The Unusual and Affordable at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction

Timepieces that are interesting but not always good-looking.

Phillips’ upcoming watch auction in Geneva is a 237-lot affair, dominated by the extraordinary, the rare, and the multi-million dollar, but still routine timepieces from Rolex and Patek Philippe. Such watches are rightly regarded as important and collectible, but not necessarily for everyone’s taste or budget. Fortunately for everyone else there is everything else, or about the remaining 40% or so of the offerings that are neither Rolex nor Patek Philippe.

Arguably the most interesting is the lot 62, an oversized Zenith ref. 4528 chronograph made for the Italian navy (pictured above), which is not as well known as the Zenith A. Cairelli chronographs made for the Italian air force four decades later but definitely more unusual. Dating to the 1930s, the watch is one of a series of similar chronographs (other makers include Universal Geneve) produced for the country’s naval forces during that decade.

This watch is huge, peculiar, and not conventionally handsome. The case is an enormous 42mm, larger than even a Rolex Submariner, and more curiously, two-tone in steel and yellow gold. Military issue watches are hardly ever two-tone – this is marked “Marina Militare Italiana”, or “Italian Navy”, on the case back – which leads to the assumption that this was produced for officers for wear with their dress uniforms.

It has a razor-thin case band, sloping back and bezel, and narrow, soldered lugs, which combined with the two-tone metal and size give it a somewhat jarring look.

Zenith 4528 Marina Militare chronograph 2

Zenith 4528 Marina Militare chronograph 3

The well kept white enamel dial with red and blue scales is conventional for the time, with the nodo savoia, or “Savoy knot”, at six o’clock being the emblem of the House of Savoy, which provided the last monarchs of Italy.

Zenith 4528 Marina Militare chronograph 5

Zenith 4528 Marina Militare chronograph 4

The nodo savoia is also engraved on the case back, along with the emblem of Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, a bundle of wooden rods with an axe blade sticking out.

Zenith 4528 Marina Militare chronograph 6

Zenith 4528 Marina Militare chronograph 7

The Zenith Marina Militare is estimated at SFr15,000 to SFr20,000.

Something drastically different is lot 200, the Omega Constellation “de Luxe” ref. 2699 with “observatory” cloisonné enamel dial –  the top of the line model from Omega’s top of the line collection during the firm’s heyday in the mid 20th century. The Constellation “de Luxe” models were distinguished by their gold cases and gold applied markers on the dial (and there was the “Grand Luxe” with the case, dial and bracelet in gold).

Omega Constellation De Luxe cloisonne enamel 1

This specimen has a cloisonné enamel dial depicting the Geneva observatory against a starry night sky, one of a small number made in the 1950s for the Middle East. The motif was a reference to Omega’s strong showing year after year at the annual observatory chronometer trials in the decades preceding this wristwatch, explaining the observatory emblem also appearing on the case back of all Constellation watches.

The dial was produced by Stern Freres, the Geneva dial maker that was a leading producer of enamel dials during the period. Specifically, the dial was made by Nelly Richard, the noted enameller who was responsible for many such dials at the time, including the Rolex Neptune wristwatch that is being sold at this very same auction. According to the Stern archives, Ms Richard was paid SFr80 for the observatory cloisonné dial, putting it amongst the more expensive dials made then.

Omega Constellation De Luxe cloisonne enamel 2

Omega Constellation De Luxe cloisonne enamel 4

Omega Constellation De Luxe cloisonne enamel 5

The watch is accompanied by a gold Omega bracelet, which adds significant value but is not quite as impressive as the “brick” bracelet found on the Constellation “Grand Luxe”.

Omega Constellation De Luxe cloisonne enamel 3

More importantly, this Constellation is in excellent condition, with the engraved observatory logo on the back still well defined and sharply etched. The softness of 18k gold means that the markings on the case back are often worn away over time.

The Constellation “de Luxe” is estimated at SFr80,000 to SFr120,000.

Less intrinsically special but in a style that’s suited to the current fashion for vintage chronographs is lot 189, an Omega ref. CK 2393 chronograph. Circa 1939, this is a striking wristwatch with a glossy black dial featuring two-tone printing and both tachymetric and telemetric scales. The French language “Télémètre” and “Fab. Suisse” on the dial indicates this was for a Francophone market.

Omega chronograph CK 2393-1

Omega chronograph CK 2393-2

Omega chronograph CK 2393-3

The steel case is 37.5mm in diameter, with the added advantage of retaining the well-defined edges on the lugs and bezel. Inside is the Omega calibre 33.3, a hand-wound movement that’s one of the best known from the early 20th century, and also the predecessor to the later Omega calibre 321 and Lemania CH27.

The CK 2393 chronograph is estimated at SFr15,000 to SFr20,000.

Lot 109 is an Audemars Piguet ref. 6001, a chunky watch from the 1970s that looks quintessentially 1970s. More historically interesting than it is attractive, the ref. 6001 is first ever quartz Audemars Piguet wristwatch. A remarkably advanced and expensive watch in its day, the ref. 6001 is equipped with the calibre 2510, an ultra-precise movement that kept time to one second a month. The calibre was actually produced by Omega and identical to that found in the Omega Marine Chronometer.

Audemars Piguet 6001 quartz 1

Audemars Piguet 6001 quartz 3

As notable as the technology inside is the dial design, which is evidently inspired by the Royal Oak. It’s a dark blue with tapisserie guilloche as well as baton hands and indices in white gold.

Audemars Piguet 6001 quartz 4

Audemars Piguet 6001 quartz 2

Estimated at an affordable SFr5000 to SFr8000, which is likely less than what it cost new in 1974 after adjusting for inflation, this illustrates how technology quickly goes out of date.

In contrast, the half dozen or so Cartier Tanks in the auction remains as classic now as the rectangular form did decades ago, but are just as accessibly priced. Lots 137 to 144 are all Cartier Tank wristwatches, with the more affordable examples being the modern watches.


Lot 139 is a Cartier Tank à Guichet, a limited edition for the jeweller’s 150th anniversary in 1997. A faithful remake of a historical Cartier wristwatch, this is a jump hour with a platinum case.


The case is 25.5mm wide and 37mm long, which isn’t large but substantial enough not to feel small, as is often the case with rectangular watches. It carries an estimate of SFr12,000 to SFr18,000.

Also platinum but slightly larger is lot 141, the Cartier Tank à Vis ref. 2485 E. Translating as “screwed Tank”, the model gets it name from the four screws on the corners of the bezel.


While the Tank à Vis was part of the regular line-up in the early 2000s, this specific example is a special order with blued steel Breguet hands, replacing the sword hands that are usually found on the watch. This has an estimate of SFr8000 to SFr12,000.

Preview and auction information

Highlights from the sale will be in New York from April 21 to 24 at 450 Park Avenue, with the pre-sale exhibition taking place in Geneva from May 11 to 14 at La Reserve hotel.

The Geneva Watch Auction: Five takes place on May 13 and 14, 2017 at La Reserve.

The full catalogue and more information is available from Phillips.


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Hands-On with the Grand Seiko SBGW251, SBGW2512, SBGW253, Reissue of 1960’s Ref. 3180

Grand Seiko remakes the original for the third time, but it's still pretty good.

Grand Seiko reached a milestone at Baselworld 2017, when Seiko announced its line of high-end watches would be spun off into an independent brand. The occasion was marked with a revisit to the first ever Grand Seiko, the ref. 3180 of 1960, in two guises: a contemporary reinterpretation in titanium, and a trio of remakes, the SBGW251, SBGW2512 and SBGW253.

The three “re-creations”, as Seiko calls them, are actually the third (and hopefully last) instance Seiko is remaking the first Grand Seiko model. The first was the Grand Seiko SBGW004, a 300-piece limited edition in yellow gold made in 2001. Then a decade later it returned for Seiko’s 130th anniversary, in steel, yellow gold or platinum, also as a limited edition.

Grand Seiko SBGW253 steel-5

This is cow that has been milked often – hard core fans might find it too easy – but the reissues remain appealing. The fit and feel of the watches are spot-on and importantly, they remain reasonably priced, so the proposition still feels honest. The steel reissue, in particular, is priced at under US$6000, making it easy to swallow.

The basics

The Grand Seiko reissues are available in platinum, 18k yellow gold, or stainless steel. All three stick to the same classic design, but with a larger, 38mm case (compared to the smallish 35.8mm for the earlier reissues and the 1960 original).

All are equipped with the calibre 9S64, a 24-jewel, hand-wound movement with a 72-hour power reserve. The movement in the luxe platinum version, however, has been specially regulated to a more stringer standard.

All three are matched with buckles featuring a relief Seiko logo that’s a dead ringer for the buckle on the 1960 original.

Grand Seiko 3180 reissue 2017 3

And the Grand Seiko timing certificate that accompanies each watch is a facsimile of the 1960 original as well, illustrating the attention to detail with the remake.

Grand Seiko 3180 reissue 2017 1

Onto the watches proper. The trio of reissues is topped by the Grand Seiko SBGW251, distinguished by its 999 platinum case as well as other features exclusive to the top of the line version. While most platinum watches cases are 950 platinum, meaning the alloy is 95% platinum, this Grand Seiko case is 99.9% platinum. Tangibly there is little difference between the alloys, though 999 platinum is slightly softer.

At 38.5mm in diameter this has significant presence on the wrist, with the 10.7mm case thickness helping it stay elegant. While it is not large by any modern standard, the fact that most Grand Seiko watches tend to be under 40mm makes this feel every so slightly big relative to its peers.

The platinum case gives the watch reassuring weight, something that’s lacking on the steel version of the reissue. This one feels solid and expensive.

Grand Seiko remake SBGW251 platinum 1

The details that set the platinum SBGW251 apart go beyond just the case metal. The dial is made of 18k gold and finished with a radial brushing, while the hour markers are similarly 18k gold. An eight-pointed star at six o’clock attests to the solid gold hour markers, an element also found on some example of the original ref. 3180.

The hands, however, are steel. While the materials differ, both the hour markers and hands are diamond-cut, giving them sharply defined edges that are characteristic of Grand Seiko watches.

Grand Seiko remake SBGW251 platinum 3

Grand Seiko remake SBGW251 platinum 4

Notably, the “Grand Seiko” logo at 12 o’clock is engraved onto the gold dial, a feature found on certain examples of the ref. 3180 that is making a comeback for the first time. The engraved logo is found only on the platinum model, as is the specially regulated movement. The calibre 9S64 inside the platinum version is rated to -1 to +5 seconds day, compared to -3 to +5 seconds for the other models.

Grand Seiko remake SBGW251 platinum 5

Grand Seiko remake SBGW251 platinum 6

Grand Seiko remake SBGW251 platinum 2

While the platinum version is unquestionably the most impressive of the trio, both in terms of features as well as its weight in the hand, its monochromatic colour makes it feel slightly plain. And it’s also weighed down by its price, which is US$30,600 or ¥3.456m.

Visually the Grand Seiko SBGW252 in yellow gold is closest to the archetypal 1960 Grand Seiko, most of which had yellow gold-filled cases. Physically this is identical to the platinum model, with a 38mm case that’s 10.7mm high.

Grand Seiko remake SBGW252 gold 1

Grand Seiko remake SBGW252 gold 6

Unlike the platinum model with the engraved logo, the gold version has a stamped, relief “Grand Seiko” at 12 o’clock, also a feature found on some specimens of the vintage original.

Grand Seiko remake SBGW252 gold 2

The grained ivory dial gives this a significantly more retro feel than its two siblings, making it even more reminiscent of the original. While the dial is brass, the hour markers are 18k gold, accompanied by the star logo at six.

Grand Seiko remake SBGW252 gold 4

Grand Seiko remake SBGW252 gold 5

The Grand Seiko SBGW253 is visually similar to its precious metal peers, but no-frills. It has the same stamped, relief logo, but the hour markers are steel, explaining the absent star logo. A blued steel seconds hand, however, gives the dial an attractive injection of colour.

Grand Seiko SBGW253 steel-1

Grand Seiko SBGW253 steel-4

Grand Seiko SBGW253 steel-3

Grand Seiko SBGW253 steel-2

While the steel model is the same 38mm in diameter, the case is 11.2mm (compared to 10.7mm of the platinum or gold). This imperceptible height increase is due to the traditional 18k gold medallion set into the case back, which depicts the historical Grand Seiko lion logo in relief.

Grand Seiko SBGW253 steel-6

Grand Seiko SBGW253 steel-7

While it is no-frills, the steel model is eminently affordable and a compelling buy, especially for those who missed out on the earlier limited edition remakes.

Price and availability 

The Grand Seiko reissues are already available in Japan, and internationally starting late April 2017.

The SBGW251 in platinum is limited to 136 pieces, priced at US$30,600 or ¥3.456m.

The SBGW252 in yellow gold is limited to 353 pieces, priced at US$17,200 or ¥1.944m.

And the SBGW253 in stainless steel is limited to 1960 pieces, with a retail priced of US$5700 or ¥648,000.


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Hermès Introduces the Slim d’Hermès l’Heure Impatiente

Equipped with a countdown function that ends with a single chime.

Translating as “The Impatient Hour”, the latest from Hermes combines both the brand’s quirky sensibilities and the prowess of complications outfit Agenhor. The Slim d’Hermès l’Heure Impatiente has the same case and dial style as the brand’s signature men’s wristwatch, but is conceptually related to Hermes’ whimsical complications like the Le Temps Suspendu that only shows the time on demand.

The Slim d’Hermès l’Heure Impatiente has a countdown function that can be set to any time within 12 hours from the current moment, as well as a chiming mechanism that strikes when time is up.

The gong for the chiming mechanism

The countdown function is set via the crown at four o’clock, which turns the display on the sub-dial at four o’clock to indicate the event time or zero hour. As soon as it’s 60 minutes before zero hour, hand on the the fan-shaped countdown display starts counting down towards zero.

When the 60-minute countdown reaches zero, the watch sounds a single chime. And the chime can be activated manually at any time with the pusher at nine o’clock. The time, on the other hand, is set conventionally via the crown at two o’clock.

Hermes Slim d’Hermès L’heure impatiente 5

The base calibre inside is the H1912, an automatic made for Hermes by movement maker Vaucher (which Hermes owns a quarter stake in). But the countdown and chiming module is the work of Agenhor, the low-key but respected Geneva-based firm led by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht.

And typical of Agenhor’s quirky brand of movement design, several of the key components of the complication are made via UV-LIGA, an additive process that grows metal parts, allowing them to take almost any shape. The result is a lever that’s shaped like a unicorn and bell, as well as a wheel with spokes shaped like sharks.

Hermes Slim d’Hermès L’heure impatiente 1

Hermes Slim d’Hermès L’heure impatiente 3

To maximise the acoustic quality of the watch, the case is relatively large at 40.5mm, but hollowed out on the inside to maximise the amount of air inside the case for resonance. The movement is suspended in the case with five clamps, with thinner than usual sapphire crystals on the front and back.

Hermes Slim d’Hermès L’heure impatiente 2

The movement seen from the dial side

Price and availability 

The Slim d’Hermès L’heure Impatiente in rose gold is priced at US$39,900 or €31,000. It’ll be available starting the second quarter of 2017.


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