Inside the Sanctum of Vintage Watches: My Favorite Watches From analog/shift
During my trip up to New York City, I knew I had to go visit analog/shift
High above the busy streets of Manhattan is a sanctum for devout watch collectors looking for horological guidance. Like an historic church built along a well traveled path of pilgrimage, relics to the Saints of Horology cover the walls of analog/shift. Vintage Rolex/Pan-Am marketing materials sit atop display cases, antique Longines cabinets are in the bathroom and a huge bookshelf full of tomes cover a wall, the contents of which chronicle the history of the disciples of timekeeping. The only thing that is missing is a stained glass window designed by Atom Moore. And of course, there are watches. Rather amusingly, Nick Pardo offered his apologies to me as a selection of inventory travelled with James Lambin to Los Angeles and they were slightly low. I couldn't tell. Here in front of me in the steel, and sometimes gold, where watches that I'd only ever seen online. Watches that I'll likely never see again.
In my eyes, analog/shift are the best premium vintage watch sellers currently out there (I'm not just saying that because I spent a few hours looking at their inventory. I genuinely mean it). Leaving New York City without seeing them would have been a big mistake. A blizzard, a pair of frozen feet and my inability to discern East from West couldn't stop me. So here are my favorite watches that I saw whilst visiting analog/shift.
Rolex Explorer Ref. 1016
This is a Rolex for people who don't like Rolex. This is a watch for people who think that Rolex watches are only Submariners worn by BMW driving, hedge-fund managing guys named Drake. The Explorer's simplicity is its greatest weapon against such preconceptions. It's not flash or showy, there is nothing on there that clicks or twists, it doesn't have any gizmos or do-dads. It just tells the time, and sometimes that is more than enough.
It's a small watch, measuring only 36mm, but it wears wonderfully well and looks fantastic on its original Oyster bracelet. This isn't the first Rolex watch, but it is the first Explorer and it speaks to another time when everything, even scaling a mountain, was accomplished by blood, sweat, tears and a mechanical watch.
I told Nick a story of my father who, on his 21st birthday, had the opportunity to purchase an Explorer very similar to this or an Omega Constellation. The Explorer was £20 more expensive, which was a lot of money back in 1970s England, so my Father chose the Omega. It wouldn't be right for me to say he made the wrong decision....but it was nice to see here what I might have been inheriting in an alternate timeline.
Heuer Bundeswehr 3H
Watch collectors love military watches. I don't know whether it's the explicit technological superiority or the implicit connection to danger, but there is a certain something that draws us towards them. This Heuer Bund is an excellent example of what makes military watches great. Much like vintage dive watches, the wear on this piece is probably appreciated by any future owner because it shows that this watch was actually worn. Whether it was wear seen on the battlefield or the barracks is unknown, but the important thing is that it didn't just sit in a safe for forty years.
At 43mm, this watch is shockingly wearable for something that was made forty years ago and my god, this is what NATO straps were made for. I'd probably bankrupt myself buying every conceivable NATO and nylon strap to swap out on a daily basis.
Audemars Piguet John Shaeffer Minute Repeater
I was completely blown away by this minute repeater from Audemars Piguet. Made during the 1990s, the watch takes it name and cushion case from a famous minute repeater commissioned by American industrialist, John Shaeffer. Shaeffer was the Vice-Chairman of the Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation and a frequent client of Audemars Piguet during the 1920s and 1930s. After realizing that his name was 12 letters long, Shaeffer asked Audemars Piguet if they could retro-fit his platinum and gold minute repeater to use the letters of his name as hour markers. They obliged and decades later they used the case shape and Shaeffer's name on a series of watches.
This watch is number 2 of 3 made in titanium and features a wandering hour complication as well as the minute repeater. Whilst there were watches that were far older than this one, this didn't diminish the enjoyment I had seeing it in the metal. The wandering hours complication, with a star shaped inner wheel, is charming and I now want more wandering hour watches from all my favorite brands.
There is something to be said when the first time you hear a minute repeater in real life that the chimes are made by a watch of this caliber. This is one of those watches that I'll never see again so to have this experience with it, to hold it in my hands even for a matter of minutes was thrilling.
Rolex Day-Date Ref. 1803
I'm not a Day-Date fan. Or at least I wasn't a Day-Date fan until I saw this. Whilst I still have a long way to go in associating a yellow gold Day-Date with anyone other than Tony Soprano, this white gold piece from the 1970s hit all the right buttons when I tried it on. I really don't know what else I can say about a watch that is so ubiquitously well-regarded as the Day-Date. It's f**king awesome. I want it.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 5508 'Small crown'
A truism I learnt very quickly when getting into vintage watches was that not all Submariners were created equal. Not to disparage any proud owner of a modern Sub, but it cannot compare to this vintage beauty. Gilt dials are really something else in real life, especially when it's a watch like this. The gilt text is all the sweeter to read when it spells out Rolex Oyster Perpetual.
Universal Geneve Tri-Compax Ref. 22235
I think that the term 'grail watch' is often overused by many watch collectors. My definition of what a grail watch is this: The best possible example of a particular watch that you want. Price be damned. You're allowed to change your mind on what you consider your grail watch, but you can only have one grail at a time, the rest of those timepieces you want can be called relics.
This watch right here is my grail piece. I saw rarer, more expensive watches at analog/shift but if I had won the lottery whilst sitting in the office, this is what I would have bought. For every good example of a Tri-Compax, there are five bad examples as polished cases, re-printed dials and replaced hands are far, far too common. Yet this piece is a guiding light out of a dark tunnel.
In every way this watch is perfect.
The only tell that this watch case wasn't milled yesterday is the wonderful inscription on the back, "To Fred B. From Fred K, July '48'. It's unknown who either of these Fred's were or where the watch was purchased but this only adds to the storied history of this beautiful watch. The 37mm case might seem small next to a modern triple calendar chronograph but it's a perfect example of excellent design. Every part of the dial from the day to the date to the tachymeter is perfectly legible and crisp, even after 69 years.
I am now forever spoiled when I see another Tri-Compax because I'll instinctively compare it to this and that is a very high bar.