This week’s selection covers a wide range of time, from a 1950s Rolex "Big Bubbleback" to a 1970s Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Quartz Digital. In between come two chronographs: a transitional Jean Richard Airstar and a Heuer Carrera 7753 that was initially issued to the Belgian army. And, as a bonus, both the Rolex and the Jaeger-LeCoultre come with their original papers, a very nice touch considering it’s many decades after their respective dates of production. This is your Bring A Loupe for September 15, 2017.
Rolex ‘Big Bubbleback’ Reference 6106, With Original Chronometer Papers
Vintage Rolex Bubblebacks were some of the most popular wristwatches at auctions in the late 1980s to early 1990s; they were the stars of the catalogs, with Rolex Daytonas used as filler lots, believe it or not. Obviously the trend turned, but many auction aficionados today predict a Bubbleback comeback, especially with oversized cases like this reference 6106, which is 34mm versus the more common 31-32mm diameter for standard Bubblebacks. Of course it’s always better if the watch comes with the original papers, which is the case with this one; we have the chronometer certificate dated from 1952, and the 1953 purchase receipt.
The serial number engraved between the lugs of this Rolex also places its production in 1952, which means a radium dial (tritium did not appear before the early 1960s). Its Super-Oyster patented crown is consistent with a contemporary patent application for an even more water resistant case. The dial is well preserved, and bears the coveted "Officially" red line. The riveted bracelet has spring-loaded links (one of the springs is missing), and can therefore stretch on the wrist to accommodate sudden tension, which can help avoid breakage (or just make the watch easier to wear, as it can accommodate a range of wrist sizes).
The dealer LunarOyster has this Rolex "Big Bubbleback" listed at $7,500.
Jean Richard Airstar Reference 905 182, With Transitional Dial
We recently covered an Aquastar Airstar, and discussed the connection with a similar chronograph from Jean Richard – the only version properly documented in catalogs. This watch goes even further, as it shows that the Airstar name was already printed on some dials in pre-Aquastar days. It sports the same reference number 905 182 as the more common "solo" Jean Richard version, and also relies on the Valjoux 72 chronograph movement.
The Geiger reading of the dial also shows a transitional lume being used, as the radioactivity measure falls between the radium dial of the early Jean Richard and the tritium dial of the later Aquastar. As is characteristic of any Airstar, the lume is not only present on the indexes and the hands, but it is also applied in the chronograph sub-registers, similar to what Breitling was doing with the 765 AVI, or to what Breguet did on some vintage Type 20s. Interestingly, the crown here is engraved with the Aquastar name; it demonstrates once again the direct link between Jean Richard and Aquastar, beyond just the Airstar connection.
Rarebirds just listed this transitional Jean Richard Airstar for 8,800 Euros (or around $10,500).
Heuer Carrera Reference 7753, Often Issued To The Belgian Air Force
Heuer had a long tradition of providing chronographs to the militaries of several countries, as evidenced by the Heuer Bundeswehr 1550 SG and this version of the Heuer Carrera reference 7753. The latter was issued to the Belgian Air Force in the early 1970s, hence the "F. Aé" engravings on the caseback for Force Aérienne, or Air Force in French. The Belgian order at the time is estimated at 250 units, but it is believed that 300 watches were eventually made.
While the watch here does not exhibit any military markings on the caseback, it is said to come from an owner who used to work for the Belgian army. It features the lumed dial and handset characteristic of this military configuration, and is powered by a manual wound chronograph caliber Valjoux 7733, which was serviced two years ago. The lume on the hands shows a significant aging difference from the painted numerals, air forces typically having a stringent relume policy to ensure maximum night legibility for its service members (such as the 1970 class of Belgian pilots issued with this Carrera).
A seasoned Heuer collector is considering offers above €13,500 (or around $16,100) for this rare military Heuer Carrera reference 7753.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Quartz Digital 555, With LED Display
In the 1970s the LED display briefly appeared to be the future of watchmaking, and was deemed such a cool technology that even James Bond got to wear one – the Pulsar P2. Jaeger-LeCoultre did not stand on the sidelines, and offered the 555 Digital in its prestigious Master Quartz line. Interestingly, this version was also offered with Wittnauer branding but the exact manufacturing company hasn’t been discovered yet.
An excellent article on Puristspro explains the functioning of the Master Quartz Digital, with the pusher at 2 o’clock for the time, while the pusher at 8 o’clock displays the date in the day-date format (the seller vouches for its perfect working condition). The energy consumption of this system was significant enough to require two batteries, which are directly accessible from the caseback. The case and mesh bracelet are gold plated, and this funky Jaeger-LeCoultre comes full set, with the original box and papers. Even the hang tag is included, and shows an original $395 price, a considerable amount for the time.
This Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Quartz Digital is listed at 2,800 Euros (or around $3,350).