Archive

August 2017

Browsing

I spend a lot of time researching stuff online. So much time that my wife at some point told me to get a life on my own, or cut back. So now a part of my daily routine is to go through auction catalogues and online auctions during my lunch break.
Sometimes when I feel I have a good grasp on what is on the market I just browse random online auctions.

Usually I find nothing interesting. But sometimes I find that one special piece. That piece that doesn’t really fit the collection but that ties it together in a way. Together with the history. This will be one of those stories.

The Dutch online auction site Catawiki is infamous for fakes, reproductions, frankens and overpriced watches. Their auctioneers really have no clue or control, and it is a sellers market. After a couple of incidents with them I even wonder if their auctioneers are real people. Consider yourself warned.

However it was on Catawiki that I struck gold. The nick psmolders was selling a collection of seemingly original NASA pictures. After some research, facebook stalking and visits to space flight forums, I found Piet Smolders. He is a respected international author and journalist in his field. He is also famous amongst space flight collectors for having one of the largest collections of original NASA pictures.

His entire collection of pictures was out on Catawiki but there was only one that I wanted. This picture tie together watch collecting, space travel and cartoons. Odd but true. This image is essential to the connection between Omega Speedmaster and NASA. Now I just had to fight off the NASA collectors and the Snoopy collectors.

Omega Speedmaster and NASA

The shared history between Omega Speedmaster and NASAs spaceflight programme is well documented, but still speculated on. Officially NASA was looking for extremely reliable timepieces and as a government agency they had to obtain a so-called Request for Proposal from the different manufactures. In 1964 they asked 10 manufactures, and only four responded. That was Omega, Rolex, Longines and Hamilton. Hamilton responded with a pocket watch (God only knows). So three watches remained in the competition; The Omega Speedmaster ST105.003, Rolex Cosmograph ref 6238 and Longines Wittnauer.

In this video Jim Ragan, the test engineer of the Speedmaster watches with NASA, tells the tale in his own words.

The always eminent Fratello Watches also wrote up the story in detail here.

NASA and Snoopy

Back in 1968 Snoopy was a popular character in the daily newspaper comic strips. In these strips he could often be seen flying his make believe airplane. Sitting on top of his doghouse with his Flying Ace hat and scarf.
NASA approached cartoonist Charles Schulz for permission to use Snoopy as their safety mascot after an accident during the early days of the Apollo program.
Schulz agreed and in one of the first sketches Schulz published of Snoopy he was daydreaming about space in his fishbowl helmet. It was really a perfect match.

That same year NASA established the “Silver Snoopy Award”. The Snoopy icon was turned into a silver lapel pin and awarded to astronauts “for outstanding efforts that contribute to the success of human space flight missions“. 

Now that Silver Snoopy was also brought into the Omega Speedmaster in 2015. Read my review of that watch here.

Omega Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Awards

Apollo 10

On the 18th of May 1969, Apollo 10 astronauts Thomas Stafford, Gene Cernan and John Young travelled from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida all the way to the moon. All aspects of an actual crewed lunar landing was to take place. Except for the landing of course. They were going to separate a landing module from the command module and orbit the moon for eight hours. They were also going in close to the moon’s surface to search for a landing site for the next Apollo 11 lunar landing.

The crew selected Snoopy as their mission mascot. Charlie Brown was selected as the name for their command module and Snoopy for their landing module.

Now the picture shows Apollo 10 commander Thomas Stafford pat the nose on their Snoopy mascot. On his left wrist you can clearly see the Omega Speedmaster he wore on the mission. Jayme Flowers is the woman in the picture holding the mascot as the crew walks along the hallway to the waiting transfer bus.

Their mission is described in detail here and even more detail here.

How Snoopy ended up on the dial and back on the Omega Speedmaster you can read here.

Omega Speedmaster NASA Apollo 10 Snoopy Award

Collecting odd stuff

You see why I needed to have these pictures?

Collecting sure is fun.This picture may not be for every watch collector out there, but I like these odd objects. And I love getting my hands on rare and original objects that is directly or indirectly connected to the history of watches. I know my man cave will be looking good with this one framed up and ready to tell the story of my Omega Speedmaster.

Omega Speedmaster NASA Apollo 10 Snoopy Award

And how to build your collection. You can learn the secrets of collecting vintage watches.

Collecting vintage watches is really about emotion. Not all true of course. It is also about money.
I tend to fall in love with objects that I just “need” to own, but as all collectors know, you buy what you can. If I had the money I would definitely get myself a couple of vintage Ferraris. But I don’t.
Life brings heartache, and so does collecting sometimes. You cannot win them all. In that manner collecting truly mimics life. There will be hard times and there will be good times.
And sometimes a little bit of each. As when I was forced to sell a beloved vintage Rolex because of an unexpected bill, and when I had the opportunity to buy that vintage Rolex back after two years.
Still it is the good times that I remember best. As when I found a rare photograph strongly connected to my passion for watches.

Sometimes I find bargains. You know, good watches that are priced ridiculously low. But then again when emotion is involved and I really really want that watch bad. I overpay.
And that is what separates collecting from investing or trading. You pay what you have to, to get that object into your collection. And if you have taste and some knowledge it will always turn out to be a good investment over time. As I tell my wife, the other collectors are crazier than me. There are always someone willing to pay up for a good object.

collecting vintage watches rolex 5513 submariner precomex

Know when to turn your collection around

Someone smarter than me once wrote that “if you are a beginner in collecting vintage watches you have to build your watch collection on what you like, according to your taste and wallet”. I always thought that was a cliché. But suddenly I realised that it’s not. If collecting is truly about emotion, then you need to feel that collection of yours.
So at one point, not so long ago, I terminated my entire collection of watches. I sold out everything. I realised that I had bought watches that other collectors liked, but that I did not really enjoy myself. Of course they were collectable and nice watches. It was a strong and diverse collection and I got a lot of compliments. But the watches did not satisfy me.

This smart guy also wrote that collectors with the very best watches have a focus. One of the nicest collections I have seen is all about vintage diving watches. I also know collectors that only buy Patek Philippe or Omega Speedmasters. It is just amazing how many Speedmasters one man can own.

collecting vintage watches rolex 5513 submariner precomex

Collecting Vintage Watches

My own collection is slowly growing again. And this time with a clear vision. My collecting philosophy is now very simple. Buy what I like, know what I buy, and why. And most importantly, go slow.

In practical life that translates to collecting vintage watches that are as original as possible and buying new watches that speak to me. I like a mixed vintage and new collection as they have different qualities. I try to keep the size down to 42 mm and below, preferably 38-40 mm. And I never buy watches to keep them in the safe. I like to wear my watches for periods of time. A week or two on, and then I move on to the next watch in my collection for a period of time.

I want to start collecting chronographs sometime. I just love a nice chronograph. The engineering of that movement, the look of the dial, the feel of the pushers. Everything with chronographs speak to me as a watch guy.
Unfortunately they are expensive, so at the moment I will buy them only if I come past a good specimen at the right price, but I do not rush it.

When deciding where to go with your own collection I would say you should keep in mind why you would collect. There are plenty of reasons why people collect. Most are emotional, and most of us have the collecting genom. When you figure out the why, you need to figure out the what. What to collect is essential to building a nice and solid collection.
Then you should start doing your research.

Please leave a reply below on why you collect if you already know. It would be a great pleasure to read all the different reasons.

collecting vintage watches rolex 1675 gmt master

Research

Researching and collecting vintage watches are now turning out to be both simpler than ever and more confusing than ever. Online resources have a lot of good information but be ware of forums and know-it-alls who claim to be watch gods.
Personally I have gone back to books, backed by online information. Check our collection of books for sale in the shop.

When buying vintage watches the devil is in the details. And I have two very nice examples to show you. One absolutely original vintage Rolex, and one seemingly original that only a good amount of research will expose. Can you spot the one?

I will tell you about my research for these.
What you see first is a reference 5513 Rolex Submariner from 1977, and the second one is a reference 1675 GMT Master from 1968. Both with correct serial numbers, case back stamps and movements. They both have beautiful matching patina on hands and dial.

 

collecting vintage watches rolex 5513 submariner precomex

collecting vintage watches rolex 1675 gmt master

Most would stop here

Let’s go back to the dials and hands, and it is here you find the crux that separates the two watches.
The 1977 ref 5513 with serial in the 5.0 mil, as on this one, a Mk1 Maxi Dial or Pre Comex dial is correct. The watch you see above has the very rare Pre Comex dial.

A 1968 GMT Master ref 1675 would have Mk1 dial, a “Long E” dial.

According to trustworthy sources Rolex started to produce GMT Master in mid 1968 that had a new larger GMT hand.
So suddenly it is not known whether this particular watch would have had the new handset or the old one.
There is one more detail that says it might have had a small GMT hand back in 1968.

The dial

Researching the GMT Master is difficult. The dial variations are many and the price range on the watch is much dictated by the dial and the matching hands. You see, collectors find the dial to bee key when collecting vintage watches in general, but when collecting Rolex the dial is essential.

A 1968 would have had a Mk1 dial. This 1675 watch does not have a Mk1 dial, and since the patination matches, this is an indication of a replacement of both hands and dial at one time.
Some sources say that it was popular amongst early GMT Master owners to upgrade their old watch to a new look with the large GMT hand.
After extensive research into dial variations I found a match for the dial. It is an early tritium replacement dial, or service dial if you will.

My guess is that the original owner of this watch changed both watch and hands back in the early 1970s to get the new and modern look to his older watch.

I still would buy both watches. The 1675 would be better with the original dial, but this one with the matching patina is still a great buy.
Boxes and papers is rare to find on these old watches, and brings the price up to astronomical figures. You got to love it!

Please download my checklist for buying and collecting vintage watches so that you can also get your dream watch without getting screwed.