When you first start getting interested in watches, you soak up all the information you can get. Based on your personal tastes and interests, you will be attracted to certain brands. Whether you can acquire a watch from them or not is another matter, but for now we’ll forget about that. After some time you start to learn more about the details and why they make certain models stand out for a collector. These extra details (or the lack thereof) can make a watch stand out from the more conventional models and make it more interesting or desirable. Sometimes the use of different materials will even make a difference; a detail many hardly notice yet it makes the watch more unique.
Stainless steel instead of precious metals
When a precious metal is replaced by stainless steel, you usually expect to pay a lower price. However, when A. Lange & Söhne does so it has the opposite effect. Their watches are well known for their exceptional quality and most are hand produced in precious metals only. However, during the mid-1990s, they produced a very limited number of the Lange 1 watch in stainless steel. According to Lange, there are only “a few” of these extremely rare timepieces around. This exclusivity makes the stainless steel Lange 1 models highly desirable.
The same goes for an exclusive and unique stainless steel version of the Lange Double Split. It was put up for action at an estimated price between 96,000 and 145,000 euros, but instead it sold for nearly four times that at 380,000 euros. That was due to the unique characteristic of the stainless steel case, even though it is non-precious.
Patent pending caseback
When Rolex first produced the Double Red Sea-Dweller, also known as the DRSD, several watches had already been delivered before the patents were officially approved. This small batch of watches came with an inscription on the case back reading “patent pending.” The exact numbers are not known, yet estimates vary from around 100 watches to several hundred. Nobody knows how many have survived over the years and thus they are very rare and sought after.
While there is absolutely no technical or functional difference between the “patent pending” Sea-Dwellers and the regular models, a passionate Rolex collector would love one just for the historic importance. This is another great example of how collecting fine watches can sometimes be an irrational business.
Panerai was resurrected in 1993, and they were soon after acquired by the Vendôme Luxury Group in 1997. Shortly thereafter, Richemont took over and the Vendôme name perished. You can probably already guess the meaning of the term pre-Vendôme. It’s used for Panerai watches that were produced between 1993 and 1997, before they joined the Vendôme Luxury Group. The biggest difference are the buckles used on these models. They differ from the ones found on today’s Panerai watches. They are not as rare as some of the other examples in this article, but they are sought after nonetheless and sell for higher prices. Exact numbers of watches produced are not fully confirmed, but obviously they are limited in numbers.
Paul Newman vs. regular Cosmograph Daytona
Another example from Rolex – there are many from this brand – is the so-called Paul Newman Daytona. Early models of the Cosmograph Daytona (6239 and later) came with a black or silver dial with contrasting subdials. At some point, Rolex also made versions with an “exotic” dial which had a notably different layout. The first things you notice are an outer minute track, some with red printing, and square lollipop markers on the subdials. However, these details were not well received at the time and didn’t sell well. In the end, less watches were sold than the standard Cosmograph Daytona. Since, their popularity has grown exponentially and prices have gone through the roof. At recent auctions some have been hammered down at no less than six digits.
Of course, these are just a few examples of how specific details on a watch can make them stand out from the crowd. Whether the rarity of these details justifies the huge price difference is for the potential buyer to decide. As they say, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” Either way, these oddities make the watch world an interesting place to navigate.
Read more about these famous brands and watches
Legendary Watches: Rolex Daytona
Legendary Watch Brands: Officine Panerai
Watch Pairs: A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 & Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo