Collecting Time

A rare Omega Seamaster Automatic 1000m/3300ft Professional stainless steel cased diver’s bracelet wristwatch, circa 1970

Watches which tell the time with exceptional accuracy can be bought for very little and yet we have an enduring fascination with mechanical watches which continue to attract the attention of today’s collectors.

Amongst these are the diving watches inspired by the Rolex Submariner which was conceived in 1953 by Rolex board member and keen diver, René- Paul Jeanneret. He identified the potential for a diving watch which could also be worn every day.

The rare Omega Seamaster Automatic 1000m/3300ft Professional stainless steel cased diver’s bracelet wristwatch dates from the 1970s. The Omega Seamaster 1000 was nicknamed ‘The Grand’ by virtue of its 1000 metre rating and with a total run believed to be fewer than 500, it is regarded as a rare watch. The first ‘Grand’ was personally given by Prince Rainier III of Monaco to Jacques Cousteau, who was director of the Monaco Oceanographic Research Institute and Museum between 1957 and 1988. The French underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau, invented the aqua-lung in 1943. His underwater adventures aboard the ship Calypso would be made famous by the BBC television series of the 1960s and 1970s.Cousteau declared the Omega Seamaster 1000 to be his favourite diving watch.

In the 1970s Omega was viewed as being more revolutionary and professionally focused than the higher priced Rolex watches.

In the 1960s Japan’s economy grew at an extraordinary rate. It’s well educated work force moved from low-productivity rural jobs into modern manufacturing and services. The US and European economies began to grow post-war providing demand whilst prices for raw materials remained stable and Japan boomed.

Japanese goods entered western markets and began to establish her international brands. Amongst these was the watchmaker Seiko which quickly became recognised for its innovation, precision and quality. The company began to develop diving watches in the 1960s to compete with Swiss manufacturers like Omega and Rolex. The similarities of its style and design with its Swiss competitors is not accidental as east meets west.

A Seiko 6215-7000 Automatic stainless steel cased diver’s wristwatch, circa 1967

The 1967, Seiko released the rare reference 6215-7000 which featured water resistance up to 300 meters. The monobloc case had a screw down crown to protect the watch. It was a technically very complex watch and was produced in small numbers over about a year. It was the reputation of watches like this one that established Seiko’s brand which would come to dominate its Swiss competitors in the Quartz movement era that followed.

Despite their worn condition these two rare diving watches realised £3600 and £7400 respectively in Toovey’s specialist watch sales.

We have a fascination with handmade watches and value them far more highly than homogenous, mass produced timepieces. Interest, demand and prices continue to rise in this exciting field of collecting.

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.