Inside the most secretive watch collecting club
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This weekend, 32 of the world’s most obscure watch collectors gathered in an undisclosed location, somewhere in central London. Two of them flew in from Bali, another, via private jet from New York, and many more made the special trip to the British capital with watches that adhered to the theme, “Issued By.” The get-together, organized on the same weekend as the London preview of the upcoming Phillips auctions, was invitation only, but I was briefly allowed into this horological fraternity, for which no secret handshake is required – so long as you’re wearing a special watch.
After going through (a lot of) security upon our arrival, we squeezed into an elevator that took us to the top floor of the building. It wasn’t long before all of the watches were placed on a large table in the middle of the room. Dozens of watches issued by Comex, the Marine Nationale, the South African Navy, and many more were on display. Enough said. Feast your eyes on the many, many watches assembled on a memorable day.
First up, a lot of Rolexes, including this reference 5514, issued by Comex (Companie Maritime d’Expertise), which has a beautifully uniform and golden patina.
More watches issued to the military, this time from Breguet, Panerai, and Tudor.
Next up, something non-military but just as historically important. It was Tudor – not Rolex – that supplied watches to members of the British North Greenland Expedition (1952-1954). In total, 26 were made, including this one belonging to Jock P. Masterton (J.P.M), the expedition’s doctor. Its current owner bought it on eBay a few years ago after “no one wanted it” – which is nuts!
Here’s another one that doesn’t follow the theme of the day, but is just too good to be kept away. This is an Omega Speedmaster that has actually flown in space, on the wrist of cosmonaut Gennadi Mikhailovich Strekalov, who wore it on five spacewalks (EVA) between May and June of 1995. Oh, and it comes with Strekalov’s glove. The watch is powered by caliber 861 (serial number 48294756), and bears the inscription: “Flight qualified by NASA for all manned space missions / The first watch worn on the moon” on the back.
Finally, reference 2303. If it looks quite small on the wrist of its owner, and that’s because it is. In fact, this is the smallest chronograph ever manufactured by Rolex (in the 1930s). It measures only 28 mm, which is remarkable for a single-button chronograph. That, and a few more special watches.