Exceptional Engineering: A Collection of Fine Wrist Watches
Gentlemen's jewellery is wide ranging, from the subtle glint of a cufflink or a signet ring to a more dramatic gold bracelet or ingot pendant. However, there is one item that has always been a feature – the watch. From the 18th to early 20th centuries, the pocket watch and Albert was de rigueur for men; gold for gentlemen of standing, silver for the middle class and base metal or plate for the lower class. However, Cartier was to set a new trend in 1911 with issuing of their first wrist watch – an item that quickly became popular with servicemen during WWI and soon after the population at large.
We are all familiar with the major makes such as Rolex, IWC, Breitling, Patek Philippe and many others, often through sporting events and heavy sponsorship. These established names have seen a number of competing newcomers to the market that are also producing watches of exceptional quality. They all have a strong following and what determines popularity is sometimes difficult to define.
In December, Lyon & Turnbull will be offering a collection of fine watches in a broad spectrum of styles as part of their Select Jewellery & Watches auction. A collection formed over 15 years, from the mid-1990’s to 2010, by Andrew McMillian, Baron of Cleghorn—a man renowned for his appreciation of precision engineering. Baron Cleghorn had four passions in life: photography; rifles and shooting; orders and decorations; and finally wrist watches—the common theme being exceptional engineering. This theme was driving force behind his collection from the simple Rolex he wore on a daily basis to the pièce de résistance, the IWC Grande Complication.
The simplest watch, and the one worn daily by Baron Cleghorn is one of the more basic pieces produced by Rolex, a clean design simply for telling the time with no additional functionality (estimated at £1,000-1,500). Another simple piece is the Blancpain, a gold-cased example with a good clear white dial, bold black numerals and a date indicator (estimated at £2,500-3,500).
The majority of the watches on offer are chronographs - watches that can act as stop watches and time recorders. Several key makers are represented including Omega, Jaeger LeCoultre, Zenith, Breguet, Arnold & Son and Ulysse Nardin. However, it is those by IWC that lead the parade. The International Watch Company was established in Schaffhausen around 1868 by Florentine Ariosto Jones, an American looking to combine Swiss watch making skills with American engineering and innovation, a company that have gone to produce some of the world’s finest and most sought after watches.
The main watch in the collection, the IWC Grande Complication, has for a number of years been a 'Holy Grail' for collectors. The years of work from initial concept to final production areobvious, not just a simple watch the Grande Complication features a perpetual calendar with moon phase; it automatically takes care of the differing lengths of months and also leap years; full chronograph, day, date, month and year indicators; a minute repeater; and an internal hammer that delicately sounds the hours, quarters and then the minutes. This latter part alone took many months to design, bearing in mind the watch had to be acoustically viable yet entirely waterproof.
These stunning pieces of craftsmanship by IWC are limited to a production of only fifty in any one year, this example from Baron Cleghorn’s collection was the eleventh to be released in 1992 and is estimated at £60,000–80,000. This collection will be offered on December 11th in the Select Jewellery & Watches auction.