Coin watches, hands-on with a Seiko 5 limited edition, and BTS insider interviews

A peek inside Phillips and Cartier

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An introduction to coin watches

Where craftsmanship meets currency

By: Charlie Dunne

The history of coin watches is an elusive tale. Scattered across archived auction lot results, printed within the bindings of old books collecting dust, and occasionally in the pockets of some dealers who have gone off the deep end into obsession, there are examples in desperate need of discussion. This full guide is perhaps the first to collect coin watch examples from various auctions, manufacturers, and collectors to begin to tell their story.

Several manufacturers adopted the coin form timepiece during the 1920s, yet specific styles and makers warrant context. While some catalogs have stated that Cartier began producing coin watches in 1929, records in the brand’s literature indicate there were much earlier examples produced via a process introduced by Joseph Vergely. These are distinguished by the case form being entirely constructed through two separate coins, a technique the head watchmaker of European Watch and Clock Company Paris is credited with perfecting. While earlier timepieces featuring a coin date further back to the late 19th century, manufacturers would go on to utilize Vergely’s process as the standard.

A mid-century coin watch made by Piaget for Cartier. It features the famous 1908 United States of America ‘Double Eagle’ $20 gold coin designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The caliber is made by Piaget with a POC import code indicating it was for the US market. One noteworthy find is the marteau sans manche with the number 122 indicating it was made by Oreade (a casemaker out of La Chaux-de-Founds).

Dating back to 1888, The Hour Lounge cites one particular Vacheron Constantin custom order of a watch “with a coin adjusted on the case back”. Patek Philippe enthusiasts will recall one example sold to Henry Graves Jr., (the original horological hypebeast) in 1928 which was made three years prior. The Genevan powerhouse would go on to create an entire line during the 1950s through 1980s.

Yet the standard coin watches elicit many questions as the niche topic’s origin and popularity have remained largely undiscussed. And while this guide may not provide all the answers, a collage of horological coins is what’s necessary in 2021.
As we will see, there are several watchmakers that have contributed to this specialized craft. When factoring in denominations and currency, it becomes a fascinating subject to explore, and ultimately, an incredible chapter in the story of watchmaking.

This complex subsection of watchmaking requires a meticulous skill set beyond the talent normally required of a case manufacturer. The rigorousness is evident in that few companies produced, let alone offered a line of coin watches. Names such as Cartier, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Rolex, and Audemars Piguet are among the most prominent makers. In some instances, non-household names such as Ebel, Favre-Leuba, Agassiz and Eska appear.

One of the most fascinating coin watches discussed in this guide is an Audemars Piguet example retailed by Bulgari, the only known of its kind:

In 2019, Eric Wind and Alan Bedwell of Foundwell sold to Bulgari a rare Audemars Piguet retailed by Bulgari coin watch made in 1941 from an 1863 Napoleon III French 100 franc coin for the company's museum. As far as Wind and Bedwell know, it is the only known Audemars Piguet coin watch, or any coin watch from the 1940s or earlier, to have a Bulgari retail signature on the dial. The watch was imported to Italy only months before the Italian government instituted a ban on gold jewelry imports. During World War II the Bulgari family took in and helped Jewish women during those years and the family is listed among The Righteous Among the Nations in Israel for their efforts. In addition, this is an early use of the coin motif for Bulgari that is so important to its jewelry today. 

When describing his impression upon close observation of the timepiece, Bedwell stated “The perlage featured on the interior caseback was certainly some of the finest I’ve encountered. The fact that upon initially obtaining it it took me a while to actually find the trigger set so beautifully in the coin edging was also testament to the quality of the workmanship. It would be easy to understand that some of these, over the years, would have been bought and sold as simply coins by the untrained eye.”

With wristwatches remaining the conventional area of focus for collectors, there are many alternative areas to explore. Whether it be pocket watches, alarm clocks, ring watches, pen watches or travel clocks, there is joy to be found in going off track every now and again. The global pandemic of 2020 resulted in a national coin shortage, and as a result the Federal Reserve formed The U.S. Coin Task Force (seriously). Ironically, in 2021 the scholarship of coin watches has yet to be thoroughly explored. Instead of a definitive overview of coin watches, this article is only the beginning in what we hope will develop into an ongoing conversation around them. We encourage collectors and experts to share their knowledge on the matter to better serve those eager to learn and to create change.

👉 Read Charlie Dunne’s full guide to coin watches on Rescapement.

(Yes, Rescapement has a “proper” website — mostly used for posting long-form guides like this amazing guide to coin watches — in addition to this Substack thing.)


Hands-On: Seiko x BAIT Seiko 5 Sports Limited Edition

I got a chance to go hands-on with the upcoming BAIT x Astro Boy x Seiko 5 Sports Limited Edition and did a short intro over on Highsnobiety:

“BAIT has teamed up with Japanese stalwart Seiko to deliver a limited collection of watches. The first is a badass blacked-out dive watch inspired by the cartoon character Astro Boy. Alongside the Astro Boy Seiko 5 Sports, Seiko also announced a second, vintage-inspired effort with subtle cues (a creamy off-white dial, a domed crystal, and a throwback text on the dial) that give a wink to old-school Seiko collectors.”

The release uses the Seiko 5 Sports form you know and love, but with a black hard-coating and a totally different dial that makes it unlike any other Seiko 5 around. Something that’s street, but still true to Seiko too. The Astro Boy Seiko 5 Sports is limited to just 2,000 pieces and priced at $460, so it’ll go quick.

On announcing the Astro Boy Seiko 5 Sports LE, BAIT and Seiko also teased a vintage-inspired release coming in November, and that one I really love.

👉 Check out the full intro and specs over on Highsnobiety. Or enter the raffle for your chance at a BAIT x Astro Boy x Seiko 5 Sports Limited Edition.

Dimepiece: Interview of Phillips’ specialist Isabella Proia

Dimepiece posted a fun interview with Phillips watch specialist Isabella Proia. They talk working at auction houses, what needs to change in the watch biz, and caterpillar watches. Here’s an excerpt:

“BW: Do you have any big goals?

IP: My goal is that one day I’ll create an incredible, female-owned collection. My colleagues have built amazing collections with ‘gentleman’ collectors, and there’s really no reason why this can’t be done with women. The only thing that stops people from buying watches is money. Of course, you have to love watches too, but being able to afford them is the main factor. So, my hope is that one day, there will be a woman who’s like,
hey, Isabella, let’s build this insane collection of the best watches in the world. And I’ll be like, YES, Naomi Osaka, let’s do it. Just two half-Haitian girls with the most insane vintage Pateks and gem-set Daytonas and we’ll just kill it. That’s all I want.”

👉 Check out the full interview over on Dimepiece.

An interview with Cartier’s chief of watch design by SJX

I’ve waxed on, probably too poetically, over the past year or two about Cartier (no free ads, come sponsor the ‘sletter, Carti-yay). But that’s why I really enjoyed SJX’s interview of someone on the inside, Marie-Laure Cérède, the house’s watch design chief. They talk reviving Cartier’s watchmaking, bridging the past and the present, and “a new paradigm of watchmaking” at Cartier.

On drawing inspiration from different eras of Cartier history, specifically with the Tank Must:

SJX: So are there any other historical periods that you enjoy or appreciate that you plan to use for future watches?

MC: I think about the watch and try to capture the most emblematic era of each watch. We did that for Tank Must; the watch was relaunched this year, but it was long awaited.

What I love in the Must is the energy of the 1970s. The original Must was the moment when Cartier brought an end to the old, conservative idea of luxury, and replaced it with new luxury, where elegant models were offered at affordable prices.

And I think one of Cartier’s talents is really to know the right moment to launch an icon. Relaunching the Must right now? Considering the context of the pandemic, the economy, lockdowns – I think it really resonates.

And speaking of the wild new Cartier mitten watch, Ms Cérède had this to share:

It reflects a concern we have, one that is quite conceptual, but I will share it with you. I would like to introduce a [new paradigm] for watchmaking at Cartier.

In the future watches won’t be an instrument to read the time, because we can read the time everywhere. And a jewellery watch will be predominantly defined by its aesthetics.

So we need to find a third object bridging watches and jewellery, because we were a jeweller before becoming a watchmaker. And I wanted to introduce something very disruptive and shocking, to open the way to this [new paradigm].

See SJX for the full interview.


🎬 Watch Ronny Chieng’s Talking Watches. 🎧 Listen to The Waiting List Podcast’s interview with Eric Ku:

Rescapement is a weekly newsletter about watches. For in-depth guides and the best of everything else around the web, subscribe to get it in your inbox every Sunday: