Tuesday 20 March 2018

Treasures: Once upon a time...

Patek Philippe watch sold at Adam's
Patek Philippe watch sold at Adam's
Pocket watch owned by Joseph Booth
The Vacheron Constantin sold at Adam's
1920s diamond aigrette tiara headdress.

The Captain sat down and pulled a gold wrist watch from his pocket. "This watch I got here was first purchased by your great-grandfather during the First World War…" Fans of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) know how the story goes. The watch is passed down from father to son. Trapped in a Vietnamese prison camp, the father hides it "the one place he knew he could hide something". In the film, the watch has significance far beyond the scatological joke. It becomes a symbol of male honour.

"There's definitely a thing about passing watches down the male line," says Ross Ó Súilleabháin of Herman & Wilkinson Auctioneers. "It's like passing the baton." He was recently given his grandfather's watch, which his father had before him. The 1960s Seiko is an automatic chronograph, which acts as a stopwatch as well as telling the time.

The Japanese brand isn't one of the big names in collectible vintage watches, but Seiko watches are beginning to surface on the collectors' market. "A lot of Seiko watches from the 1960s and 1970s are still running," Ó Súilleabháin explains. "People didn't think that would happen."

Like most mechanical watches, his hasn't appreciated hugely in value. It might now fetch €500 and €600 at auction, but probably cost around £60 to £70 when it was new. Battery operated quartz watches are not usually collectible, although there is an emerging niche market for LED digital watches from the 1970s and early Swatches. In general, collectors go for old fashioned clockwork, with a strong bias towards Swiss movements.

"Mechanical watches are so brilliantly unnecessary," writes the sci-fi author (and closet watch nerd) William Gibson. "Any Swatch or Casio keeps better time." Part of the charm of vintage watches is they depend on human interaction. "These watches are, in a sense, alive. They have heartbeats."

Like the Tamagotchi digital pets of the 1990s, mechanical watches require a certain amount of tending. Some need to be wound manually. Others, known as 'automatic' or 'self winding' are kept going by the movement of the wearer's wrist. You don't have to wind automatic watches, but you can't neglect them either.

"High-end contemporary Swiss watches are priced like small cars," says Gibson. Like cars, they are most expensive when new. Just as a new car will lose a chunk of its value the minute you turn the key in the ignition, a new watch will be worth less as soon as you put it on your wrist.

A new Patek Philippe Calatrava 5227G-001 watch currently costs €32,300 at Weirs. Patek Philippe watches will always be expensive but the Swiss company has been around since 1851 and vintage models, while not exactly affordable, are a whole lot cheaper than new ones. On June 28, a gold self-winding Calatrava wristwatch by Patek Philippe (c1991) sold at Adam's for €8,200. The style has changed very little over 25 years. In the same sale, a 1960s watch by another of the big names of Swiss watch-making, Vacheron Constantin, sold for €2,400.

While most people will know the potential value of a Rolex or Cartier, watches by lesser names also have value. The auctioneers at Herman & Wilkinson, who specialise in house clearances, often find forgotten watches in cupboard drawers. "In a former career, I found a Longines automatic watch in an 18ct gold case during a house clearance," says Ó Súilleabháin. "The couple had no recollection of where it came from." The watch sold for around €1,000.

The fake Rolex is a cliché and relatively easy to spot but watches made in retro styles, while not intended to deceive, can be confusing. Ó Súilleabháin counsels a commonsense approach: "Watches tend to show their age. So if you find a watch in a drawer, first ask yourself if it looks old. Many of them have the word automatic on the front. If it does, someone will have gone to the trouble of making it. And it is always worth bringing it in for a valuation. It's very quick and easy to value a watch."

Since the collector's market for vintage watches is brand-driven, watches made by local makers are often overlooked. "People get lost behind a name and they never sit back and look for quality," says Ó Súilleabháin. "Some smaller makers made excellent watches and they're not around anymore."

A two-day auction at Herman & Wilkinson, which takes place on July 20 and 21, includes a large collection of watches. These include a number of vintage Rolex and Omega watches. The magnificently titled Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust Superlative Chronometer watch (€2,000 to €3,000) has a classic pedigree. The original Oyster model was patented by Rolex in 1926 as the world's first waterproof wristwatch. Since 1931, all the models in the collection have been self winding chronometers.

The auction also includes a pocket watch, the precursor to the wristwatch, with an interesting history. The 18ct gold watch (below) was presented to Joseph Booth, assistant secretary of the GPO, on his retirement in 1929. It's not known how long Booth worked at the GPO, or what historical events he lived through, but if he worked there long enough to deserve a gold watch, it's more than likely he saw some interesting times.

"The watch is estimated to sell for between €1,000 and €2,000 but, even without the provenance, it would be worth €600 to €1,600," says Ó Súilleabháin. Its movement (that means the working innards) was made by the American Waltham Watch Company whose early watches are highly prized by collectors.

See hermanwilkinson.ie and adams.ie.

In the salerooms


1920s diamond aigrette tiara headdress.

1920s diamond aigrette tiara headdress

The word bewitched has many layers of meanings. By the 18th century, a witch's heart brooch was symbolic of being 'bewitched' in love. But the symbol of a witch's heart as a talisman against evil dates back to deeper and darker traditions.

In 17th century Scotland, such brooches were known as Luckenbooths and pinned to babies' blankets as protection. A diamond set witch heart brooch/pendant (€400 to €600) is among the lots in the sale at John Weldon Auctioneers which takes place on Tuesday at 2pm.

The auction also includes a 1920s antique diamond aigrette tiara headdress - the sort of thing to wear when dancing the Charleston. The set, consisting of a diamond spray convertible to a brooch with attachments of a tortoise-shell hair comb, tiara and a crest of white egret's feathers (€3,000 to €5,000) comes in a fitted box by Collingwood & Co of 46 Conduit Street London. For full details, see jwa.ie.


The Kinsale Antiques Fair will take place on Sunday, July 24 in Acton's Hotel from 11am to 6pm. Expect at least 30 stands with some regular favourites: Treasures Irish Art from Athlone; Colman O'Kelly Furniture from Limerick; Maureen Kiely Silver and Victorian Tools from Laois; and coins and banknotes from Richard Walshe of Galway.

There will be several stands from Cork, including: Pamela Wayne Jewellery; Robert Delahunty Irish Art; and Charles & Sarah Vivian Books.

"For the first time ever in Kinsale, we will have both sides of the Weldon family present," says Robin O'Donnell of Hibernian Antique Fairs. "They will, between them, bring the best display of jewellery and 18th century provincial silver ever shown in Cork!" For further details, see hibernianantiquefairs.com.


An oil painting by Jack B Yeats is beyond the reach of most people, but Yeats' hand-coloured prints are far more accessible and the Cuala Press label is of historic interest in itself.

A copy of Yeats' powerful and evocative print The New Ballad Singer (€200 to €300) is among the works on offer at the Summer Online Auction, which will take place at Whyte's on July 25. The auction includes some of the big names of Irish art with accessible estimates, whether in the form of prints or sketches.

The latter, like Maine Jellet's Portrait Of A Lady (1918), estimated between €600 and €800, offer something from the pencil of a famous artist for far less than you would pay for a painting. Interesting works by contemporary artists include The Snail Chronicles, a set of four intaglio prints by Alice Maher (€400 to €600). For full details of this online-only auction, see whytes.ie.


A two-day Jewellery Auction will take place at Herman & Wilkinson's Fine Art Salerooms Swan Hall, Rathmines, on Wednesday and Thursday, beginning at 10am on both days.

The sale includes a collection of around 600 designer watches from Rolex Datejust, Omega, Raymond Weil, Seiko, Giorgio Armani, Ted Baker, Michael Kors and Bulova.

There is also a wide range of designer jewellery in platinum, gold and silver from brands like Bronzallure, Uno de 50, Muru, and Noriko. For full details see hermanwilkinson.ie.

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