What's wrong with this vintage Rolex?
The next F.P. Journe, custom Tudor Black Bays, and stumbling through a vintage Rolex for clues about its originality
A mere two years into marital bliss and still committed to romance, this week’s newsletter comes a day later on account of celebrating St. Valentine’s Day (and the Lunar New Year) with my consort. But lust not, it’s a menage a trois of satisfaction: (1) a brief look at what’s wrong with a particular vintage Rolex; (2) asking which brands might be the next FP Journe; (3) looking at some of the best customized Tudor Black Bays.
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What’s wrong with this vintage Rolex?
Recently, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the vintage Rolex Air-King. I don’t know, maybe because more popular sports watches are so expensive people are looking elsewhere to start or build a vintage Rolex collection. Or, someone stumbles on my SEO-optimized reference article and thinks I’m qualified to talk about the model. It’s funny, there are dozens (hundreds) of your standard-issue silver dial Air-Kings on eBay and Chrono24 at any given moment. But usually, it’s the rare or seemingly special variations that catch the interest of collectors. This eBay atrocity still sticks out as one of the worst I’ve been sent.
This week, I was sent another ref. 5500 up for sale at a real, live, sorta-big auction house on Feb. 15. The low estimate suggests the auction house knows it’s a sh*t watch ($1.2k for a blue dial Air-King is well below the market), but good luck finding any hint of that in the condition report. So, I thought it’d be fun to do a quick exercise: let’s look at the watch close-up (focused on the dial) and see what’s wrong with it. For comparison, we’ll use an original, correct Air-King ref. 5500 previously sold by the Hodinkee Shop.1 I sit firmly in the teach a man how to fish school of thinking, so perhaps this’ll serve as useful guidance in evaluating other vintage watches (Air-King or not).
Like I said, this watch is pretty clearly wrong in almost every way, but it’s helpful to look at an egregious offender for guidance in evaluating better re-dials, frankens, or fakes. At first glance, you’ll probably immediately notice the mis-sized hour markers, chode-like compared to the long, elegant markers of the correct Air-King on the right.
Second, you might notice on the re-dialed example that there’s no signature under 6 o’clock. Typically, a Rolex dial will have a signature, which helps to indicate the era it’s from, also giving a clue as to the type of luminous material used (Rolex Passion Report’s article on lume provides helpful guidance on the signature to look for).
Finally, take a look at the differing seconds tracks. The re-dialed example has uneven lines that also extend all the way to the edge of the dial while the correct dial has clean, even ticks that stop short of the dial’s edge.
Now, take a look at the Rolex crown. Most noticeably, the re-dial’s crown isn’t even aligned with the center 60-second marker (in fact, the original dial doesn’t have a hash mark at 12 o’clock). Also note the differences in the crown shape, best seen by looking at the different shapes of the circle at the crown’s bottom.
Next the Rolex print: notice how the correct print utilizes different weights (for example, the two different lines of the X). The re-dial makes no effort to do this, or it’s sloppily done.
On the middle line of text, notice that the Oyster Perpetual on the re-dialed example lacks the slight serif seen on the correct dial. The Air-King print on the final line is perhaps the most obviously off, in particular the A, which lacks the crossbar connecting it to the i.
Finally, at 6 o’clock: doesn’t the Precision print on the re-dial just look a little sloppy compared to the original dial? It’s crooked and the spacing is off, stumbling across the dial like a college student that just discovered two-buck chuck. This is like a lot of the text you’ll see on re-dials: zoom in and you’ll see it all looks a little off.
Is this boring? Hell no! It’s a scavenger hunt, picking up little clues and details that can give away a re-dial or fake vintage watch from the real thing. While this example has a lot wrong with it, other re-dials may only have one or two clues. Of course, there’s work to be done in examining the movement, case, serial and reference numbers too, but often the dial has some of the most obvious giveaways. Happy hunting, and stay safe out there.
By: Henry (My Watch Collecting Journey)
It is not news anymore that F.P. Journe timepieces have exploded in the auction and the secondary market in the last 1-2 years. Take an example: the entry-level Chronomètre Bleu is trading at $60-70k and shows no sign of slowing down (3-4 times increase in value). The result is that for most watch collectors, F.P. Journe watches are too expensive to get or too long to wait. Many collectors are turning to other, more attainable independent brands.
An intriguing question then is which brands might have the best chance of becoming the next F.P. Journe. I posted this question to a few watch collectors and got interesting answers. One seasoned collector concluded that it was too hard for any independent brands to repeat the success of Journe, an assessment that could very well be true. One idea came to mind, which is to list all the key factors contributing to F.P. Journe’s runaway success today, and then compare and rate the other promising brands on these factors.
Let’s go over the key factors that are critical to FPJ’s success first to see what it has done right. Each factor will have 5 points in our scoring system, which we will name the “Be Like Journe” Indicator for our discussion.
Now, we have a ranking of the likely FPJ successors, as determined by the factors that are critical to FPJ’s rise. The brands that come up on top are De Bethune and H. Moser.
While FPJ’s success is certainly a tough act to follow, this table offers some insights into how brands may improve to bridge the gaps. For De Bethune, it is marketing and branding to attract more collectors, and it may want to devote more energy to classic designs. For H. Moser, the gaps are in the GPHG awards and auction results, which they are improving, especially with two wins in 2020.
FPJ’s playbook may offer useful guidance to young watchmakers too. Akrivia’s highly coveted AK-06 (50-piece limited edition) was introduced in Baselworld 2017 and sold out in the first half of 2020. The “Be Like Journe” model would suggest that they should start increasing production volume to attract more collectors. They may want to create an attractive entry-level model like the Chronomètre Bleu priced in the $25--$35k range, with an annual volume approaching 100. It is a very promising brand but they still have a lot of work ahead if aiming for Journe status.
👉 Read the full analysis.
Through the Wire
I love a good customized dial. The odder the pairing, the better. Of course, the Domino’s Air-King from Rolex has long been a cult favorite, and with one recently selling for $20k, prices have begun to reflect this popularity.
Nowadays, Rolex doesn’t much customize dials for corporate or VIP clients. But that doesn’t mean its buddies at Tudor down the hall can’t have a little fun. A bunch of customized Tudors have popped up over the past few months. Let’s take a look at some of the best. And if you’re wondering where your customized Tudor is, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
“His collectors and dealers have done well over the years, but Philippe [Dufour] himself has not benefited significantly from the organic appreciation of his own watches, materially speaking.”
In a November news release, Dufour announced that buyers had been selected for the first 10 anniversary watches. 'The remaining 10, to be assigned via lottery, have become the focus of a fan frenzy. ‘I was getting 5,000 emails a day from buyers for the 10 watches,’ Mr. Sfeir said. By late January, Mr. Sfeir said, 155,000 names had been registered, even though neither the date of the drawing nor the prices had been announced.
👉 NYT also interviewed Thierry Stern about discontinuing the 5711, a move he said he’d decided on back at Baselworld 2019, when he saw the Nautilus was too popular.
👷♂️ Eric Wind was on the Tenn & Two podcast. Listen to the full ep to hear about wearing watches while golfing or operating a jackhammer, or fast-forward to minute 28 or so to hear a shoutout for the finest watch newsletter around. 🔬 The importance of patents in watchmaking (this article has inspired me to delve deeper into the legal aspects of watches, so more to come here).
Rescapement is a weekly newsletter about watches, mostly vintage. Subscribe now to get it delivered to your inbox every Sunday. Follow us on IG too.
S/o to the Hodinkee Shop for the transparency it provides to the market. Even after stuff (instantly) sells, it usually leaves up the listings with high-quality images and the price the piece sold at.