Buying and selling watches for a living can be a transitory pleasure, as good pieces come and go week by week, month by month.
But some will inevitably stick in the mind: QP spoke to five experts from auction houses and pre-owned boutiques to ask: What's the best watch you've ever sold?
There are, of course, watches representing Rolex and Patek Philippe. But there are also watches whose stories are what makes their appeal so strong. Some have been worn daily, others consigned to a drawer for decades.
All of them, though, are interesting, intriguing and characterful - they have to be, to have lodged in the memories of men who have sold countless priceless timepieces.
Patek Philippe ref. 130
“Asked to pick my favourite sale of all time, my mind goes straight to some of our private sales… But we call them private sales for a reason! I am, however, very fond of a watch we sold recently through Christie’s online watchshop.
“The Patek Philippe ref. 130 debuted in 1934 and was produced for 30-odd years. This example dates from 1938 – it’s yellow gold with a very rare “sector” dial, only 33mm wide.
“It came from a very good collector – someone we trusted, but who was new to Christie’s. We decided to put it up for sale online at the launch of our online sales site, with no information released in advance. It sold just like that, on the first day, for $58,000 (£35,600). We were amazed; it wasn’t clear whether the appetite was there for watches like that online.
“You can feel like the Indiana Jones of the watch world sometimes, tracking down birth-year Rolexes and Paul Newmans. But it’s great when a watch like this comes to you.
“Since then, people have asked us why we let it go “so cheaply”. We gave it what we considered to be a fair sale price – simple as that.”
Watches of Knightsbridge
Rolex 6350 Explorer
“One of my favourite watches which we have sold was on display in 2013 at SalonQP and sold in our 23 November auction the same year.
It was the reference 6350 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer from 1953. This was the first reference Explorer and dates from the same year as Sir Edmund Hillary’s successful expedition to the summit of Everest (which the Explorer model was used for).
It is one of the most collectible Rolexes, and very rare, as Rolex used to only produce the same model for one or two years at that time. Together with the rarity, it was a thing of beauty.
The original black, textured dial is what’s known by collectors as a “honeycomb” or “waffle” dial, with a gilt chapter ring and font. It also had luminous Arabic numerals at 3,6, and 9, and gilt “pencil” hands with a “lollipop” seconds hand, so nicknamed as it has a larger than normal luminous circle.
All aged perfectly with some light scratches, just how collectors want to find them. We estimated it at £5000-£7000 which was very reasonable – but we did not expect it to make the £18,600 that it did.”
1929 Breguet Chronograph
“We sold this watch in our specialist sale last January. It had particular resonance for me, as a former manager of Breguet’s boutique – but it’s a nice story regardless.
“The first sign of appeal was that this comes from a vague period in Breguet’s history – who was doing what is a little lost in the mists of time. Thankfully the sales ledgers survived.
“It came to us out of the blue. 90 per cent of people who call up asking “I’ve just inherited this; is it real?” are met with the answer “I’m terribly sorry…”. I’d never seen anything like it from Breguet.
But this seemed too small, too strange, for someone to bother faking it. At 32mm, it seems small to us, but in the early days of aviation it was a true pilot’s watch.
“Checking with the archives in Paris revealed it was genuine, and had been sold in 1929. Its path since then was unclear – it came to us on a 1950’s-era expandable steel bracelet that was, frankly, horrible.
“Other than that, given its age, it was in beautiful condition. The black dial with gilt hands and tachymeter scale had a very light, even patina – it had obviously spent some time sitting in the back of a drawer. It sold for £15,000 plus premium – a price that doesn’t seem at all bad, given the brand and its age."
Omega Speedmaster 1965
"It’s very hard to pick one from all the watches we’ve sold. But this one stands out for being a little bit esoteric. It was an Omega Speedmaster from 1965 that had been worn by a test pilot called Captain John Hackett, who was the first man to pilot Concorde over the Atlantic, and also the first pilot to take it past the speed of sound.
It was a Speedmaster 105.003-65, otherwise known as an “Ed White” pre-Moon Speedmaster, after Ed White, the first astronaut to conduct a spacewalk, who wore a similar Speedmaster as part of Omega’s supply of watches to the Gemini programme.
The seller had come into it after Capt. Hackett’s death, via his widow, and was an old man himself when he came to us. It was in good condition overall – the dial and hands were exceptional, and the case was worn, but not badly damaged. It had obviously been used, not kept in a safe or anything.
We bought it from him without really intending to sell it – it was just an interesting piece to have. But in 2011 a buyer came in to collect a Patek Philippe Nautilus – a 5712 in rose gold – and started asking about Speedmasters. He twisted our arm, and we sold it to him.
It didn’t go for a huge price – and the provenance maybe added a few hundred pounds. But the buyer was very excited by the history of the watch. I liked that it wasn’t an official Omega endorsement, but it just so happened that this pilot owned this watch, and it found a place in British aviation history – it has a sense of derring-do that appealed to me. If I was selling it again now I’d ask for a lot more money!"
Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona
“The best watch I ever sold? A local guy had bought the watch new for about £200 in the early ‘70s, with his first ever pay cheque when he started work.
“He enquired with us about servicing it – for the first time in its lifetime. We told him it was worth a fortune. You only have to look at it once to see it’s a “Paul Newman” – the markers on the sub-dials are the dead giveaway.
“As luck would have it, I had a customer who was looking for a Paul Newman Daytona that had specifically only one previous owner and was entirely original – with no repairs or replacements to the bracelet, the dial, anything – which this was.
“I sold it to him for £55,000. The original owner then immediately bought four or five other watches from us and got a cheque for the rest.
“The watch itself was amazing. 100 per cent original, it had never even been polished, and it had its box and all its papers included, right down to the paper bag that he walked out of the shop with it in. Finding a Paul Newman Daytona like that is rarer than hen’s teeth these days.”