Phillips Double Signed

These Are Some of the Most Fascinating Vintage Watches to Hit the Auction Block


October 15, 2019 Watches By

Thematic auctions are an interesting way to differentiate a particular group of vintage watches from the crowd, though some themes are more interesting than others. One of the most exciting recent thematic auctions is the upcoming Double Signed: A Celebration of the Finest Partnerships Between Manufacturers and Retailers from Phillips, which is occurring on November 9th in Geneva.

“Double Signed” is a celebration of watches whose dials feature both the name of the manufacturer and that of the particular retailer at which they were offered for sale. Why are these watches notable? For one thing, they marry a watch to a particular moment of time — certain retailers are no longer in business, for example, while certain manufacturers no longer follow the practice of allowing their modern timepieces to be stamped by retailers (you’re not going to come across a modern Tiffany-signed Rolex GMT Master II). In fact, there are relatively few manufacturers today whose dials you’ll find adorned with a retailer signature (retailer-signed Patek is a notable exception).

Finding one of these watches in good condition can feel like discovering a time capsule — the signature automatically tells you which market a watch was sold in, and between the signature and the model and reference of the timepiece, a knowledgable watch lover can glean myriad interesting information. A Serpico Y Laino-signed Rolex, for example, would had to have been sold in Caracas, Venezuela, where the famed retailer was located, sometime before 1966 when the shop closed.

To gain some more insight, we recently spoke with Phillips’s Alex Ghotbi, Head of Watches for Europe and the Middle East, about the curation of the Double Signed lots and why they’re so exciting for watch lovers.

Interview:

Q: Retailer-signed watches from the major Swiss brands used to be commonplace in the early to mid-20th century, even with respect to smaller retailers that might not be known outside of local markets. Why did this practice of double-signing watches die out?
A: We have to ask brands. It more or less died off in the late 60s, early 70s. Could it be because of the Quartz Crisis — when the brands recovered and moved on to making special editions for retailers rather than double-signed watches? For example, a Vacheron from the early 1990s for Asprey, and the Asprey name is on the case. So the whole relationship kind of changed to making specific limited edition watches for the particular retailer. The only brand I see doing double-signed in modern times is Patek — Tiffany and Patek. But nothing else.

Q: Yes — Rolex once allowed their dials to be signed by local retailers the world over, but now this practice is all but dead. Tudor, however, will occasionally release a special edition dial with a retailer. Is this a calculated move on Rolex’s part to relegate retailer-signed watches to its sister brand?
A: I think Rolex is so stringent in what they can and can’t do in terms of design and product that basically they’re not introducing new models, just evolutions of existing models — perhaps with the exception of the Sky Dweller. Tudor, from the outside, looks to be the younger sibling who’s given more freedom, maybe as a sort of lab or testing ground. Rolex would never come out with a black PVD watch, for example, but Tudor will. Rolex has decided to be serious and to let Tudor have more freedom.

Q: How much does pricing for these pieces depend on the fame of a retailer — Asprey vs. Tiffany, for example? And how is pricing different for a retailer-signed watch that is otherwise fairly common, such as a steel Datejust, or a 5513?
A: This isn’t like rocket science where you can apply a specific formula. It depends the retailer — from famed Serpico Y Laino from Caracas, which doesn’t exist anymore, a watch will have more value than from a small retailer from Interlochen that also doesn’t exist anymore. An interesting signature will give value to an already-valuable watch, but won’t have much effect on a watch that isn’t already desirable.

Tiffany signatures on say, a Datejust, might have a 5% increase on the price. On a gold Paul Newman Daytona, it might be 20%. There has always been a small premium just because people want something unique and rare. You can have an amazing Patek Philippe 2499 which is already rare enough — less than 350 were made in 30 years in different metals — but then if you have a Gübelin or Tiffany signature, that watch goes from being one of 350 to one of one, or one of three, so collectors want that rarity effect. In the past 20 years, vintage has been going up and up, so it’s natural that the trend with the double signature follows. It’s nothing new, but today people pay more attention.

“In the past 20 years, vintage has been going up and up, so it’s natural that the trend with the double signature follows. It’s nothing new, but today people pay more attention.”

Q: How does one go about sourcing so many double-signed watches for a specific auction such as this one? Was the process considerably more difficult and complicated than, say, an auction of chronographs, or sport models?
A: I think people tend to be more willing to part with their watches when there’s a theme auction. It’s often the case that there’s an added premium for a themed auction because {the watch} was chosen for a hand-curated sale. Secondly, with social media and press, when we announce the sale, we have people calling us from all over the world. People who weren’t collectors are offering us very rare and interesting watches.

I have to admit that 99% of people who open their drawer and think their grandfather’s watch is special — well, this isn’t the case. But 1 in 100 has a true treasure and it’s a good surprise. We have 66 lots in this auction representing 23 retailers and 16 or 17 different brands, and to get there, had to look at 1,000 watches. We really try to have the best of the best — we’d rather have a superlative Omega than a beaten-up and over-polished Paul Newman Daytona.

The watches came from everywhere, but the majority are from Europe. Traditionally Europe was the market for watches — Swiss, French, Italian, Spanish retailers. In the US the most notable retailer is basically Tiffany. South America is Freccero and Serpico and a few smaller Cuban retailers. And the Middle East – that market didn’t really exist. Today, however, it’s a booming market for Asian and Middle East special editions. You have to think, which were the rich countries of the time?

“I have to admit that 99% of people who open their drawer and think their grandfather’s watch is special — well, this isn’t the case. But one in 100 has a true treasure and it’s a good surprise.”

Q: Can you detail some stand-out lots or lots that are attractive to you?
A: Some notable lots include a 3rd series Patek Philippe 2499 in pink gold, the only known one from a Naples-based retailer, sold in 1972. We also have a 4th-series 2499 in yellow gold retailed by Gübelin and an amazing Audemars Piguet chronograph from 1939 in pink gold, one of 19 known examples but one of only two known with a Gobbi-signed dial. And there’s a Patek Philippe 1463 in pink gold with a Serpico-signed dial. We also have watches from Tudor double-signed by Harrods, Patek double-signed by Tiffany, and watches from Omega, Universal Geneve, Heuer, and Jaeger-LeCoultre.

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