Christie’s: Why Collectors Love Chronographs

Why Collectors Love Chronographs

Why do both experienced and new watch collectors love chronographs? Here, we examine the appeal of this most sought-after complication.

If you take a look into the collections of both seasoned collectors, and that of those just getting started with watches, you’re bound to find at least one chronograph. It’s just one of those complications that has a truly universal appeal, and with good reason. When one wears such a piece, they know that what’s upon their wrist has style, boasts a significant amount of mechanical complexity, and is greatly useful in a multitude of applications. Just in time for Christie’s Watch Shop Chronographs Sale, we reflect on five of the reasons why collectors love chronographs.

Aesthetic Appeal

Some like to joke that they find themselves glancing down at their watch several times each hour, but not once is it to actually check the time. This comes back to the initial reason why most get into watches in the first place today — the pure aesthetic appeal. Through the use of two or three subdials, chronographs possess a certain balanced, symmetrical look that those conscious of thoughtful and purposeful design certainly appreciate. Additionally, since chronographs have seen a number of applications in professional racing over the years, many will associate the look of a watch like the Tudor Heritage Chrono Blue with the gauges within an instrument cluster that you might see on a classic car.



One thing that horologically-inclined individuals of the modern era celebrate is that many of the older watches that we so passionately covet were originally designed to be practical, and effectively used as tools. Chronographs are a perfect example of this, and their rich history certainly supports this notion.

For example, take how Louis Moinet produced the first chronograph back in 1816 to track and time the movement of celestial objects, and how Nicolas Rieussec developed the first marketed chronograph so that King Louis XVII could time his beloved horse races. This is similar to how some collectors enjoy timing laps on the race track with a watch of automotive importance, like the venerable ‘Nina Rindt’ Compax from Universal Genève.

Mechanical Complexity

While integrating a stopwatch into a wristwatch might sound like a simple task, this is by no means the case. Assembling and finishing a chronograph is a far more complex process than that of a basic, time-only piece. Collectors are aware of the time and effort that goes into making beautifully complicated watches, which is why chronographs can almost be worn as a badge of honour and an indication of an appreciation for fine watchmaking.

Furthermore, the inner workings of a chronograph can be executed in different ways, namely through the use of column wheels and cams. Although both interpretations ultimately get the job done, a column wheel — which can be seen in the Patek Philippe 3970’s CH-27-70 — is far more demanding to produce, due to the fragility of the teeth. This is reflected in the price, and causes some to choose cam-actuated chronographs, which may not be as smooth to engage, but tend to be more affordable.

A Multitude of Variants

In that the chronograph is somewhat of a ‘family’ of complications, there are a variety of adaptations within the class. ‘Rattrapantes’ or split seconds chronographs allow the user to time multiple events in succession through the use of an additional seconds hand, whereas a ‘flyback’ chronograph, as seen in vintage pilot’s watches like the Breguet Type XX Aeronavale, features a quick reset and start function in order to begin measuring another occurrence of interest. While both are essentially doing the same thing, they do it in their own unique way that is drastically different from a mechanical standpoint. This gives one all the more reason to add more than a single piece to their collection.

Historical Significance

Throughout history, chronographs have graced the wrists of several important figures, and had a significant impact on countless notable events. Omega’s Speedmaster instantly comes to mind, as it was worn during the first Apollo moon mission and played a large role in many tasks and calculations over the course of the momentous feat. Moreover, watches like the Rolex Daytona are most commonly associated with the exhilarating sport of auto racing and the lifestyle that encompasses it. It’s stories like these that allow us to connect with a particular watch on a deeper level, and bring us back to an exciting time of exploration, pushing boundaries, and challenging horological conceptions.

Browse the fine collection of modern and vintage chronographs now available in Christie’s Watch Shop Chronographs Sale. Learn more about chronographs from Christie’s Senior Specialist Eric Wind and International Head of Watches John Reardon by viewing our in-depth video profiles of eight highlights from the sale.

Christie’s New York “Important Watches auction” highlights

Christie, New York – E’ in corso l’asta “Important Watches” con una ricca offerta di 408 orologi da polso, da tasca e da tavolo. Top Lots: un Rolex Ref. 6101, che vanta un quadrante in smalto policromo cloisonné con la mappa del Nord e Sud America, circondato da pesci e gabbiani; un Patek Philippe in oro bianco Ref. 5101 con quadrante blu; un Patek Philippe Ref. 715 da tasca che raffigura una scena di caccia su smalto firmata da L. Pellarin-Leroy, un artista che ha collaborato con Patek Philippe tra gli anni ’60 e ‘70. L’asta in due sessioni, con oltre un centinaio di lotti offerti senza riserva, è in corso presso la sala Christie al Rockefeller Center e si prevede raggiungerà i 6 milioni di dollari di vendite.


Al lotto 333 della sessione pomeridiana corrisponde l’iconico Rolex Milgauss Ref. 6541. Introdotto sul mercato a metà degli anni 1950, il Milgauss 6541 con lunetta girevole è stato progettato per l’uso in aree ad intenso campo elettromagnetico, come laboratori di ricerca o centrali elettriche. Quello in asta, con una stima tra $ 100.000 – 200.000, è del 1958, in acciaio, automatico con quadrante nero con finitura a nido d’ape (realizzato in ferro dolce), indici luminosi e in metallo applicati, lancette Dauphine in alluminio, secondi “a saetta”.

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By Manuel Galvez e Andrea Foffi – –

NEW YORK – Christie’s New York announces highlights of its upcoming Important Watches auction on December 9. With 408 wristwatches, pocket-watches, and desk clocks on offer, the sale is highlighted by a Rolex, Reference 6101, which boasts a polychrome cloisonné enamel dial with map of North and South America, surrounded by fish and seagulls, a Patek Philippe, white gold Reference 5101 with blue dial, and a Patek Philippe, Reference 715 pocket-watch which depicts a hunting enamel illustration by L. Pellarin-Leroy, a top enamellist working for Patek Philippe in the late 1960s and 1970s. The two-session auction, with over one hundred lots offered with no reserve, is to be held at Christie’s flagship Rockefeller Center saleroom and is expected to achieve in excess of US$6 million. 

As Lot 333 of the afternoon session, the iconic Milgauss Reference 6541 will be a treat for watch aficionados. Introduced to the market in the mid-1950s, the Milgauss model reference 6541 with black revolving bezel was designed for use in areas of high electro-magnetic field, such as research labs or power stations. The present lot on offer December 9 (illustrated right; estimate: $100,000 – 200,000), manufactured in 1968, is an extremely rare stainless steel automatic wristwatch with black honeycomb dial also featuring a lightning flash second hand. In 2008, the watch was serviced by Rolex USA and following the servicing a Rolex SVP for Technical Operations sent a letter to the owner stating that upon inspection the watch, bezel, dial, hands and movement were all original Rolex manufacture. The letter further states the watch was manufactured on September 8th, 1958.

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By Manuel Galvez e Andrea Foffi – –

Hollywood Icons & Music Legends – Christie’s Pop Culture Sale december 16, 2014

South Kensington – Il 16 dicembre a South Kensington si terrà l’asta Pop Culture di Christie, presentando cimeli della storia del Rock, Pop e del cinema. La vendita celebra alcuni dei più grandi nomi del cinema del 20° secolo, leggende della musica di oggi, costumi e gli script di film, strumenti e testi delle canzoni scritti a mano e altro ancora. Il catalogo al completo sarà in mostra presso la galleria Old Brompton Road a South Kensington dal 13 al 16 dicembre 2014. Le stime vanno da £ 800 a £ 300.000.

Un elaborato e suggestivo costume in stile “harem” indossato da Marilyn Monroe in un servizio fotografico del celebre fotografo Richard Avedon è il top lot del catalogo (stima: £ 300.000-500.000). Il costume indossato dall’attrice è stato pubblicato sul numero di dicembre 1958 della rivista Life. La Monroe si fece ritrarre nel tentativo di convincere il presidente della Fox ad affidargli la parte di Cleopatra nel colossal che invece vide in quella parte Liz Taylor.

I fan della serie Terminator hanno la rara opportunità di aggiudicarsi il mitico giubbotto in pelle nera indossato da Arnold Schwarzenegger  nel film “Terminator 2: Il giorno del giudizio” (stima: £ 18,000-25,000). Questa giacca, con la scritta “ARNOLD” all’interno, ha numerosi fori di proiettile ed è stata utilizzata durante le riprese nella scena nel centro commerciale, quando Terminator per proteggere John Connor dal fuoco del T-1000 è ripetutamente colpito dalle pallottole nella parte posteriore.

Un rarissimo prototipo di chitarra elettrica Gretsch Irish Falcon, realizzato per il frontman degli U2 Bono Vox e firmata da tutti e quattro i membri della band (stima: £ 120,000-180,000). Bono ordinò alla Gretsch dieci chitarre “Irish Falcon” per l’Elevation Tour del 2001 e successivamente donò questo esemplare all’asta per raccogliere fondi per la Fondazione MusiCares. Si tratta di uno dei primi prototipi originali Irish Falcons commissionati dal leader degli U2 ad essere venduti in un’asta pubblica, questa chitarra di sicuro attrarrà l’interesse degli appassionati e collezionisti del genere.

Bob Dylan è considerato il più grande cantautore del nostro tempo, ma non tutti sanno che prima di scrivere musica amò il disegno e la pittura. Dylan ha iniziato a dipingere seriamente durante il periodo di convalescenza dovuto al suo incidente motociclistico del 1966. L’asta Pop Culture presenta ai fan di Dylan la possibilità di aggiudicarsi un suo ritratto con soggetto la moglie Sara in attesa. Fu eseguito nell’estate del 1968 ed è accompagnato da una copia della autobiografia di George Harrison “I, Me, Mine”, con una fotografia in bianco e nero di Dylan e Harrison a casa di Dylan a Woodstock nel 1968 con il dipinto sullo sfondo (stima: £ 50000-70000).

Una copertina autografata dell’album Thriller” di Michael Jackson (stima: £ 25,000-35,000). Jackson ha firmato questa copertina per un evento di beneficenza a Budapest l’8 settembre 1996 in occasione del History Tour ed ha scritto il testo della prima strofa di Thriller.

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By Andrea Foffi e Manuel Galvez

South Kensington – Christie’s bi-annual 20/21 Pop Culture sale returns to South Kensington on 16 December, presenting music and film aficionados with memorabilia associated with kings of rock, pop and Hollywood. The sale celebrates some of the greatest names of 20th century cinema through to today’s music legends, featuring costumes and film scripts, instruments and handwritten song lyrics and more. The full sale can be viewed here and will be on public exhibition at Christie’s Old Brompton Road galleries in South Kensington from 13 to 16 December 2014. Estimates range from £800 to £300,000.

An elaborate and evocative harem costume worn by Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe in a photo shoot with famed photographer Richard Avedon is a highlight of this December’s sale (estimate: £300,000-500,000). Ms. Monroe portrayed five legendary screen seductresses – Lillian Russell, Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, Clara Bow and Theda Bara – in this Avedon shoot, which featured in the 22 December 1958 issue of Life magazine. The costume was worn by the actress when posing as Theda Bara, recreating Bara’s most famous role of Cleopatra. Monroe actively pursued the role of Cleopatra and sent Avedon’s portrait of her posing in this costume as Theda Bara’s Cleopatra to the President of Fox, in an attempt to persuade him that she was right for the part. Though the role went to Elizabeth Taylor, Monroe spoke of her shoot with Avedon as one of the greatest moments of her career.

Fans of The Terminator series should not miss a rare opportunity to acquire a black leather motorcycle jacket made for Arnold Schwarzenegger as the title role in the 1991 Columbia film Terminator 2: Judgement Day (estimate: £18,000-25,000, illustrated right and on page one). Several leather jackets were created for the film in progressive stages of distress, from clean through to completely shredded. This jacket, inscribed ‘ARNOLD’ in the collar lining, has numerous simulated bullet holes and is thought to have been used during filming of the Galleria mall scene, when the Terminator turns to shield John Connor from the T-1000’s gunfire and is repeatedly shot in the back.

Leading the contemporary section of the sale is a custom prototype Gretsch Irish Falcon electric guitar (estimate: £120,000-180,000), made for U2 frontman Bono and signed by all four members of the band. Bono commissioned Gretsch to build ten “Irish Falcon” guitars for U2’s 2001 Elevation tour. Since then, the Irish Falcon has remained Bono’s primary stage guitar, used during performances of Walk On and One. To recognise his accomplishments as a musician and humanitarian, Bono was honoured as 2003 MusiCares Person of the Year at a special tribute dinner, concert and silent auction at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York. He donated this guitar to the auction to raise funds for the MusiCares Foundation. One of the first original ‘prototype’ Irish Falcons custom made for Bono to come to public auction, this guitar is sure to attract interest from fans and collectors alike.

Fans of the Grateful Dead will instantly recognise Jerry Garcia’s iconic hand-painted ‘Uncle Sam’ top hat (estimate: £30,000-50,000). This hat was owned and worn by Garcia on various occasions in 1966 and ‘67 as ‘Captain Trips’, including the now famous shoots with Gene Anthony on the steps of the Grateful Dead communal house at 710 Ashbury St. and with Herb Greene at the home of Gene Estribou. Photographs from both shoots were used for the cover and liner of the Grateful Dead’s 1967 debut album, The Grateful Dead. This hat was part of Jerry Garcia’s personal wardrobe until he gave it to his friend and neighbour, Harry Tsvi Strauch. Strauch had asked to borrow the hat for a red, white & blue American flag themed window display in his shop, and Garcia insisted Strauch keep it.

Whilst Bob Dylan is primarily celebrated as the greatest singer-songwriter of our time, he began drawing in high school before he ever started writing music. Dylan started to paint seriously during his period of retreat to quiet family life in Woodstock, following his 1966 motorcycle accident. The Pop Culture sale presents Dylan fans with the opportunity to acquire an intimate portrait of his then pregnant wife, Sara, painted in the summer of 1968, soon after Dylan received his first box of oil paints (estimate: £50,000-70,000). Untitled (Sara) is accompanied by a copy of George Harrison’s autobiography I, Me, Mine, featuring a black and white photograph of Dylan and Harrison at Dylan’s home in Woodstock in 1968 that shows this painting on the wall.

The rich selection of film scripts and song lyrics presented include an extremely rare signed album cover for Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller (estimate: £25,000-35,000). Jackson signed this album cover for a charity event in Budapest on 8 September 1996 during the HIStory tour and wrote the lyrics for the first verse and first line of the chorus of the title track, Thriller. Also featured are a rare set of complete, handwritten lyrics in Pete Townshend’s hand for The Who song The Acid Queen, 1969 (estimate: £15,000-25,000). Celebrated as one of the greatest and most visionary songwriters of the sixties, handwritten lyrics by Townshend are extremely rare and this is the first example to appear for sale at Christie’s.

A rare set of first, second and third draft screenplays from the 1972 Paramount Pictures film The Godfather is expected to fetch between £6,000 and £8,000. The screenplays are working copies used by the original assistant director, Stephen Kesten, with various annotations and revisions.

To celebrate the 75th year anniversary of the 1939 M.G.M. film Gone With The Wind highlights include a rare dialogue cutting continuity script used by supervising film editor, Hal C. Kern, who won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing for his work on Gone With The Wind (estimate: £7,000-9,000); a presentation script signed by producer David O. Selznick (estimate £6,000-8,000) and a 1938 edition of the book signed by members of the cast and crew including Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Hattie McDaniel, Olivia de Havilland and Victor Fleming (estimate: £4,000-6,000).

By Andrea Foffi e Manuel Galvez – –