Friday, March 23, 2012

Mail bag - Re: Diver's COMEX

Your input, as always, is priceless. I just wish I could publish all your comments but hey - something has to be left for memoirs :-)

The first one is from a concerned lawyer, second comes from the desk of a disappointed husband and the third from lady who believes that I would publish anything - even off topic copy-and-paste tweets. And she was not wrong...

Hi Nick,

I know this is highly unusual, however, I thought I might ask whether this gentlemen has put in a claim with a lawyer for his accident. If it is not too much trouble, would you be able to ask him directly? I am concerned that, as a result of his injury, he may not have canvassed this issue, to his detriment.

If you are uncomfortable in contacting him, I understand, but would ask that you do let me know in either event.

Kind regards,

Senior Lawyer
........... Victoria

Dear Nick,

Further to your featured bad luck Rolex story, I have one too. Many years ago my wife was a flight attendant for Qantas. She was doing a trip from Dubai to London. At the end of the journey all the staff who worked in first class were given a gold Rolex by one of the passengers - an Arab sheik. Apparently this was not an unusual practice in the seventies. I guess that nowadays the super rich would have their own private jets. Sadly my beloved was only working in business class and missed out on the gold Rolex.


Dear Nick

My husband sent me this from the online 'Economist'. It is not about your favourite subject of watches but the buying and selling of an heirloom gold chain that involved valuations from Sotheby's and Christies and the consequences of going to Court. No doubt the ruling could also apply to a very special watch.

Please keep sending out your emails as I enjoy reading your comments.

Kind regards, C.J.

The art of auction valuation
Matters of opinion

March 2nd 2012, 23:29 by P.W. | LONDON

CAVEAT vendor. Art is not science, so it quite literally pays for sellers and buyers to understand the rules of what can be a very costly game. For many people this will be the most salient message of the High Court verdict handed down last night by Judge Mark Pelling QC, following the week-long trial of a suit brought by the Lord Coleridge against Sotheby's, an auction house.

Lord Coleridge claimed that the auction-house expert, Elizabeth Mitchell, was negligent when she gave an auction valuation of a treasured family heirloom. The historic gold chain of office had been in his family for generations, and the Coleridges (distant relatives of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge) believed it dated from the mid-16th century. Lord Coleridge had expected that the estimate for his rare Tudor jewel would be £500,000 or more. Ms Mitchell, however, proposed that it was from the late 17th century, and gave it an estimate of £25,000 to £35,000. This, Lord Coleridge claimed, had cost him a good deal of money. He sued for £415,000.

The case is fascinating but complicated. Lord Coleridge owned an almost six-foot long gold chain of office—the kind worn on grand occasions by the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, a court that was dissolved in the late 19th century. John Duke Coleridge was the last person to serve, and the gold chain was his. According to family tradition it might even have been the gift of Henry VIII.

Lord Coleridge did not want to sell this emblem of a distinguished ancestor; a jewel that connected his family to a formidable king. But, as he told this writer, he always saw it as a lifeboat, too. If ever times got really bad, its sale would save the family. Such circumstances came to be in 2006, when his daughter could not afford to maintain the house that had been in their family since 1796. The house and its contents were put on the market. Lord Coleridge launched his golden lifeboat, expecting that its sale would allow them to keep the house. But Sotheby's disappointing valuation of his chain seemed to rule this out. Instead, they sold the family home, and its buyer, Max Norris, wanted the chain with it. He offered Sotheby's high auction estimate of £35,000 and Lord Coleridge accepted.

In 2008 Mr Norris chose to auction off the chain at Christie's. There it was catalogued as Tudor and sold for a hammer price of £260,000.

Either Sotheby's had it right or Christie's did. The chain was either Tudor or it was not. Lord Coleridge sided with Christie's valuation and sued. He claimed that if Elizabeth Mitchell (now retired) had spent more time studying his chain, it would have earned a much higher estimate.

The gripping trial was part family drama, part exposition of goldsmiths' techniques and a crash course in English legal history. The cross-examinations were lively; the hectoring tone of the claimant's barrister was occasionally undercut by the comic failure of his wig to stay on his head. At the core of the case was the search for documentary evidence that would prove the chain was Tudor. None emerged. As a result, the case had to rely on expert testimony.

High-calibre art experts have long experience, deep knowledge and a good eye. In this area, Sotheby's was more fortunate (or canny) in its choices than was Christie's. Charles Truman, an ex-director of Christies and an authority on antique gold objects and jewels, was Sotheby's expert witness. Marian Campbell and Philippa Glanville, widely respected authorities on early metal work (and both ex-Victoria & Albert curators), shared his view that the chain is not Tudor.

Lord Coleridge lost his case. The judge did rule, however, that Sotheby's should have told him that in a private sale it is usual to double the lower auction estimate; he ought to have asked Mr Norris to pay £50,000 rather than £35,000. He was therefore awarded compensation of about £20,000. But because he lost the case, Lord Coleridge has to pay 90% of most of its costs, estimated at £1m. Hearing the verdict was like listening to a morality tale. There was much to learn from it.

Essentially, if a work of art or an antique is of personal or financial importance, it pays to get a second opinion if you don't much care for the first one. The job of an expert is to use acquired skills and natural gifts to narrow the gap between opinion and fact. The better the expert, the more narrow the gap—but it never disappears
entirely. Experience teaches collectors, dealers and art historians that mistakes are unavoidable. Learning from them is often more beneficial and less expensive than going to court.

As it happens, the chain was bought at Christie's in 2008 by Christopher Moran, who has built on enormous Tudor-style house alongside the Thames. Perhaps he will not mind having a collar that now is widely considered to be Tudor style, rather than the real thing.

Silver pocket watch

Hi Nick

You distribute some very interesting emails, thanks. I bought the Lanco watch you advertised in December and am looking forward to restoring it after I finish the Seiko. I also recently inherited a pocket watch which has been in the family for some years. I wound it up and it went, so then I opened it up to inspect the mechanism. However the mechanism is enclosed in an inner case which I have not attempted to open. I am enclosing a photo. Can you give me any information on the type of mechanism please.

Paul L.

Hi Paul -

Good to hear from you. Hope you are having fun with that Seiko :-)

Congratulations on a pocket watch! What a lovely piece. It looks like a typical 1880s English silver cased hunter with straight lever escapement. Key wound and key set.

While the mechanism is 'machine made', the individual parts are hand finished, hand engraved and decorated. In most cases, the exposed balance wheel cock is just a teaser so please do go ahead and remove that cover to see what's hiding under.

To remove the cover, slide the 'half moon' shaped latch in the direction as shown on the picture. Note how the latch is slotted into two protruding steel pins. Once 'unslotted' the cover can be lifted up. Easy! Be careful of course not to touch any components, especially not the balance wheel. Repairs on this type of movement are now expensive - most watchmakers who used to repair pocket watches are now retired or rest in well deserved peace.

While most pocket watches from that era no longer keep time (you are lucky that your piece still ticks!) they are great projects for historical horological research.

Thanks to typical British pedancity and a bunch of hallmarks stamped inside the case back, we can find out a fair bit about the origin of the watch case - date of manufacture, where it was produced and in most cases who was the maker.

Look for symbols similar to ones listed here:

In the above example, this set of marks tells us that this piece was made of Sterling, in the city of London, in the year 1789 during the reign of King George III by silversmith Thomas Wallis.

This is a typical set of antique British silver marks showing (1) Standard mark, (2) City mark, (3) Date letter, (4) Duty mark and (5) Maker's mark.

The most important letter is city mark. The reason is simple: each city had it's own date code table so for example for the year 1880 assigned date letter is 'E' for London made cases. Or if the case was produced in Exeter, it would be hallmarked with "D".

I am not going to spoil your enjoyment by revealing any more details. There are number of good websites which will help you identify the British silver hallmarks. Or if you prefer paper, look for booklet titled English Silver Hallmarks by Judith Banister ($5).

Just keep in mind that you must start by correctly identifying the CITY mark and the rest should fall in place.

After you remove the movement cover, look for the watchmaker's signature. Unfortunately this is where your online research may hit a dead end - so you may need to consult reference books like Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World (Vol I and II) by G. H. Baillie. This authoritative book is a priceless aid for any serious student of horology.

Let us know how you go! Good luck and have fun.

Monday, March 19, 2012

PAM 217 Marina Militare Destro: Heidi's choice?

For many, the 217 is the Holy Grail of Panerai watches. Yes, it is an uber-cool, rare, stunning head turner.

A piece designed for a real man. I am talking here about you or Matt Damon. Oh yes, in that order.

I can't think of any other Panerai out there that would give you so much 'exposure'. Quite frankly it is difficult to describe 217 as anything but the ultimate attention seeker.

Now, make no mistake: I am *not* crazy about Panerai watches in general. I find them too precious to be worn, not water proof enough for what you would expect from a 'military' grade watch. For someone who still prefers inner beauty than external appearance, ETA movements leaves very little room for excitement. After all, I started my apprenticeship on this very same calibre - except it was called the Unitas pocket watch back then. Yeah, kind of like expecting Mat Moran to get excited about the new McChicken Burger.

And for all the above reasons (and a few more) I just could not put this watch for sale before giving it a test ride.

To accommodate my butcher's size wrist, the 217 was fitted with a custom made military style strap (comfortable 22cm!) and I've promised myself to give it a "fair go".

Then I took it "for a walk".

My first point of stop was a local news agent. Then a couple of food vendors at the local food court. While I was not trying to hide it, neither was I pushing it in people's faces. Yet the effect was very much the same: a curious, puzzled look of disbelief.

A fellow passenger on the bus home could not resist to comment. "Nice watch!" he said. Getting a compliment from a busy Sydneysider on a Friday afternoon bus is as cool and as difficult as getting an autographed picture from Heidi Klum. In the year 2012 people just don't care. And even when they do, they mind their own business. Or talk on their mobile phone, or whatever.

Trying to impress my only friend with the PAM217 was more challenging than I thought. Yet even he - a guy totally not into watches - could not help himself but to notice my large Militare.

"What do you think it's worth?" I asked.
"Five thousand? Maybe six?" he said.
"OK, guess again - and here is your 'call a friend' tip: less than twenty".
"Are you kidding me - he said - take it off, let me have a closer look."

So I did. After an agonizing 30 seconds of inspection, he said: "I really hate you. But even I can see why this Pammmeriii is worth $20K."

And that is exactly what is so special with the 217: anyone, including my best friend
who is totally NOT into watches can appreciate all the reasons why the Militare Destro is such a great piece.

Yes, some watchmakers are completely blind for external beauty, me included.

In one word: elitist, exclusive, rare and snobbish. But not over the top, not vulgar and never inappropriate.

In case you are still unsure about it, ask yourself this question: if you were invited to dinner with Heidi, which one would you wear?


PS: Now here is the most extraordinary fact about the 217 - despite the large size of 47mm, it is probably one of the most comfortable Panerai watches! Thanks to the destro" design (designed for people who wear watches on their right hand) and thick saddle leather strap, the watch sits very comfortably on the wrist. I am wearing it now, as I type, and I've been wearing it all day today without the slightest discomfort. Priceless feeling! I just wish they made it in 49mm.


The secret to any successful retail business is in its ability to provide quality goods at the right price with the best possible customer service. Nothing new there.

The pre-owned watch retail business is essentially like any other retail business -
except for few unique details which are dictated by the very nature of the goods: we are dealing in precision instruments of high value which are in limited supply.

In order to serve you better, there are a few 'guidelines' which we've adopted over the years. While most of our customers and newsletter subscribers are familiar with the way we do business, it is always a good idea to highlight some of those 'rules' from time to time.

1. Viewing by appointment only

There are two main reasons why we operate 'by appointment only'. The first one is for security reasons: we don't keep our stock on premise! Also, we understand that making a decision to buy a right watch may take more than just a few minutes and in order to make you comfortable we need to allocate time for YOU. Please call or email for an appointment; 24 hours is usually enough time to have your selected watches ready for inspection.

2. Have realistic expectations

Australian pre-owned watch market is extremely small. There are just a handful of dealers and none of them carry large quantities of watches in stock. While we do our best to source as many popular brands and styles and to provide online information on current stock, chances of finding that rare or unusual watch in particular size with the dial of your preference is realistically very low. Before making an appointment, please take your time to browse our website. If you don't see what you like, send us an email. We may have a similar model in stock or we could source it for you. But be prepared to be flexible with your selection. And most importantly: stay on the mailing list because we do get new stock every day! Of course, if we DO have what you like then don't wait: call us ASAP to make an appointment.

3. Payment

Our preferred method of payment for all interstate customers is direct deposit / transfer to our bank account. For 'over the counter' sales we prefer cash or EFTPOS. Please note: you may have a daily limit on your EFTPOS transaction. Please call your bank ahead to have sufficient funds available to complete the transaction. Credit cards: for the amounts under $3,000 we also accept VISA and MasterCard with 1.8% surcharge. For larger amounts combination of cash/card/EFTPOS is also possible.

We don't accept Amex, PayPal, personal or bank cheques or any credit cards over the phone, regardless of amount. Our stock is limited and popular and for that reason we cannot hold, accept deposits to secure, do partial payments or lay-bys.

4. Discounts

We've been in the watch business for many years - actually for generations! We have sold many thousands of watches to many thousands of happy customers from across the road to watch aficionados in the most remote places on the planet. And yes, as watchmakers by trade, we do know our watches inside out. We work hard to ensure that our price is right because we don't list high and sell low. We don't play games with you or 'hide' GST. We don't sell a watch for $4,000 and then list the same watch on the website as "sold for $3,000". Unlike every other dealer in Australia, we don't do consignments because consignment means no responsibility to neither seller nor buyer and inflated price. Our motto is "Uncompromised integrity. Workmanship. No discount" and we are so serious about those 3 fundamental business principles that we've made them public to everyone who visit our shop. So please don't ask for discount because we do not discount neither our integrity, quality of our stock or price.

5. Selling a watch

Yes, quality stock is always wanted! We are looking for watches in mint and unworn condition (any brand - from TAG to Patek!) and fine pre-loved high grade stock. Vintage, unique and unusual pieces are also welcome, including pocket watches and fine carriage clocks.

If you have a single watch to sell or a large collection or looking to downsize, give us a call. We offer confidential transaction and quick settlement.

Unfortunately we cannot make you an offer over the phone or via email - you need to bring your watch to our shop for a quick inspection.

6. "How do I know that your watches are not fake?"

While five 'rules' are quite sufficient to provide basic guidelines in dealing with us, I could not resist to include one more. For some strange reason, many of our first time buyers just have to ask the above question. Which is fine. We understand that some of you have been "burned" before and you want to make sure that watch you buy form us is genuine, unaltered piece.

However - if our website, reputation, physical premises, customer feedback, your common sense and even the very watch you are holding in your hand is not sufficient to convince you that we ONLY deal in 100 % genuine watches, then please understand that there is really nothing else I can offer you to convince you even further.

Let me try it one more time: we have NEVER sold a fake, non genuine watch. Not because such practice is criminal offense under Australian law, but because we are so passionate about REAL watches that we *hate* scammers, fakers, fake watches and con artists. We have spent (and continue to do so) great amount of effort to educate our buyers, web site visitors and email subscribers by providing buying tips - so it would really make absolutely no sense if we would sell fake watches.

If you still have to as, then PLEASE ask it once only and I would once again answer your question with "No, we don't sell fake watches, we sell real watches only". And this is where we draw the line: ask it twice (or more!) and we would have to ask you to leave our premises and never to return.

After all, life is short and we would rather spend out time with customers who appreciate our service. Wouldn't you do the same?

Friday, March 16, 2012

One of the 30

IWC model reference 5004-23 is one of the rarest in the Big Pilot's range. The entire production run of this impressive 18K yellow gold-cased watch is a mere 30 pieces in total! The back case does not even mention the exact production number - each and every 5004-23 is simply signed "One of the 30".

It's nickname is 'Buenos Aires" - it was manufactured for and sold exclusively through the Simonetta Orsini watch boutique in Buenos Aires. The name of the city of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, means "Good Airs" or "Fair Winds" in Spanish which is a really clever way to introduce this unique timepiece to watch aficionados worldwide.

While the Big Pilot's is truly a unique watch in the entire IWC range, the 30 piece run is exclusively something only a handful of Swiss watch makers can afford
to their most valuable customers. And IWC did exactly that with the 5004-23.

Finding one in the world watch market is not a small task. It could take months or even years to hunt one down. So when a client walked in our humble shop the other day
with a large white box, I could not even have dreamed of seeing a Buenos Aires "in person". Yet there it was - a complete set, down to the bar code sticker. Worn a couple of times only, ready to be passed on to its next guardian.

So what is it worth, you may ask?

Taking in account the original RRP of USD$ 30,000 (which was close to AUD$ 38,000 with the 2009 exchange rate), rarity and uniqueness and overall condition, our asking price of AUD$ 23,635 + GST (AUD$ 25,999) is really a bargain.

For more images and full description go to

Viewing by appointment only.

Fair winds, Captain sir! Buen Viaje!


Yes, a big 'thank you so much' to all members and list subscribers who kindly submitted offers this week on a small but exciting selection of 9 watches.

The response to our "make us an offer" deal was way beyond our expectation. We have received a total of 395 bids submitted by fax, in writing. On Thursday, our fax was probably the most dialed number in Sydney - it was ringing off the hook and unfortunately many of you who waited to submit your offers after lunch time couldn't get through.

The result page received over 1,500 hits in less than 24 hours. The most popular watch was Rolex Submariner which received 91 offers and went for $4,005. (The second offer was $4,002 - just $3 lower :-)

My favorite Roamer Sting Ray went for a bargain price of just $958 but I had to accept the market's sentiments - with 23 offers this is good indication where the vintage market stands at the moment.

Many have asked: when is the next one? No firm date yet, but yes, we'll do it again!
Stay tuned and watch this space!

Once again, we are humbled with the amount of trust that you have shown us by providing your personal details. Please rest assured that no personal data will be stored or shared - we have no need to keep your details on file because you are already our subscriber!

Yes, we've learned a few tricks in the process and I am sure that the 'next one' is going to be even more fun.

Watch talk: Collecting Vintage Omega Sportswatches: May 3, 2012

Once again, I have asked Jon Wallis (Author of the Desk Divers and Plo Prof websites, and well known for his Omega PloProf book, amongst other things) to join us one evening and run a presentation about collecting Omega Sportswatches from the '70s.

You may remember that we have done a couple of similar presentations before and they always had a good buzz as Jon is a really good presenter and a collector who's not only knowledgeable, but also really loves these watches. To give you guys the best chance of gathering as much information as possible we hope this time to also have a strong 'show and tell' element to the evening. So bring along your sportswatches along with your wish-list, and we can pick Jon's brain as well as hear his useful collecting hints and tips along the way.

As before, this will be an evening session in our Sydney city office and will start at 5:30 on Thursday May 3rd and run for approximately 3 hours. There will be nibbles and drinks provided, but space is limited so you really must book. Sorry, but you cannot just turn up on the night as we only have a small venue. Tickets at $40 per person. If you reserve a place then please do turn up. Sorry I had to mention that but if you have a space booked that means it is reserved for you and someone else is missing out. If you have to cancel, please do so as early as possible.

Some of the things Jon has promised that he will talk about: "Want to know more about the vast range of Omega sports watches from the 1970s? Need to know your Flightmaster from your Speedmaster, and your Constellation from your DeVille? Want to know which are the most accurate and which are the rarest of the range? Want to get to know some quartz watches that actually are collectable? And of course, we hope to have some Omegas to look at, touch and also talk about, plus answer your questions on the night!"

We all are aware that we haven't had much of a summer this year, but as we head into Autumn we should all have something to look forward to, and so lets plan the evening to be held on Thursday May 3rd. (Let your other half and the kids go shopping in the CDB while you chat about watches! :) )