Christie’s Rolex Auction Highlights

by James Dowling

Posted by James M. Dowling on October 01, 1997 at 6:13:00:

Hi Folks,

I have just returned from the final hammer fall at the Christie’s London sale of the Ravenborg Rolex collection; It was phenomenal…. The sale room at Christie’s in Kings Street, London on Tuesday 30th September, was full to overflowing with bidders standing all around the walls and perching on every available surface. Along the right hand wall were 16 members of Christie’s staff, manning a bank of telephone lines, fielding callers from all over the world. All these people were there for one reason only—the Ravenborg sale.

The sale was an outstanding success, 95% of all the watches offered were sold and the total of the sale and premiums came to well over £1.1 million pounds.

I will mention just a few of the highlights: Lot 9 A Luminor Panerai Italiam Military watch. There has been a lot of misinformation spread about these Italian military watches, they were ordered from Rolex by Panerai in Florence, who were (and still are) an official Rolex agent. These watches were supplied to many branches of the Italian forces immediately before and during WW II. The vast majority were fitted with movements by other firms, only the very first group, called Luminor Panerai, which were intended for Italian Naval divers were fitted with Rolex movements and crowns. All the subsequent watches were fitted with Angelus movements, both regular and 8 day versions. Everything about these watches is unusual, including the dial construction; this involves 2 separate dials, a top one with the numbers cut out and a lower one with luminous material which would shine through the openings in the upper dial. This allowed the luminosity to be replaced without having to replace the whole dial. One little known fact is that these watches were the only Oyster watches ever made without milling on the case back, this was because the navy wanted to be able to open the watches with easily available tools and not to have to rely on a special Rolex tool which might not be available in a crucial moment. This watch was estimated at £1,500 to £2,000 (US $2,400/3,200) but in fact sold for £3,500 (US $5,700) Lot 303 was a steel Paul Newman Oyster chronograph with the desirable black bezel and screw down pushers. On a good tight heavy bracelet it was in excellent condition and was expected to bring £6,000/7,000 (US $9,500/11,000) the hammer finally fell at £13,500 (US$ 21,750)

Lot 341 A steel Railway Jump hour Prince. The jump hour movement was introduced by Aegler (who made all the Rolex movements at the time) in 1931 and first offered by Rolex & Gruen the following year. It was an attempt by Aegler to follow the lead of such first division companies as Patek, Philippe and Audemars Piquet who had recently introduced similar watches. Called the Automatic Prince in the publicity materials of the time, it cost and additional 1 guinea (£1.05) over the price of an equivalent standard Prince; this however was a 10% premium on the cost of a silver Prince. Due to the additional cost and the difficulty in quickly reading the time, the watch proved to be a commercial failure and was dropped from the catalogues within 6 years (although production may have ended earlier). These factors have combined to make this one of the rarest and now most desirable of all Princes. It is interesting to note that none of the other companies who also produced jump hour watches, at this time, were able to make a commercial success of them either Estimated at £9,000 (US $15,000) it made £11,176.25 (US $19,000)

Lot 335 The model 6541 Milgauss is one of the rarest of all post war Rolex watches, with its distinctive and unique bezel, dial, hands and movement it bore no relationship to any other Rolex watch. Designed for use in areas of high magnetic fields, up to 1,000 gauss (which is the origin of the model name). People working around X-ray machines, power stations and any other kind of electrical generator were in need of such watches. However as many other companies produced watches with similar abilities the market became saturated and Rolex found it uneconomic to continue production. There was also the fact that the watch used a heavily modified calibre 1030, which was soon replaced by the more modern 1500 calibre and so the 6541 was dropped after a short production run of only 4 years, to be replaced by the 1019. This lot had an estimate of £6,000 to 6,500 (approx US$ 9,500/10,000); wheras in fact it sold for £14,700 (approx US$ 23,500).

Perhaps the most interesting statistic about the sale was this one; Christie’s normally print 2,000 copies of a catalogue; because of the expected interest it was decided to increase the print run to 4,000. It sold out 10 days before the sale and had to be reprinted TWICE.

In the interests of fairness I must state that I acted as a consultant to Christie’s for this one sale; but my job is now done and I thought some of you might be interested in these amazing results.

Good luck