Autumn has started and this means one precise thing: auctions are coming. The first one will be “Exclusive Timepieces” by Monaco Legend Group, which will be held at the Hôtel Méridien Beach Plaza (Monaco) on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd of October. Auctions are real shows for watch enthusiasts, as they give them the opportunity to see extremely rare timepieces that, sometimes, only pass once in a lifetime (some being unique pieces as well). This is, of course, truly captivating for everyone: aficionados, collectors and – especially – bidders. At the end of the day, the latter are part of this game and really try to put their hands on some of the craziest watches around. As the saying goes, though, dreaming costs nothing, and previews can be the right way to fantasize a bit by touching the watches, learning new things and chatting with industry experts. As Monaco Legend Group preview was in Milan (at the Mandarin Hotel) on Monday 2nd and Tuesday 3rd, the Watchype team could not miss the opportunity to reserve a slot and have a look at the available lots. Unsurprisingly, we were spoiled for choice. However, some pieces got me particularly, given their extreme rarity and extraordinary stories: the Middle Eastern delivery watches. In this article, we will go through some of the most famous emblems and crests which can be found in these commissioned timepieces along with the selection Monaco Legend Group put together for the upcoming auction.
The Omani royal crest
The Khanjar is a traditional dagger used for specific ceremonies and, when laid over crossed swords, represents the badge of the Omani royal family (also appearing on the national flag). Among the main interests of the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al Said (in charge from 1970 to 2020), there were diplomacy and horology. In fact, he is well known for his habit of gifting watches, especially for services rendered or diplomatic reasons. The majority of these gifted timepieces had special dials featuring the Omani royal crest and were commissioned directly to Asprey (the famous London jeweller), who used to engrave its signature on the back. This for two main reasons: first, the fact there were no authorized retailers in Oman at the time of these special orders (from 1970 to mid-1990s); second, his long-lasting relationship with England, which dates back to his youth. In fact, he was sent there by his father, attended a private school and later joined the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. It was in London he met Brigadier Tim Landon, who would become one of the Sultan’s closest friends and helped him during the coup against his father. It looks like Tim Landon was also the one who introduced the Sultan to John Asprey, giving birth to one of the most appreciated stories among collectors around the world.
This Rolex Daytona reference already is a rare one, considering it is believed that fewer than 2000 gold versions of 6263 and 6265 were made in either 18K or 14K yellow gold. To add further value, this lot has the red Khanjar logo at 12 o’clock right under the text “Rolex Oyster”, meaning it was directly commissioned by the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al Said, and retailed by Asprey, who engraved its name on the caseback. The watch features a black dial and champagne counters, which perfectly match with the warmth of the material case and red emblem. Even though the only difference with a “common” 6265 is the special logo, I can definitely understand the appeal. The watch is estimated between 350.000€ and 700.000€.
Another interesting lot characterized by the Omani royal crest is the n°244. I may be biased, but this is probably one of my favorites. This Rolex Datejust 1601 is a possibly unique piece. First, it presents a lapis lazuli dial in stunning conditions although, due to the fragile nature of the stone, many of these dials used to get cracked and have not survived until today. Then, we find the sought-after Khanjar logo at 6 o’clock and the Asprey engraving on the case-back which is completely legible (most of these engravings usually tend to disappear due to general wear and light polishing). As if it was not enough, this Rolex comes from the personal collection of John Goldberger and has been included in one of his books (100 Superlative Rolex Watches). White gold Datejust, stone dial, double provenance (Sultan of Oman and Goldberger): it really looks like this lot has what it takes to make some noise in a couple of weeks! This lot is estimated between 80.000€ and 160.000€.
The Emblem of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)
As it happened with Oman, the UAE and its seven Arab nations started to commission watches to Rolex around the mid-1970s and these were given as state gifts or commemorative tokens to individuals, diplomats or business partners.
In this case, the associated symbol is a hawk, which is found on many emblems and coats of arms of several states of the Arab League and in the seal of the UAE Armed Forces. Interestingly, falcons and hawks have always been playing an important role in Arabian Peninsula culture, as they are considered essential to the Bedouin’s life and survival in the desert. This is why falconry is still so popular nowadays and trained birds are considered status symbols across different countries. The special logo with UAE Hawk was then stamped on these commissioned pieces making their dials stand out and arousing collectors’ curiosity.
This particular Rolex Daytona 6265 in steel belongs to a small order of watches made by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Emir of Dubai. It features the UAE Quraysh Hawk in the upper part of the dial and the Department of Defence signature right below the emblem. In fact, research shows that this lot was probably part of a small batch commissioned by the Emir and gifted to helicopter pilots in the Ministry of Defence. It is worth pointing out the absence of the Rolex name on the dial, being the logo positioned where the text would traditionally sit. This seems completely inconceivable if we think of today’s policies and makes us reflect on the influence Middle Eastern Royal families had at that time. This lot is estimated between 150.000€ and 300.000€.
The last two lots we’d like to examine will be discussed together as they differ in a couple of things only (year and material). Both are indeed five-digit Rolex Datejust featuring a special logo at 6 o’clock: the UAE Armed Forces Hawk logo. The lot 51 is made by steel and comes from 1980 (with reference 16014), while the lot 103 (a year “younger”) is a bit more precious being in steel and yellow gold (with reference 16013). The Rolex Datejust, introduced in 1945 to celebrate the brand’s 40th anniversary, is certainly one of the most iconic models of the maison. Because of its classic style and proportions, it is the best-selling model of all times, suitable for every occasion and thus considered as the perfect everyday watch. These two pieces, whose personalisation gives that extra special touch, have the same estimate and are undoubtedly a good match. Who knows, they might even end up in the same collection… Both the lots are estimated between 4.000€ and 8.000€.
The Hype behind watches with middle eastern marked dials
In the world of vintage, collectors have different approaches. Some of them only look for top quality pieces, others look for rarity and still others for both. Actually, there is nothing more appealing than that feeling of owning a very good conditioned watch which is very limited or, even better, a pièce unique. But what really makes a watch rare? Let’s consider the following three criteria: first, the production period; second, the number of pieces produced; last but not least, the chance of ever coming across another very same example on the market. If we all agree on the abovementioned criteria, Middle Eastern delivery watches have to be considered rare and collectible objects. These were indeed commissioned and thus, by definition, produced specially to order. In addition, they all have a clear provenance (even a Royal one) and we all know this is something collectors have an appetite for. These features make these objects, to all intents and purposes, collectible and hard-to-find in the second-hand market. These pieces cannot please everyone, of course. Some might prefer the regular-production versions even if they go unnoticed and do not fetch big sums, I can get it. Nevertheless, it is undeniable these wristwatches have a special aura as they combine rarity and incredibly intriguing stories. Stories which belong to the past and are out of the ordinary, just as those collectors who will make a bid for these lots.
In addition to the ones presented in this article, I would like to mention lot 52 (supplied to the Royal Saudi Arabian Forces) and lots 77-180 (delivered to Saudi Aviation company SNAS). These were not included here as we did not have the chance to handle them at the preview. Be sure to look through the catalogue to appreciate these further lots and all the entire selection of exclusive timepieces.