“It is very distinctive, it is very stylish – it is very Louis Vuitton… wherever you go in the world you will see people carrying the distinctive Louis Vuitton brand… whether it is a little bag or a huge suitcase. It talks of distinction and taste” – Cherie Blair at the London Louis Vuitton New Bond Street Maison Opening.
My series "Watch Collecting" about you guessed it... COLLECTING WATCHES! These are videos I have created myself to help collectors with Collecting Watches. Heaps of videos, heaps of information - all free of charge! Includes outrageous clips about hiding your watch collection from your wife or partner!
Minute repeaters, moonphases, calenders, tourbillons and grande complications are not the creations of modern day watchmaking firms.
It is true that it is only in recent times that these complications have found themselves in wristwatches, but their beginnings are from the days when a pocket watch was worn by men and wristwatches or wristlets were reserved solely for women.
During the times when these now commonly known complications were being developed, the wristwatch was frowned upon by watchmaking firms as they were not thought to be able to achieve any substantial level of accuracy nor could they withstand the basic rigors of human activity.
It is odd to think that it in 1687 when the patent for the first repeater pocket watch was granted to the English Watchmaker Daniel Quare or, later, in February 1798, when Abraham Louis Breguet, applied for a patent for the first tourbillon, that whilst such innovations were borne, no one had the inclination of incorporating these wonders into a wristwatch.
But much like other innovations, the wristwatch was borne as a result of necessity rather than imagination.
It was not until the age of modern warfare that the development of the wristwatch was catapulted forward. It became clear rather quickly that the usefulness of a pocket watch during war was limited. They were cumbersome to carry around and difficult to operate in combat.
In order to overcome these difficulties, soldiers had their pocket watches fitted to cupped leather straps. An excellent example of this was a Rolex “Trench” watch, examples of which can still be found today.
By having the watch strapped to one’s wrist it allowed the user to determine the time quickly. The function of the flip-up cover, which was found on most pocket watches of the day, was to protect the vulnerable crystal in combat and from the rigors of life in the trenches. The flip-up cover is operated by a push button on the case band at the six o’clock position. Variations of the flip-up cover were metal grills, such as the type found on the Cartier Pascha and the use of leather covers that snapped over the watch.
In such an environment the accuracy and reliability of these wristwatches was paramount as they were being used to coordinate simultaneous troop movements and to synchronise attacks.
It was the founder of Rolex, Hans Wildorf, who tackled these issues head on by sending wristwatches away for accuracy testing. It followed from that, that it was a Rolex that received the very first Chronometer certificate and a Class “A” Certificate of Precision, making that model itself highly collectible.
Having their movements chronometer rated is a tradition that has continued today and it is still Rolex watches that consistently receive more chronometer certificates from the Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres (COSC) today, than every other watch firm in the world combined.
Having endured a baptism of fire in the era of war, the wristwatch could hardly be described as a feminine accoutrement. If it was good enough for the men who had defended their country and honour, then it was certainly good enough for the public.
From that point onwards, basic functionality was superseded by durability and the first wristwatches were improved by making them more resistant to water and dust and the fragile acrylic crystals were replaced by their synthetic modern day counterparts. Focus was given to making the wristwatch a more finished product rather than looking like a pocket watch strapped to a wrist.
Now that the concept of a wristwatch was firmly entrenched in the minds of watchmakers and the public, the simplicity of an accurate timepiece that could be worn on the wrist gave way to watchmakers competing to incorporate age old complications into these wristwatches.
Today most of the watchmaking firms have not forgotten their roots and continue to produce robust and durable “tool” watches. Companies such as Rolex, Omega and Panerai have supplied timepieces such as this for military use and the popularity and demand for these models remains long after the wars they were used for have ended.
In terms of collecting, watches that have a historical significance are difficult to overlook. Whilst many collectors will select timepieces on grounds of an investment, brand, style, or complication, a watch that has served a purpose and that has unique history is as great a find.
To a true collector, the intrinsic value of such a piece is surpassed by the knowledge that in their hands, they hold a piece of history. It is for this reason that vintage pieces that have provenance can command astronomical prices. The Rolex GMT-Master worn by Che Guevara, the Omega Speedmaster worn by Armstrong or a Panerai worn by the frogmen of the Italian Navy will all require a king’s ransom to be paid to their current owners, though it is doubtful that even such a ransom would be enough for them to relinquish these timepieces.
The best way to explain it is to quote a good friend who is an avid collector of vintage timepieces, particularly Rolex and Panerai. He will always sign off correspondence by saying “so much more than just a watch”.