What Makes Double-Signed Watches So Desirable?
Twice as attractive, double-signed watches are all about exceptional stories from the world of watches and beyond — special timepieces dedicated to communities, collaborations and milestones that continue to have an important place in the heart of collectors
Ask any watch collector what attribute they deem most important when buying a watch, most will answer provenance or history especially when referring to vintage pieces. Whether an issued watch, an inter-generational heirloom or a presentation gift; if a watch has an interesting origin, collectors can get hot under the collar! One such subsection of watch collecting is so-called double signed dials, where watches have an additional line of text or a logo to commemorate the retailer that originally sold the watch or the company or organization from whom the watch was gifted. And it goes without saying, the most keenly pursued brands to feature these special dials are Rolex and Patek Philippe. It’s not, however, just vintage pieces that can sell for astronomical prices.
One of the most famous examples of a retailer-signed dials is Pateks sold by Tiffany & Co. in New York. The relationship between the two giants of the luxury world dates back to the middle of the 19th century, when Messrs Patek and Tiffany began a long-standing agreement for the latter to sell the former's watches across its network of stores in the USA. This was an important step for Patek, as it allowed the brand to have a solid distribution network, and therefore increased visibility and sales in an important and growing market.
In fact, Tiffany & Co. is the only retailer that is still allowed to print their name on the dial which led to an astonishing auction result for a Tiffany-stamped Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 last year. As part of the brand’s fond farewell to its iconic Jumbo sports watch, it was announced that there would be a run of 170 pieces made with Tiffany & Co. with a ‘Tiffany Blue’ dial and the famous signature. Strictly available at retail price to hand-picked clients of Tiffany New York, it was one of the hottest launches of the past year, decade…maybe ever! One, however, made its way to Phillips where it was sold to the original underbidder for a sum rumored to be over $5 million USD. What a difference a name makes!
Tiffany & Co. signed Rolex watches were also available until the early 90s, as were pieces by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. One particularly important Van Cleef retailed Rolex is a yellow gold Daytona. Whilst we are focusing on the dials in this piece, often retailer also stamped the case lugs and or the bracelet clasp too, as is the case with the yellow gold Daytona reference 16518 on leather strap that has the “V C & A” under the standard five lines of text in the upper half of the dial. Albeit accompanied by a significant amount of documentation, it still caused a stir when it sold for $187,500 at Phillips, which was well in excess of ten times what a regular version of the watch was selling for at the time.
Rarity, and its associated value, is not the only reason that retailer-signed dials are popular. Collectors can fall for the romanticism of a retailer’s location or associated glamour. Joyeria Ricciardi was one of the biggest jewelers in South America, based in Buenos Aires Argentina that sold both Rolex and Patek Philippe and its artistic logo script is a joy to see on a dial. Then who could turn down a dial with the Hermes signature on? There are few more exotic than Serpico Y Laino. The Venezuelan retailer was founded in 1925 by Italian businessmen in Caracas. Again, much like Tiffany’s relationship with Patek Philippe, Serpico’s relationship with both Rolex and Patek, plus also Tudor, was very important in establishing the brands in such regions that were so far away from Switzerland. It was often the case that by adding the retailer’s signature to the dial, the watch became more desirable to the jeweler’s clients as these watches had the ‘stamp of approval’ from the trusted local retailer. It’s hard to imagine that now, around 100 years ago it was a very different story.
One of the heartlands of the luxury industry is London, in a large part thanks to the wealth that has resided in the capital for centuries. Famed Royal jeweler Asprey is another retailer that is well known for its watch sales, especially Rolex and Patek Philippe. When it comes to Rolex watches, some of the most desirable vintage pieces were supplied to the Sultan of Oman by Asprey, with special Khanjar dials and other signatures on the dial. One of the most interesting Asprey signed watches involves a story that is very close to my heart, as it involves a dear friend of mine, London-based watch dealer David Duggan.
Known as ‘The Asprey’, the watch is a Patek Philippe reference 2499. The watch is still the only known example of a complicated Patek that is actually double signed Asprey, with the signature both on the dial and stamped inside the case back. Let’s be honest, a 2499 is an important watch in itself, but this unique Asprey signed example makes it a very important watch indeed. I feel like I know this watch well, as I have been aware of it for many years and was one of the few people who knew its original story. The catalogue notes now disclose that it was originally bought from the original owner by my friend David Duggan. The original owner RC (whose initials adorn the case back) sold the watch to Duggan in the late 1990s. The watch was first seen publicly in 2006 at auction where it achieved 2.2 million Swiss francs – a then world record for a reference 2499. The 2006 private buyer kept the watch until it appeared again in 2018 when it sold for 4 million Swiss Francs. What a difference a name makes!