Ineichen is holding an auction dedicated to chronographs. The 72 lots, carefully selected by the Ineichen team, offer a comprehensive look at the contemporary art of the chronograph on the wrist. Chronographs are one of the most important chapters in the history of wristwatches: They were the first widely used complication, and modern chronographs retain that status. The production of wrist chronographs began almost immediately after the massive introduction of wristwatches in the early 20th century. According to the available information, Longines was the first company to start producing wrist chronographs in 1913. This achievement is all the more impressive because the brand developed its own movement specifically for its first wrist chronographs – the famous Caliber 13.33 – instead of using the small calibers previously developed for pocket watches. Just a few years later, chronographs appeared in the collections of many brands, and to this day they remain an important part of the market’s offerings. Because chronographs are ubiquitous on the wrist, they are quite affordable for many collectors, although some examples fetch record prices at auction – like Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona, which sold for a record-breaking $17.8 million at Phillips in October 2017. It is currently the second most expensive wristwatch sold at auction and the most expensive Rolex ever.
Of course, this figure is an exception, while much cheaper watches dominate the market, and we can generally describe the situation on the secondary market as favorable. In recent years, the market has experienced a significant upswing, especially in the years of Covid. Then there was a correction in the second half of 2022, and the market returned to the global upward trend, which was much less dramatic than two years earlier and which we consider the healthiest and most optimal.
What is important and what is appealing about chronographs?
How can we describe the appeal of wristwatch chronographs as collectibles? In our review of the Vintage and Modern Vintage Watches 2023 auction, we have already mentioned the main factors that buyers should consider. Here we will focus only on the circumstances that arise from the specifics of wristwatch chronographs.
Caliber, caliber and again caliber
The chronograph mechanism is one of the traditional classical complications of watchmaking. Basically, the design was developed in the second half of the 19th century, in the 20th century calibers were adapted mainly to the dimensions of the watch case and the introduction of automatic winding, other changes and introductions have less historical significance, although among them there are ingenious inventions. The chronograph is one of the most complex mechanisms of traditional watchmaking, and the best examples are masterpieces of engineering and design. Visually, traditional chronograph calibers are among the most impressive, and many modern vintage watches take advantage of this by allowing a view of the movement through a transparent caseback. Vintage watches don’t usually have this option, although the best vintage chronograph movements are a real eye-catcher – if the caseback is opened by a watchmaker or an experienced collector. Therefore, an important criterion for the attractiveness of a chronograph caliber is undoubtedly the workmanship of its parts. This includes the classic finishing of the base movement with striped Cotes de Geneve bridge decorations, perlage finish on the mainplate, beveled and polished chamfers, polished wheel axles and pin tips, as well as the meticulous finishing of the chronograph parts with chamfers and fine straight grinding on levers and flat springs, and flat-polished screw heads.
Characteristic chronograph design
The chronograph adds two essential things to the design of the wristwatch: the buttons that control the functions of the chronograph – they significantly change the shape and appearance of the watch, making it look much more intricate, and the dial, which gets additional counters and hands, making it look much more complex as well. The dial of a chronograph is an art in itself and requires the designer to have a sense of proportion and harmony in the arrangement of sub-dials and additional scales. The best chronographs are true masterpieces of dial design.
Potential as a collector’s item
The chronograph is a very complex mechanism, which is usually in no way inferior to other classic complications such as a perpetual calendar or a tourbillon. The split chronograph even surpasses these complications in complexity. Nevertheless, on the market, many chronographs and split chronographs of traditional design are significantly undervalued compared to perpetual calendars and tourbillons, and we believe that this situation should change in favor of chronographs.
Many things become clear when you look at them in the big picture. We are sure that the 71 lots of the Chronos 2023 auction will give you such a view of the art of the chronograph on the wrist, broadening your horizons and perhaps forcing you to re-evaluate the established position. The classics of famous brands are joined by watches of small creative brands and vintage chronographs that have shaped the history of this complication.
The importance of the Daytona
The selection of the Rolex Daytona represents the two poles of collecting this model. The first generation watch with the in-house caliber 4130 (we refer to it as the Daytona-4130) is not yet a collector’s classic, but astute collectors are already starting to look at these Daytona models – as they have recently done with the so-called El Pimero Daytona. Rolex has offered over the past twenty years many versions of the Daytona-4130, which suggests plenty of opportunities for future research. And it suggests good fortune, because the big picture is far from clear, and information about the rarity of certain versions and varieties for the collector community has yet to accumulate. In the Chronos 2023 auction, Ineichen presents a comprehensive selection of Rolex Daytona-4130s: Ref. 116518 (Lot 58, circa 2006) in yellow gold with white dial and gold-outlined subdials, three Ref. 116509 in white gold – with silver sunburst dial and black outlined subdials (Lot 59, circa 2007), with black dial and red accents (Lot 60, circa 2007), the classic steel Ref. 116520 (Lot 62, circa 2008) with black dial and silver outlined subdials. A very interesting offering is the three bicolor Daytona models, Ref. 116523 in steel and yellow gold, which are always overshadowed by the Daytona 4130 models in steel, solid gold and platinum. In this sale, there are three versions of the bicolor Daytona Ref. 116523: with dark blue dial (Lot 61), with white dial and gold outlined subdials (Lot 63) and with black dial (Lot 64).
Rounding out the selection of Daytonas is the king of this show, the 18k yellow gold Daytona Ref. 6263 (Lot 65) with a matching riveted 18k yellow gold Oyster bracelet – a true must-have for collectors of fine vintage chronographs. The Daytona Ref. 6263, produced from 1971 to about 1987, was the last iteration of Rolex’s wrist chronograph to feature the hand-wound Caliber 727 (by Valjoux), a water-resistant Oyster case, screw-down pushers, Plexiglas crystal, and a Plexiglas bezel ring with tachymeter markings. Although most Daytona Ref. 6263 were made of stainless steel, there were also a limited number of gold watches. Production of yellow gold Daytona chronographs is estimated at about 100 pieces per year, for both the Ref. 6263 (with Plexiglas bezel ring) and the 6265 (similar model with full metal bezel). This 18k yellow gold watch, made around 1985, has a riveted Oyster bracelet and an impressive yellow gold toned Panda dial with the SCOC (Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified) inscription.
Also worth mentioning is the custom skeletonized version of the Daytona White Gold Pièce Unique 1/1 (Lot 03) made by Artisans de Genève, which is rarely found at auction.
The Speedy Four
Omega Speedmasters has always attracted a lot of attention. These watches are perceived perhaps even more emotionally compared to the legendary Daytonas, because the famous story about space exploration and cosmic journey to the moon brought these chronographs to the first places in terms of recognition and popularity. The price of Speedmasters is low compared to Daytonas, while the number of references and versions produced is large, which makes collecting Speedmasters very attractive. Omega – until the 2010s – never positioned itself as a luxury brand, preferring instead the respectful image of a technical watchmaker. That’s a big part of the appeal of many of the brand’s watches, but especially the Speedmasters. Ineichen offers a selection of four Speedmasters that could definitely form the basis of the collection.
Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Ref. 3126.96.36.199.01.006 (Lot 49, late 2010s) is the modern version of the moonwatch. It features the Speedmaster’s classic asymmetrical 42mm stainless steel case, a black bezel with a tachymeter scale and a black dial. The Lemania-based Caliber 1863 is a direct descendant of the original Caliber 321, which has been used in the Omega Speedmaster since 1957. . The rim of the caseback is engraved with the inscription “The First and Only Watch Worn on The Moon” – a rare feature, as Speedmaster chronographs are usually referred to as “The First Watch Worn on The Moon” on their markings.
Speedmaster Ref. 3590.50 (Lot 50, circa 1995) is an attractive and very rare late version of this reference with tritium luminophore that has aged beautifully. Omega is known to have replaced the tritium with the non-radioactive luminova luminophore in 1996. Not only is this watch one of the last chronographs with tritium luminescence, it is also interesting because of two other very rare features. First, there are the short S and R in the “Speedmaster” logo, and second, the caseback engraved “Flight Qualified by NASA For All Manned Space Missions” in a version with I and M aligned in “Flight” and “Manned”.
Speedmaster Ref. 105,003 (Lot 51, 1960s) is nicknamed “Ed White” after the astronaut who wore this watch during a spacewalk in 1965. Among collectors, this model is also known as the ‘Straight lug’ because the case was designed in the early symmetrical style of the 1950s with straight lugs and no crown and pusher guards. Such case was discontinued in 1968 with the end of production of the famous caliber 321, one of the best hand-wound chronograph calibers in the traditional design. This example is equipped with the original ‘DO90’ (‘Dot Over Ninety’) black bezel. Pay attention to the dial: it does not bear the inscription ‘Professional’, moreover, the dial has a characteristic stepped relief, both typical features of Speedmaster Ref. 105.003.
Speedmaster Professional Apollo XI 1969 10th Anniversary Ref. BA345.0802 (Lot 52, circa 1980) is rarely seen on the market, as this model was made in 18k yellow gold in a limited edition of 300 pieces. This is the first Speedmaster to have the display caseback revealing the caliber 861L. The L version of the caliber 861 has a luxurious finish and additional jewels – two more than the 17-jewel base version of this movement.
The splendor of the refined Patek Philippe chronographs
Ineichen offers in this auction two chronographs of the brand with calendar complications. The magnificent Ref. 5960P-001 Chronograph Annual Calendar (Lot 55, circa 2011) in platinum with anthracite dial is equipped with an automatic caliber with chronograph and annual calendar functions. The unusual layout of the dial is recognizable and characteristic of some of today’s Patek Philippe annual calendar chronographs, while the round polished case leaves a timelessly classic impression. The same is true of the excellent Chronograph Perpetual Calendar Ref. 5270P-014 (Lot 56, circa 2021) in platinum. What makes this lot so attractive is not only the very complex hand-wound movement that uses the traditional combination of chronograph functions with a jumping minute counter and a perpetual calendar, but also the excellent salmon-colored dial that perfectly matches the platinum case.
Three facets of the art of chronographs by Audemars Piguet
This auction shows the three facets of Audemars Piguet’s chronograph art: classic, sporty-elegant and sporty. We find the first genre in the classic Jules Audemars Chronograph Automatic Ref. 26100BC.OO.D002CR.01 (Lot 04, circa 2010) in white gold with salmon dial. The classic Jules Audemars collection is no longer produced by the brand, while classic watches have always been an important part of the brand’s image – that definitely adds to the appeal of this watch. The sporty and elegant style is represented by the Royal Oak chronographs, among which we have the very rare Ref. 26022BC.OO.002CR.01 (Lot 07, 2008) in white gold with silver tapisserie dial and leather strap, as well as the similar Ref. 26022BA.OO.D088CR.01 in yellow gold (Lot 17, circa 2005), the rare steel Ref. 26300ST.OO.1110ST.08 Brown ‘Roundel’ (Lot 16, circa 2011), the early Ref. 25860ST.O.111ST.01 (Lot 14, circa 1999) with dark blue petite tapisserie dial; and the highly unusual Royal Oak Chronograph Leo Messi (Lot 09, circa 2013, limited edition of 400) with stainless steel case, tantalum bezel and extremely rare no-tapisserie flat dial.
Among the sports chronographs, the watches from the Royal Oak Offshore limited editions stand out: “Queens Road” Ref. 26198TI.OO.D101CR.01 in titanium, a rare special edition for the Hong Kong market from 2009 (Lot 13, a limited edition of 100 pieces), the extremely rare “The National Classic Tour” Ref. 26279IK.GGD002CA.01 in titanium (Lot 11, 2009 limited edition of 40 pieces) and the futuristic Royal Oak Offshore “Arnold Schwarzenegger The Legacy” Ref. 26378IO.OO.A001KE.01 (Lot 05, 2011 limited edition of 1500 pieces) in black ceramic, the latest limited edition created by Audemars Piguet in collaboration with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The chronograph as a treasure
These are the watches where we find a happy combination of belonging to an established, renowned brand, attractive design and outstanding caliber. If we consider this category, the chronographs of leading brands at the Ineichen Chronos 2023 auction deserve special attention.
As part of the brand heritage of A. Lange & Söhne, we interpret the exquisite 1815 Chronograph Ref. 402.032 in pink gold (Lot 01, circa 2020), equipped with caliber L951.5, one of the best chronograph movements today.
Among the three Breguet chronographs presented in the auction, we particularly appreciate the remarkably thin, elegant Classique Chronograph 3237 (Lot 19, circa 2004) in yellow gold with the legendary hand-wound 533 caliber, the brand’s version of the Nouvelle Lémania caliber 2310, and the military-inspired automatic Type XX Transaltantique Ref. 3820BA/N2/9W6 watch (Lot 21) in yellow gold.
The brand founded by Daniel Roth, who was one of the central figures in the revival of the modern Breguet brand, is represented at the Chronos 2023 auction by four rare automatic chronographs. Two of them are based on the DR101 caliber, which the brand developed in the second half of the 1990s in collaboration with Girard-Perregaux. Lot 26 and 29 are openworked dial versions, while lot 29 features an unusually designed white gold bracelet. Two other Daniel Roth chronographs are powered by the famous Zenith El Primero high frequency movement. Lot 27 has a rare blue dial with diamond-set hour markers, while another, the Academy Chronograph (Lot 28, circa 2008), dates from when the brand was discontinued within the Bulgari Group (the upcoming relaunch of the Daniel Roth brand was announced this year). The De Bethune chronographs are extremely rare. At the Chronos 2023 auction, you’ll find the early (marked No. 008) and refined hand-wound Ref. DB8R chronograph (Lot 30; according to the brand, 21 pieces have been produced since 2003), which became known as the ‘Football Chronograph’ due to its 45-minute counter.
Fans of Franck Muller watchmaking can discover five automatic chronographs from the Empire-style Classics collection, all based on the proven Valjoux caliber 7750. Perhaps the most attractive of them is the Chronographe Double Face Ref. 2870 NA DF (Lot 33, circa 1999) in yellow gold and with a second dial on the caseback with tachymeter, telemeter and pulsometer scales. This is an extremely rare double face version of the wrist chronograph whose idea Franck Muller got from the pocket chronographs of Longines and Omega from the early 20th century.
Vacheron Constantin is famous for its classic chronographs. One of the highlights of its chronograph art is the Les Historiques Chronograph Ref. 47101/4 (Lot 67) in yellow gold. The watch is equipped with a hand-wound caliber 1140, a branded version of the advanced Nouvelle Lémania 2320, visible through a sapphire caseback. The same movement, in a finely skeletonized and hand-engraved version, can be found as caliber 1140SQ in the exquisite Les Complications Chronograph Squelette Ref. 47102 (Lot 69) in platinum. Thehourlounge.com reports that this is one of the rarest modern vintage Vacheron Constantin chronographs, of which only 25 pieces were made in platinum.
You can find this and other treasures from the world of chronographs in the Chronos 2023 auction catalog on our website. We invite connoisseurs to study it carefully, because we’re sure that you’ll make other beautiful discoveries there.