingly rare and extremely desirable. In normal circumstances, a service dial would diminish the value of a watch, but there are always exceptions. This could be one of them.
Rolex, Ref. 5513/5517, Military Submariner
Military Submariners, or MilSubs as they have come to be known, are quite coveted by collectors. You might recall the episode of Talking Watches with Reza Ali Rashidian where he noted that his MilSub – issued to the Iranian military – was his most worn watch. Last month at Christie’s Dubai, a 5513 MilSub sold for $ 400,000, setting the record for the model. This particular watch up for auction features a dark almost custard patina, with original sword hands. As to the hands, one common issue with MilSubs is that the lume would often fall out, so it is possible that the hands on this watch have been treated to match the dial. One of the hallmark features of a MilSub, which you can see here, is the hash marks which go all the way around the bezel.
So why is the estimate for this particular watch so low (and by low, I mean compared to nearly half a million dollars low)? Well, as best I can tell, the reason probably has to do with the caseback. Part of the allure of any military watch is the caseback engraving which is unique to any given piece. The retention of those engravings is an indication that the watches were not polished – or at the very least, over polished. In this case, it looks like the military engraving was polished off, leaving the caseback blank. You will note, however, the inclusion of the serial number on the underside of the caseback, which is typical for MilSubs. The polished caseback could explain the low estimate, and the reason why this watch likely will not come anywhere near that $ 400,000 number. Of course, stranger things have happened, and it will at least be interesting to see how this watch performs.
Auction previews for the “Important Modern and Vintage Timepieces” Geneva Auction will take place November 5 – 7, while the auction itself will be held on November 8. You can view the full catalog here.