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The Unlikely Watch Collector: The Shah of Iran

A champion of modernity, the Shah of Iran was also an authority on watches, vintage vehicles, and lavish parties.

BY FRÉDÉRIC BRUN Contributor to Watchonista

Read this interesting article recently published in Watchonista. A multifaceted man with a deep interest in cars, sport and military design, the Shah was also a champion of the first experiments Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet did in producing an ultra luxury sports watch in stainless steel. Not just the first owner of the Royal Oak, the Shah appreciated the versatility of these Genta designed sports watches, wearing them with his elegant suits to his office in Sa’dabad Palace.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, wearing one of the earliest Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref 3700s ever produced in his office late 1970s
Sa’dabad Palace in Tehran, built in 19th Century, was Iran’s ‘White House’ where the Shah’s offices were located a walking distance from his residence
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Why Rolex Oyster Quartz Matters

History of Oyster Quartz

In 1928, Warren Morrison of Bells Labs discovered that the natural frequency of quartz could be honed for timekeeping purposes, but the early quartz devices were too big for practical use as pocket or wristwatches. The Swiss opened the Center for Electronic Watchmaking in Geneva 34 years later in 1962 and manufactured the Beta 1 Swiss Movement—also too clunky and unreliable.  A later version called Beta 21 was created in 1969 and Rolex used it in the Ref 5100, a large all-gold watch. Only 1,000 of the Ref 5100 were made and production ended in 1972.  Patek Phillipe was among the 20 Swiss manufacturers that made use of the Beta 21 movement.

Rolex 5100 Quartz With Caliber Beta 21 Movement, Credit to Haut Horlogerie

After Ref 5100, Rolex embarked on the development of an in-house quartz watch. In 1977, after five years of research design and development, Caliber 5035 Rolex movement was launched. That particular caliber, while over 40 years old, is to this day the finest quartz movement ever made and unlikely to be dethroned anytime soon. The two breakthrough achievements of the in-house 5035 were the higher frequency oscillator (four times as fast as its predecessor) to increase accuracy, and use of thermo-compensation to stabilize the effect of ambient temperature changes on the oscillator. A thermistor sensor sends temperature data to a regulator that adjust the voltage to the quartz crystal, thereby keeping a constant rate under varying temperatures.

Rolex intended the Caliber 5035 DateJust (and its companion 5055, with an additional day indication) to be “lifetime” movements, designed to be serviced and maintained just like their mechanical counterparts. In fact, apart from the electronics and the pulse motor, the mechanics of the 5035 are the same as the 3035 automatic movement that was also introduced in 1977 and used in the Submariner and other Date/DateJust models for over a decade. The 5035 movement is understated and beautiful and it is the only quartz movement to be finished with the Geneva stripes and fine finishes. It is also water resistant to 100 meters (330 feet).

Decorated to higher standard than their mechanical watches, Rolex made less than 25,000 Oysterquartz watches in 25 years. To put the rarity in perspective, Rolex makes 50,000-70,000 Submariners each year. In the end, despite all the resources spent to develop the movement and its unique engineering achievements, Oysterquartz went down in history as Rolex’s least successful watch, because in 1970s the Japanese made a vast number of more compact quartz movements much less expensively.

The Superlative Chronometer Certification

The first generation of this new quartz Mark I, as it was called at Rolex, was only produced for 18 months. Thereafter the quartz crystal in the oscillator was reconfigured to a tuning fork shape. The Mark II movement was submitted to COSC for chronometer certification.  The very early and rarer variant of the movement (like the one we have) is identified by the absence of “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” on the dial.

Rolex 17000 with Caliber 5035 Movement, 2nd Generation with Chronometer Certification

Case Design

One has to handle the Oysterquartz to appreciate what a beautiful oddity it is. The first impression is that it is a heavy and hefty watch, not at all what you would expect from a quartz watch, and perhaps the reason why it didn’t succeed.  The size and weight of the watch is much closer to that of an A. Lange Sohne wristwatch than a modern Omega Seamaster Quartz.

The design is at once characteristic of the 1970s, very different from the typical Rolex aesthetic, and reminiscent of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Indeed, there was a shared style around the introduction of the Ref 17000 between the Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus and the IWC Jumbo Ingenieur. All have a cutting-edge design with hard corners and flat metallic planes, round dials on square block cases and integrated bracelets. The Oysterquartz was the only one of the four that was not designed by Gerald Genta.

The dial sits on an immense cushion case that appears much larger than its nominal 36mm measurement. At 12.5mm, the DateJust case is as thick as a 1940s manual wind chronograph, which begs the question: Isn’t the whole point of a quartz watch to make a compact timepiece? Perhaps not, because as previously mentioned, other than the sensors and the pulse motor, the rest of the watch is a highly finished mechanical movement with 11 jewels.

This is a connoisseur’s watch—made for one who appreciates the quirky twists and turns in the history of fine timepieces.

Rolex 19019 with Caliber 5055 Day-Date Movement, For Sale at Parthian Watch Company
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Jaeger LeCoultre Geophysic E168

One of the most important models in the Jaeger-LeCoultre heritage, the Geophysic chronometer has an interesting history. The Chronometre Geophysic was created in 1958 during the official International Geophysical Year, an international scientific project that lasted from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958 where 67 nations participated in scientific exploration of our planet.

On August 1st 1958, the first ever atomic submersible vessel, named USS Nautilus in tribute to the fantastic submarine imagined by Jules Verne, set off in absolute secrecy with the unprecedented aim of making a submerged transit from one ocean to the other via the most direct route – meaning beneath the ice sheet covering the Arctic. After three days in submersion, the Nautilus made the transit without anyone apart from the crew being aware of this achievement.

Jaeger-LeCoultre was of course particularly proud of this feat and the part they played in this event in history. The original Geophysic featured a movement that had originated from military watches (Mark XI) and incorporated a hacking-seconds mechanism. The calibre 478BWSbr movement also utilised a glucydur balance for stability through changes in temperature and was fitted with a shock absorber; a “swan neck” index for micrometric adjustment; and the essential soft-iron inner case that protected the mechanism from the effects of magnetism up to 600 gauss. These attributes made it possible for the timepiece to be utilised during the expedition beneath the North Pole.

The Geo Reference featured a chronometer-grade, manual caliber P478/BWSBr movement, with 17 jewels, fitted with a spirale Breguet, including a stop-lever design that enables the wearer to hack-set the watch. In keeping with the spirit of the watch as a tool for scientists and explorers, the movement is not decorated, but it exudes an emphasis on accurate timekeeping rather than fine cosmetics. The movement of the Geo was directly descended from the Mark 11’s military grade JLC 488 SBr with some refinements, such as added shock absorption.

The Geophysic was designed with a double case and screw-back for water resistance. The inner case is made of “soft iron” to achieve magnetic resistance of 600 Gauss. The dial is pressure-fit with retaining screws at 4 and 11 o’clock.

In 2015 Jaeger paid tribute to this legendary timepiece and introduced three new models, one in stainless steel another one in pink-gold, and an exclusive boutique only model in platinum. Inspired by the original, all three draw on the design of the 1958 timepiece and further enhance this classic look, with a more contemporary appearance. The Geophysic 1958 features a larger case of 38.5mm than its historic predecessor, not only bringing it into realms of perfect in the modern era of watchmaking. The minimalistic case design is a thing of beauty and features polished lugs and bezel, with a brushed centre case. Turning the timepiece over you’ll see the beautifully embellished screw-down case back that plays with the J and L initials of Jaeger-LeCoultre superimposed on a globe crisscrossed by latitude and longitude lines. In true style of the original, the case back doesn’t afford any glimpse of the in-house JLC movement, though denotes the number of limited pieces and the inscription Geophysic, and Jaeger-LeCoultre. The Geophysic’s 1958 tribute is water-resistant to 100 metres.

Parthian Watch Company is a big fan of both the original and tribute Geophysic models. Visit our Jaeger leCoultre page and choose from the four outstanding examples we have to offer.

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Patek Philippe Calatrava ref 96 – The Understated Icon

Reference 96 was launched in 1932 as Patek Philippe’s very first Calatrava model. Wristwatches were a relatively new phenomenon in the early 1930s—pocket watches were still the norm.  The use of Calatrava name (the company’s symbol since 1887) to designate Ref 96 is an indication of the significance the wristwatch was expected to represent to the brand. To this day, the Calatrava models play a major role in the Patek lineup and have been its most successful collection.  Therefore, Ref 96 is an important watch in Patek Philippe and timekeeping history. It was the first reference to be serially produced with a numeric reference number.

Ref 96 is understated and elegant, considered by many to be the ultimate dress watch. The case design is inspired by Bauhaus principle of form following function. It is a minimalist design without any superfluous decorative features or details. The Bauhaus School, established in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, held the belief that design should be unified in all aspects of life: art, industry and function. The designs were simple and geometric, and purity and visual clarity were emphasized.

The Patek Calatrava features a 31mm round case, perfectly hugging the round movement inside without any use of spacers. The case is 9mm thick and kept slim by the use of a snap on back. The lugs are integral to the case and taper for comfort: this simple feature that we now take for granted was revolutionary, because at the time watch cases and lugs were made separately and soldered together. The dial followed the same principles, with a focus on indicating time in its simplest form using three hands pointing to raised trapezoidal markers.

The earliest movement of the reference was a 12-ligne LeCoultre movement, but in 1934 Patek replaced it with its new in-house 12-120. Our watch is one of the earliest to house the Patek movement, which remained the engine of the model until 1973.

The Calatrava ref 96 was produced from 1932-1973. It’s an absolutely essential and requisite reference to own by any enthusiast of Patek Philippe and horology in general.  It’s an especially interesting watch to own in stainless steel, because most Patek Philippe watches are produced in precious metals.

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Gilty Pleasures: a Selection of Early Production Gilt and Laquer Dial Stainless Watches in Oversized Steel Cases

Gilty Pleasures: a Selection of Early Production Gilt and Laquer Dial Stainless Watches in Oversized Steel Cases

Gilt has its roots in old English from the term gilding, which refers to coating an object with a layer of gold. But in making dials for watches gilt means something completely different. Gilt dials are produced by applying unfinished metal, revealed in negative relief, to the dial instead of printing the dial with ink. The metal used to create the dial design and details can be of course be yellow or white gold, but it generally is not.

The dial starts from a base metal (such as brass) which is mirror polished and sometimes plated in gold or silver. The design of the dial, including the manufacturer’s details, indexes and subsidiary dials is then pad-printed on the dial with nonconductive material. Pad printing uses an etched plate and pad to transfer the raised design (created with gold color raw metal) on the dial. The dial is then coated with a base color (most commonly in black for contrast) in a galvanic tank. To reveal the underlying pad-printed design, the dial is then washed to remove the galvanized ink and allow the raw metal design to shine through. Sometimes this whole process is repeated to add layers of color; and typically as a final step the dial is coated with clear lacquer to preserve the exposed metal from oxidation.

The result of this painstaking work is a warm and charming dial that looks different and reflects light  distinctly from a typical metallic ink. As you turn a gilt dial against light, you see a range of color tones from bright and shiny to very subtle and warm. Part of the charm of a gilt dial is even the best produced dials have a slight fuzziness to the printing.

These gilt dial will not corrode if the layer of lacquer on top is undisturbed, but they will oxidize if the dial is scratched or cracked and the design is exposed to the elements. Sometimes oxidation can come up to the surface from the base of the dial if the surface has small pin-hole imperfections. Gilt printed dials are impossible to restore, and a good watchmaker is usually able to sport reprinted ones.

Gilt dials were popular in the 1930s, but because of the labor-intensive manufacturing process, they have all but disappeared from the industry over the last 50 years. For example, Rolex ended their run of gilt dials in their Submariner and GMT sports models in mid-1960s. Rolex stopped making multi-scale gilt chronograph dials even earlier.

At Parthian Watch Company we have a special affinity for gilt printed dials, and today we have in inventory a number of time-only and chronograph treasures from the 1930-1960s.  These watches are notable, not only because of their dials, but also because of their oversized cases: at a time when men’s dress watches were 31-33mm, these examples were encased in 37.5mm stainless steel which makes them very contemporary in scale. Stainless steel itself was a relatively new metal in watch production starting in the 1930s.