For the past five years, in essence, it was all about vintage Rolex sports models like the Daytonas, Submariners, GMTs, Explorers etc., and in many ways, it still is. However, as prices reach ridiculous highs, a new trend is emerging among collectors. A notion validated by the Phillips ‘Start-Stop-Reset’ auction featuring 88 vintage steel chronographs that was a tremendous success earlier this year, it has become increasingly evident that VINTAGE CHRONOGRAPHS are the next big thing in the watch collecting universe.
And no, I’m not talking about the Speedmasters, the Autavias, or the Navitimers. I’m talking about some chronographs that unless you are already a vintage watch lover, may not be so familiar with. Allow me to introduce you to 8 Chronographs you really need to know, or better yet, get your hands on right now. Sell a kid, or a kidney, do what you need to do, just make it happen. You can thank me later.
Longines Ref. 4974 with the cal. 13ZN circa 1943. (www.bexsonn.com)
The holy grail - Longines Ref. 5699 ‘Doppia Lancetta’ with the cal.13ZN-12 circa 1947. (www.bexsonn.com)
1) LONGINES CAL. 13ZN FLYBACK (1936–1960s)
At a time when many famous watch brands were putting standard movements like the ubiquitous Valjoux, Venus, and Landeron in their chronographs, Longines was developing their own movements in-house for use on their high precision chronograph models targeted towards the aviation industry. Developed in 1936, the manually wound cal. 13ZN was the first chronograph movement to feature the flyback function. This function enables the user to simultaneously reset the chronograph without having to press the ‘stop’ pusher first. This allowed a pilot to precisely time two sequential actions without losing the milliseconds of having to press the ‘stop’ and then ‘reset’ pushers; a critical feature for navigation of that era.
The 13ZN was used in a number of chronograph models/references between the mid 1930s to 1960s, and therefore came in a variety of cases: steel and gold, ranging in size (34mm–38mm), and paired with various dials. It is a two-register chronograph which records the seconds and minutes (up to 60 minutes). The only exception to this is the most desirable and valuable variation known as the 13ZN-12, which has three-registers that records the seconds, minutes, and hours (up to 12 hours). What sets it apart from other traditional three-register chronographs, however, is that the minute counter is located centrally on the watch as opposed to a third sub register. There are a handful of these examples in existence and if you’re lucky enough to find one, they are going for about USD 45,000 or more. You might be a little late on this one, but you may be able to find a standard 13ZN in good ‘vintage’ condition for USD 5,000–10,000.
Omega Ref. CK 2077 with the cal. 33.3 circa 1941. (www.phillips.com)
Omega Ref. CK 2077 with the cal. 33.3 circa 1945. (www.phillips.com)
2) OMEGA CAL. 33.3 (1930s – 1950s)
Omega is a brand that is synonymous with chronographs thanks to that watch that went to the Moon, you may have heard of it; the Omega Speedmaster. While this space watch has overshadowed most of Omega’s other chronographs, there has been one pre-Speedmaster chronograph in particular that is catching up in terms of desirability; the Omega cal. 33.3.
Like the longines 13ZN, the Omega cal. 33.3 is not referring to a specific Omega model/reference, but rather a manually wound movement developed by Lemania and used in a number of Omega chronographs between the 1930s–1950s. Therefore, there are numerous variations in case styles and size (36mm–38mm), dials, pusher styles, etc. However, the most desirable ones have common styling elements, such as a bi-tonal, or gilt dial with multi-scales printed in two, or three colors, oval shaped pushers, stainless steel step-bezel, or coin-edge cases. Whichever the model, the Omega cal. 33.3 represents the golden age of chronographs. And for this reason, they are highly sought after.
Earlier this year Phillips ‘Start-Stop-Reset’ auctioned featured several examples of the Omega cal 33.3, all of which sold for about USD 30,000–60,000. While auction prices may not be an accurate representation of the market price, it is a good barometer for the desirability and demand. Expect to pay around USD 10,000 from a vintage watch dealer if you ever come across one.
Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 222100 circa late 1950s, early 1960s. (www.watchxchange.london) 3) UNIVERSAL GENEVE TRI-COMPAX 222100 (late 1950s)
Ok, I’m cheating a little with this pick as the Universal Geneve Tri-Compax features two other complications in addition to the chronograph function; the triple date and moon phase. Well known for their chronographs with in-house movements since the 1930s, the Universal Geneve brand has seen a resurgence in popularity these last few years, especially in their ‘Compax’ series which were produced in many variations, including the ‘Medico Compax, Uni-Compax, and Tri-Compax.
While there are also many variations of the Tri-Compax, this specific reference, the 222100 from the late 1950s with its in-house manually wound cal. 281, 36mm steel bombay-style case and twisted lugs, and perfectly balanced dial design (considering there is a lot going on; 4 sub registers, a full calendar, a moon phase, and tachymetre scale on outer track) make this watch one of the most beautiful and sought after triple date chronographs on the market today. Here is a beautiful example being offered from a reputable vintage watch dealer for around USD 18,000.
Angelus Chronodato two-tone dial circa 950s. (shop.analogshift.com) 4) ANGELUS CHRONODATO TWO-TONE DIAL (1940s)
Similar to the UG Tri-Compax above, the Angelus Chronodato is another chronograph that features the triple date complication. Angelus was, however, the first manufacturer to combine a chronograph and triple date complication in 1942 with the Chronodato series. It is powered by an in-house manually wound cal. SF217 and comes in various style cases; steel, gold, and gold filled, all at 38mm, and paired with various colored dials, including monotone, and two-tone dials. The layout of the dial is all the same with two sub registers, and vertically placed date windows. Of all the dial variations, the most sought after are the black and grey two-tone dial, or all black dial.
Unlike traditional chronographs that featured various scales which allowed the wearer to calculate speed and distance, such as a tachymeter, or telemeter, the lack of scales on the Chronodato dial, combined with its oversized case, gives the Chronodato a simple and elegant look that works well as a dress watch also.
You can find a Chronodato ranging in price from USD 2,000 – 5,000 depending on condition and dial variation, with the more desirable variants going for over USD 7,000. Only look for the latter. Here is a beautiful example being offered from a reputable vintage watch dealer for USD 15,000.
Mido MultiCenter Chrono with black dial and red 24 hour index circa 1940s. (www.mentawatches.com)
5) MIDO MULTI CENTERCHRONO (1940s)
Introduced around the 1940s by Mido, the Multi Centerchrono represents a hallmark in chronograph design. While traditional chronographs had two, or three sub registers, the MMC was a two-register chronograph with no sub registers. Everything was centrally located including the minute and hour hands, a sweeping second hand for the chronograph function, and a striking red hand minute counter, hence the name ‘Centerchrono’. This design feature made the watch look like a normal dress watch and unlike any chronograph of the day.
It is powered by a manually wound cal. 1300 which was a modified Valjoux ZN movement also adapted by the likes of Patek, Piguet, among others. The MMC case, which came in steel and gold filled was also made by François Borgel, the same maker that supplied cases for Patek. Similarly, the MMC’s turbine-style pushers are identical to Patek’s first waterproof chronograph ref. 1463. The MMC has a variety of dials with different color tones, and scales, but the most sought after is the black gilt dial with 24-hour index in red.
The hallmark center chronograph design combined with the overlap in certain parts and styling cues with some of Patek’s earlier chronographs make this watch highly desirable and quickly increasing in value. The Prices range from USD2,000-5,000 depending on variation and condition.
Early execution of the Jardur Bezelmeter 960 circa 1940s. (www.mentawatches.com)
6) JARDUR PILOT WATCH
Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Jardur. Founded in 1937, the company specialized in navigational instruments and watches for military and professional use. Their products were distributed almost exclusively through military posts, which would suggest that most Jardur watches have seen some ‘action‘.
The Bezelmeter 960 introduced in the 1940s was specifically designed for pilots with its two key features. It had a 12-hour rotating bezel, which pilots could use to countdown flight hours, or as a second time zone, and a red ‘degreemeter’ scale, which could be used to calculate the amount of turn. It is a three-register chronograph and is powered by a manually wound cal. Valjoux 72.
The exclusivity and military history combined with its badass aesthetics make this watch one of the hottest chronographs right now. Demand for the Jardur Bezelmeter 960 is on the rise but prices are still reasonable considering the scarcity of these watches. Expect to pay USD 3,000–5,000, depending on condition.
1st Generation Gallet ‘ Flying Officer’ Truman edition with clamshell case circa 1940s. (www.mentawatches.com)
7) GALLET FLYING OFFICER ‘TRUMAN EDITION’ (1939 – 1944)
Internationally recognized as the ‘Master of the Chronograph,’ Gallet was one of the first manufacturers to produce a ‘real’ wristwatch chronograph with their Gallet Multicron model 30 for RAF pilots in 1914 during WW1. Evolving directly from the Multicron model 30 and its use in the military, the Gallet Flying Officer was originally commissioned by President Harry S. Truman for the United States Army Air Forces, and was issued to American and British pilot officers during WW2.
With a 12-hour rotating bezel and dial with various major city indexes, pilots could easily calculate changes in time zones as they crossed over lines of longitude. It is powered by a manually wound cal. Venus 150 and came in a steel ‘clam shell’ case, which, unlike the traditional style screw back cases, was held in place by four vertical screws. And while there were many iterations of the Flying Officer with subtle differences in dials, hands, and case, the 1st generation, also known as the Truman edition, and second generation are the most desirable (both with the ‘clam shell’ cases).
The Gallet Flying Officer ‘Truman Edition’ is rather a hard watch to track down on the open market, and so if you are lucky to come across one, expect to pay USD 3,000–6,000, depending on condition.
Bovet Mono-Rattrapante circa 1940s. (www.mentawatches.com)
8) BOVET MONO-RATTRAPANTE (1940s)
When it comes to chronographs, one of the most interesting complications is the ‘Split second’, or ‘Rattrapante’ chronograph. The split second chronograph has two sweeping seconds hands as opposed to traditional chronographs, which have just one. When the chronograph is engaged, both hands move in sync and record the elapsed seconds. At the press of a pusher, one seconds hand stops while the other seconds hand continues to record the elapsed seconds. Press the pusher again and the seconds hand, which initially stopped, is released and moves back to the position that it would have been at if it had not been stopped (same position as the other seconds hand). Got it?
Introduced in the 1940s, the Bovet Mono-Rattrapante is a two-register chronograph powered by manually wound Valjoux 84. It has the same function of a Rattrapante but only uses one seconds hand instead of two, hence ‘Mono’ Rattrapante. Once the chronograph function is engaged the seconds hand begins to record the elapsed seconds, but when you hold down the bottom pusher, the seconds hand stops. Depress the bottom pusher and the seconds hand jumps to the position where it would have been, if it had not been stopped. There are a few dial variations, but the most desirable is the black dial with lumed Arabic numerals.
As a result of this mechanical ingenuity, the Bovet Mono-Rattrapante is a watch that will surely appreciate in value. Expect to pay USD 3,000–7,000, depending on variation and condition.
The desirability and potential of a watch to appreciate in value depends largely on its historical significance and it’s overall aesthetics. While the latter may be subjective, there are certain details that are widely accepted by the watch collecting community as being the most desirable; things like gilt dials, case style and size, and so on. The 8 mentioned chronographs tick all the boxes and without a question, represent some of the most attractive investment propositions on the market right now. While they are quite rare and difficult to source, they do pop up occasionally on vintage watch forums and online dealers. If any of these watches tickle your fancy, head over to hodinkee.com, the best online source for vintage watches. Most the watches mentioned here have been featured on the website before. When dealing with vintage watches, it is extremely important that you do some research, or acquire the watches from trusted vintage dealers.