Historical Perspectives: A Detailed Investigation Into The Mysterious Lip ‘Paul Newman’ Chronograph

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I became strongly enamored with this blue Lip chronograph in 2013. I had seen the watch before (being a Frenchman ensures you get exposed to countless Lip and Yema watches), but was a wrist shot published on the Vintage Rolex Forum that made me fall in love. Obsession is the name of the game with vintage watches, so I have been monitoring every single blue Lip offered publicly ever since – and I even bought two examples myself along the way. After observing over 20 examples in addition to my own, I feel fairly confident in saying that of the two mysterious variations of this blue dial Lip chronograph, it’s likely that only one is the real deal.

There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the Lip "Paul Newman," in general. The nickname comes from the design of the sub-registers, which are of course also found in the Rolex Daytona worn by the famous actor. The dials for both watches were made by Singer. Lip and Rolex are not the only brands to show the characteristic square markers in the chronograph counters, which can also found on vintage Vulcain, Nivada, and Wakmann chronos, to name just a few. Lip offered two very colorful dials in that configuration: the blue version under discussion here, and an orange one as well. These watches date to the late 1960s and early 1970s, at a time when Lip (and most other manufacturers) really struggled – to the point where Lip eventually went bankrupt in 1977. 

The most contentious point about this blue Lip chronograph has to do with the two variations that can often be found, and whether or not one is the true, correct watch. There’s no 100% firm answer to this question, but I’ve done some investigating, made some judgement calls, and compared all the watches I possibly could, to try to get us closer to the truth. Let’s compare the merits of each and decide for ourselves.

Lip bleu chronographe

The differences between the two watches are subtle, but they matter – a lot. It is not as much about value per se, as it is about which of the two combinations of cases and hand sets are correct – one with orange tips and the other fully black. There are two possible explanations. First, both watches are correct and were produced in some sort of sequence (and you can bet collectors would start mentioning Mark 1 and Mark 2 if this were to be the case). Second, one is correct and the other is not. I happen to own one of each, and I firmly believe that only one of my watches was born in the early 1970s, and furthermore that the other was put together much later. 

Orange lip paul newman

My case would be open and shut if I had managed to find the original documentation, but I have not. Trust me, it’s not for lack of trying. I cannot find any evidence of a Lip catalog from that time – nor any other official documentation showing the watch from the period. The second-best source is always reference books. Ironically, I found this watch in two separate books, each presenting a different configuration of the chronograph – so I was back to square one. For full disclosure, Lip: Des Heures A Conter and Watch: History of the Modern Wristwatch were both written by two watch enthusiasts who had no previous links to Lip, and who themselves sourced the watches that they featured. It’s therefore unsurprising that they stumbled upon the two different known executions, with each believing they’d found the correct watch. 

Yet, in my opinion, the picture below starts us on the path towards the real answer. What matters here is not the watch per se, but the strap with its blue pattern. This is indeed the same type of strap that could be found on the aforementioned orange Lip Paul Newman, which indicates strongly that it was the original strap (I mean, if you are doing an orange dial, you are definitely not shy of putting the same color on the strap). It gets interesting when you also discover that this strap can be found on several blue chronographs with the orange accents, but never on the all-black versions.

lip book chronograph

Stylistically, the all-black version appears even less convincing when compared to the bold looks of the orange-toned ones, though I understand that’s not a solid argument on its own. Though coming from a brand which used pink hands and indexes (such were the aesthetics of the time) the orange makes a lot more sense than does the black.

I bought the orange-tipped watch directly from a previous Lip retailer (he even gave me the blue paper bag that was distributed at the time) while the all-black watch came from the dealer who bought all the remaining Lip stock when the company went under. The seller of the second was very transparent in disclosing that the watch was built from spare parts, which explains the examples he irregularly offers on Ebay for around $600. The provenance of my two watches might get us closer to the truth, but there’s still digging to be done.

All-black handset
vs. orange-tipped handset.

Looking at the cases will take us one step further. Although they are differently shaped, both are steel-plated, as indicated by their respective casebacks ("Stainless Steel Back" always implies that the rest of the case is not made out of stainless steel, but is instead chrome plating over base metal). One should not forget that these chronographs were indeed budget items, made cheaply to reach a low price point and hopefully save Lip from insolvency. Not all Lip chronographs were plated – far from it; you can find some examples in full gold, sometimes even signed Lip Genève to emphasize the prestigious Swiss manufacturing. I have strong suspicions that they were then manufactured by Breitling, since Breitling and Lip had a distribution deal in France at the time and the Lip chronos look very similar to the Breitling Top Time – but that’s a story for another day. 

Lip bleu boitier case

While the shapes of the cases themselves don’t reveal much, their relative condition does. You will almost always see plating loss on orange-tipped chronographs, while almost all all-black ones are impeccable, sharp, and consistent. If both configurations were sold alongside one another (or even a few years apart) this mismatch in preservation would be impossible, as it would imply that all-black watches were only offered to people who would swear to not wear them so that the remaining examples would still look flawless 40 years later. Yeah, that doesn’t make any sense.

The caseback of the all-black version.
More complete engravings can be found on the orange-tipped configuration.

The caseback of the orange-tipped further supports the full authenticity of this version, since it bears a reference number, while the all-black one is much more generic looking. These casebacks are not unique to my two watches, but are representative of what one typically finds on each of these two configurations. 

I also still cannot get past the fact that the reading of the chronograph really makes more sense with the orange-tipped hands, while the black hands sort of feel foreign in those sub-registers. One could very well imagine those black hands were intended for another chronograph with a different dial, while the orange-tipped ones seem destined from birth to be with the blue theme of the dial and main handset.

The orange tip of the running second hand cannot be found on all versions.
The bright orange minute chronograph hand is very legible.

While there is little doubt in my mind that the correct handset should bear some kind of orange touches for the chronograph functions, it is very possible that two types of running seconds hands (the hand found on the left sub-register) were used throughout the production: one with the colored tip as shown above, and one fully painted black as seen in these three examples. Interestingly, it seems that in this case of this latter configuration, the six-digit serial number is engraved on the caseback, instead of the reference number found on my example. From the known examples, we can list the following serials: 691,547691,907; 892,362892,624;  while one remains blurred. It’s worth noting that some all-black versions can also be found with a similar type of six-digit serial number; for instance, we found 893,036, although it sports an absolutely incorrect chronograph hand.


Lip wristhot blue chronograph

By now, I hope you share my view that the orange-tipped Lip Paul Newman is the true original, while the all-black is a later and imperfect rendition (likely the result of a combination of service parts and unused components). And it goes much beyond the cosmetic consistency of the orange handset. To me, the true winning points are summed up in the fact that no all-black configuration has ever been found on an original strap, and that all of those were in suspiciously good condition. This may be at least partly explained by the many examples put together over the past years by the current owner of Lip leftover stock, although there is no knowing for sure whether or not he is the sole source of the all-black Lip "Paul Newman."

Finally, even if I now believe one to be incorrect, I am still glad I bought those two watches. At the time, I made sure I had at least one, if not two, of the greatest designs from Lip. As I expected from the start, there is no absolute proof for the sole correctness of the funkier orange configuration – only a fair number of excellent clues pointing firmly in that direction. 

My present suspicion (dare I say conviction?) that one of them is not 100% correct does not leave me bitter in any way; on the contrary, I am fairly happy to have almost solved this puzzle after a four-year journey. Or so I think – I might just end up finally finding that original Lip catalog and realizing I was off all along. While I can bet against that scenario all I want, should it come to pass it would definitely be a good lesson once again, that certainty and vintage watches rarely go hand-in-hand.

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