Rolex – Design Icons and Superlative Timepieces

Rolex Watches at Toovey's
A selection of Rolex gentlemen’s wristwatches which totalled £23,000 at Toovey’s

For more than 100 years Rolex have produced superlative timepieces which today are considered design classics.

Rolex is one of the world’s strongest brands representing more than a century of precision watch making, creativity and aspiration. Many may be surprised to learn that the company we know today as Rolex was founded in London by Alfred Davis and his brother in law Hans Wilsdorf in 1905. It traded as Wilsdorf and Davis. Hans Wilsdorf wanted his watches to bear a name that was memorable, short and easy to say in any language. In 1908 he registered the trademark ‘Rolex’. In the same year he opened an office in Switzerland.
In 1914 the Kew Observatory awarded a Rolex watch a Class A precision certificate for accuracy, a distinction usually reserved for marine chronometers. Heavy tax duties in the UK after the Great War on luxury imports and exported precious metals used in watch cases caused Wilsdorf to move the company to Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1927 Rolex developed the first waterproof and dust-proof watch named the ‘Oyster’. In 1931 this was complimented by Rolex inventing the world’s first self-winding mechanism.

As a fine art auctioneer in Sussex I have spent some thirty-five years journeying with people sharing the stories of their lives told through objects. I have often reflected that the most precious objects in our lives are those that allow us to tell these stories – the prompts to fond memories. I refer to them as the patchwork quilt of our lives. Rolex has always understood this and today its ambassadors are drawn from leading figures in the arts and sport whose lives are reflected in the these remarkable timepieces.

Rolex diving watches have been design icons since their introduction in 1953. They were the first diving watches to be waterproof to 330 feet. The ‘Submariner’ illustrated, with its leather strap, was made in 1965. The 1986 GMT- Master is similarly inspired. Introduced in 1955 the mechanism was able to simultaneously show the time in two zones allowing it to be used for navigation by those crossing the globe. The movement was improved in 1982 making it easier to use.
The two Rolex Oyster Perpetual wristwatches from 1958 and 1959 in their restrained stainless steel cases with simple dials are beautifully conceived. In contrast the 18ct gold Day Date wristwatch and the two colour Datejust appeal to those with more glamorous tastes.

New or old a Rolex combines the status of a design icon with superlative time-keeping. This combination delights connoisseurs and collectors. The selection of Rolex wristwatches illustrated have just sold at Toovey’s for £23,000.

Perhaps it’s time to change your wristwatch. Toovey’s Director, Tom Rowsell, is preparing his next specialist auction of fine watches which will be held on Thursday 23rd January 2020. Entries are still being invited. Tom and his team of specialists are always delighted to share their passion for watches and offer advice. They can be contacted on 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

James Cox’s Amazing Clocks

The processional clockwork automaton where figures and animals move ‘magically’ across the landscape

A rare late 18th century tortoiseshell and gilt-metal bracket clock with a processional automaton by the celebrated British entrepreneur and goldsmith James Cox (1723-1800) has been discovered by Toovey’s specialist, Tom Rowsell, in a London collection.

From the mid-18th century James Cox ran a company specialising in the manufacture of objects de vertu which were intended to delight and surprise his clients. He became famous for his extravagant clocks with their ingenious automata which made objects move, seemingly of their own volition. The clocks were hugely expensive and were sold across Europe and as far afield as India, China and Russia. Cox employed craftsmen from across Europe to create these extraordinary pieces.

Tom explains that this James Cox automaton clock was part of the estate of a London collector. It was the only clock in the collection which was predominately focused on Chinese porcelain. A late example of James Cox’s work, the clock dates from the late 18th century and has a complicated three train movement with automaton, playing ten tunes on fourteen bells. The automaton on this clock sees figures and animals process from left to right. His clocks are still a source of wonder and were never intended to be practical. Indeed they have been referred to as ‘magical moving objects’.

A late 18th century automaton clock by James Cox

That a British clock like this should appeal to a connoisseur of Chinese porcelain should not be a cause of surprise. The Chinese Emperor Qianlong (1735-1795) collected both Western and Chinese clocks and two of James Cox’s chariot clocks dating from 1765 and 1766 can still be seen in The Palace Museum in the Forbidden City, Beijing.

Although Cox had an early Indian connection most of his business was with China via Canton. A number of exotic, valuable pieces were exported there from 1763. These mechanical objects were received with great curiosity by the Chinese court and must have made Cox substantial profits. Trade seems to have developed steadily but by 1770 the market had reached saturation. The demise of Chinese interest deprived Cox of this his most profitable and important market.

In response to the decline in the eastern markets for his clocks, James Cox opened a museum in London and charged the public to see his amazing clocks. The manner of their sale in 1775 by national lottery was as ingenious as the objects’ mechanisms. Two of the largest and most complicated of these clocks were the Silver Swan and the Peacock Clock which can be seen at the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, Co Durham, and at the Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia.

Producing such magnificent objects was hugely costly and brought with it significant financial risks. James Cox would face bankruptcy on more than one occasion.

This rare James Cox automaton clock will be auctioned in Toovey’s next curated sale of fine clocks and watches on Thursday 1st November 2018 and is estimated at £15,000-£25,000. If you would like advice on your clocks telephone 01903 891955 or email auctions@tooveys.com.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Scientific Instruments to Mark and Measure Time

Antiquarian, clock specialist and horologist, Brian Baskerville
Antiquarian, clock specialist and horologist, Brian Baskerville

The start of a New Year seems a good moment to consider time and how we have measured it over the centuries. This week I am in the company of Brian Baskerville a highly regarded antiquarian, clock specialist and horologist.

When you first meet Brian Baskerville it quickly becomes apparent that you are with an exceptionally talented specialist.

Brian started his business in 1969 in the King’s Road, Chelsea, before moving to Kensington Church Street in 1980 and eventually to Petworth in 1987. He says “I have spent most of my career as a horologist working in the field of fine clocks. Horology refers to the art and science of making, servicing, repairing and restoring timepieces and measuring devices. Today’s watch and clockmakers need to combine the traditional, practical, dextrous specialist skills and techniques with an ability to embrace new technology.”

As an active member of The British Antique Dealers Association Brian served on the Main Council and its Cultural and Educational Trust. A Liveryman and former steward of The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers he also worked on the Main Council and Publications Committee of The Antiquarian Horological Society.

Highly respected by his peers and collectors of fine clocks Brian remains passionate about promoting his specialism and emerging talent. This is apparent in the work that he did at West Dean College over some twenty-five years. Brian explains “I served as Chairman of the West Dean College Horological Conservation Course Advisory Board. I also acted as the administrator for the St. Roche’s Educational Trust which was specifically founded to support education in the conservation and restoration of antique horological items.”

Brian Baskerville is very generous with his knowledge and continues to invest in the future of horology. For a number of years now he has acted as Toovey’s clock consultant working closely with Tom Rowsell.

Brian delights in these scientific instruments crafted to mark and measure time. It is always a pleasure to listen to him as he examines a clock. Our conversation turns to two clocks sold in 2017 at Toovey’s specialist clock auctions.

A George III brass mounted mahogany bracket clock by Isaac Rogers of London
A George III brass mounted mahogany bracket clock by Isaac Rogers of London

The first, a George III brass mounted mahogany bracket clock by the London maker Isaac Rogers, had an eight day twin fusee, rack striking movement with verge escapement. Brian explains that the clock’s Dutch striking on two bells with pull-repeat mechanism is a rare feature. He comments “Dutch striking is where the clock strikes the hours at the preceding half hour on a high toned bell and at the hour in a low toned bell.” It realised £3600.

A late 19th century French lacquered brass and white marble four glass table clock with perpetual calendar and moonphase by Le Roy & Fils of Paris
A late 19th century French lacquered brass and white marble four glass table clock with perpetual calendar and moonphase by Le Roy & Fils of Paris

I remind Brian of the late 19th century French lacquered brass and white marble four glass table clock Toovey’s sold for £4200 by Le Roy & Fils of Paris. Brian says “Le Roy & Fils was a French watchmaker. The company was founded in 1785 by Basile Charles le Roy and remained one of France’s leading makers. The quality of its eight day movement striking on a bell with perpetual calendar and moonphase was matched by the three piece white enamel dial with Roman numerals and visible Brocot escapement. Although there were some problems around condition the clock’s quality made it very appealing.”

If you are looking to acquire or sell a fine clock Brian Baskerville is always pleased to share his expertise and advise you. He can be contacted at Toovey’s Auctioneers.

An antique clock is the perfect way to measure and mark time and the market for fine clocks remains buoyant.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Time to collect wristwatches

An Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph gentleman’s wristwatch, circa 1970
An Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph gentleman’s wristwatch, circa 1970

Over the millennia humankind has sought to record and measure time. Watches which can tell the time with exceptional accuracy can be bought for very little today and yet our enduring fascination with exquisitely engineered mechanical watches remains undiminished. Not only do these watches connect us with the present but they also link us with points of extraordinary human endeavour and adventure from our past. Wristwatches have become a booming collectors’ market with prices at auction continuing to rise.

The Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph has become an icon of space exploration. Buzz Aldrin wore one as he stepped on the lunar surface for the very first time in 1969. The Omega Speedmaster Professional has been used on all NASA’s piloted space missions, including the period of manned Moon landings between 1969 and 1972, and is still used by astronauts today. The example shown here dates from 1970, the year of the fated Apollo 13 mission whose story has been immortalised in film and writing. Against the odds the astronauts and their damaged spacecraft were returned safely to earth after they were forced to abort their Moon landing. Date, make, condition, model and originality are vital to a watch’s value and this example realised £10,500 in a recent Toovey’s specialist watch sale.

A Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Submariner Sea Dweller 4000 gentleman's steel bracelet wristwatch, circa 2006
A Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Submariner Sea Dweller 4000 gentleman’s steel bracelet wristwatch, circa 2006

Perhaps the most iconic of all diving watches is the Rolex Submariner. The idea was conceived in 1953 by Rolex board member and keen diver, René- Paul Jeanneret, who identified the potential for a diving watch which could also be worn every day. The French underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau, invented the aqua-lung ten years earlier in 1943 and is said to have used a Rolex Submariner himself on occasions. His underwater adventures aboard the ship Calypso would be made famous by the BBC television series of the 1960s and 1970s.

Early and rare examples of Rolex Submariners can command five and six figure sums at auction. But later pre-owned examples, like the one shown here dating from 2006, can be purchased at auction for between £3000 and £6000 depending on condition.

A Tag Heuer Monaco LS Automatic steel cased gentleman's wristwatch, circa 2015
A Tag Heuer Monaco LS Automatic steel cased gentleman’s wristwatch, circa 2015

The watchmaker Heuer can trace its history back to 1860. It became TAG Heuer in 1985. Heuer was a leading maker of stopwatches and from the 1950s to the 1970s their chronograph wristwatches became popular among amateur and professional motor racers including the actor Steve McQueen. The Tag Heuer Monaco LS Calibre 12 gentleman’s wristwatch illustrated copies the earlier version and dates from 2015. Whilst the 1970s originals command the highest prices these pre-owned, beautifully crafted later editions fetch around £2000 at auction today representing great value to the watch and motoring enthusiast.

The increasing demand and prices for wristwatches at auction reflects the enduring appeal and strength of this collectors’ market. Toovey’s next specialist watch sale will be held on Thursday 7th September 2017 and further entries are still being accepted.

Tom Rowsell, head of Toovey’s specialist watch auctions, is always delighted to meet with fellow wristwatch enthusiasts and can be contacted by telephoning 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Sussex Watchmaker becomes Youngest fellow of Horological Institute in the UK

The exquisite gilded fusee, striking movement, c.1685, displaying the watchmaker’s art
The exquisite gilded fusee, striking movement, c.1685, displaying the watchmaker’s art

At twenty-one years old Jacob Russell has become the youngest Fellow of The British Horological Institute in the country – a remarkable achievement by any standard.

Jacob Russell FBHI in the workshop
Jacob Russell FBHI in the workshop

Jacob Russell, who has always lived in Sussex, recently completed his Worshipful Company of Clockmakers Apprenticeship as a watchmaker. Charles I established The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1631 by Royal Charter. Today it is the Master and Wardens of the Company who award the Fellowships on behalf of The British Horological Institute. Jacob was awarded a Fellowship for his award winning practical work, carried out during his apprenticeship.

Horology refers to the art and science of making, servicing, repairing and restoring timepieces and measuring devices. Today’s watch and clockmakers need to combine the traditional, practical, dextrous specialist skills and techniques with an ability to embrace new technology.

Jacob’s Grandfather was passionate about watches and he inspired a love of horology in his grandson.

From a young age Jacob collected watches. He says “The aesthetic, history and function of watches delights me. I love their physical quality and the fine engineering involved in watchmaking.” Jacob explains how he learnt how watches work by taking apart and rebuilding examples from his own collection.

Whilst still at school Jacob helped at West Dean College where he was encouraged by the Senior Tutor in Horology, Matthew Read. Jacob served his apprenticeship under Geoff Allnutt, himself a watchmaker. Jacob works for Geoff in his business, J. E. Allnutt & Son, West Street, Midhurst. The firm and its staff are highly respected as restorers and retailers of vintage watches and antique clocks.

Geoff’s passion for clocks and watches was also apparent at a young age. He grew up working alongside his father. Geoff is passionate about bringing young people into his profession and is quick to praise Jacob’s exceptional achievements. He expresses a generous pride in seeing his young protégé develop and grow. I, too, believe in the importance of training future generations in our professions and I admire the investment and pleasure Geoff has made and takes in Jacob.

The watches seen at J. E. Allnutt & Son range from the antique to contemporary super-high quality English examples.

The tortoiseshell outer case with its inlaid landscape displayed with the inner case and dial
The tortoiseshell outer case with its inlaid landscape displayed with the inner case and dial

Jacob shows me a remarkable pair cased gentleman’s open-faced pocket watch with a gilded fusee, striking movement. He explains that the watch belongs to a private collector and is by Nathaniel Barrow who became a Freeman of The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1661. The watch dates from around 1685. It is wonderful to imagine this watch in use in the final year of Charles II’s reign. The mechanism is beautifully worked and engraved. The tortoiseshell outer case is equally fine and is inlaid in silver with a landscape. The restraint in the engraved dial and the case further highlights the confidence and skill of this 17th century watchmaker.

The pair cased gentleman’s pocket watch by Nathaniel Barrow, c.1685
The pair cased gentleman’s pocket watch by Nathaniel Barrow, c.1685

This beautiful object gives us a real sense of place in the procession of time and human history. Jacob is clearly bound up with this story in an exciting way.

Jacob concludes “I love the variety and challenges of my work, each day is different – a different watch, a different problem. It’s exciting when you can save a movement from the brink.”

Jacob Russell and Geoff Allnutt can be contacted at J. E. Allnutt & Son on 01730 813495. To find out more about courses, apprenticeships and training visit The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers website www.clockmakers.org.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.