The Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: Six is just around the corner, slated to commence on November 11th and it will surprise no one that there are any number of stellar lots to choose from. One in particular really stands out for me, however, and though it’s a bit inside-baseball, it’s also one of the most historically and technically interesting watches Phillips has ever offered (which is saying something).
Omega copy tourbillon wristwatches have become, if not ubiquitous, at least unremarkable nowadays (although there is and always should be room for admiration for tourbillons that are really well done, which is true of mechanical horology in general – both in terms of ubiquity, and what it is we ought to admire).
However, for much of the history of the tourbillon, they were quite rare, and for good reason: they required great skill and precision to make. Tourbillon makers vied with each other not only for the prestige that went along with making them, but also for honors in the observatory chronometer time trials, and some of the most famous observatory tourbillons were made by some of the most prestigious names in watchmaking – perhaps most famously, by Patek Philippe, starting in the 1940s (one of these tourbillon movements was cased for, and worn by, Patek’s Philippe Stern; it’s now in the Patek Philippe Museum).
The first tourbillon wristwatch appears to have been made by Lip, who produced a rectangular tourbillon wristwatch prototype in 1931 or 1932. Very small tourbillon movements that could theoretically have been placed in a wristwatch were made by other firms (including Patek) but as they were intended for time trials or made as showcases for the maker’s ingenuity, they were generally not cased as wristwatches; another example is the tourbillon movement made by Fritz-André Robert-Charrue, of Le Locle, which was completed around 1945, and which was only 19.7mm in diameter.
People who are interested in these early tourbillons are also generally aware of Omega’s 19 jewel, replica caliber 30 I tourbillon movements. There were 12 made in total and all were 30mm in diameter, so as to allow them to compete in the wristwatches category at the Geneva observatory competitions. Until recently, it was generally believed that they were not actually cased until 1987, when seven of the twelve movements were discovered by Omega, refinished and rebuilt, cased as wristwatches, and sold to collectors. One of these is still in the Omega Museum. However, the example Phillips has on offer is in a steel case, and appears to have the distinction of having been cased in 1947 as a prototype wristwatch.
The particular movement Omega fake watches UK, notably, is not one of the 12 previously known to have existed; according to Phillips, who cite correspondence and drawings in the Omega archives, it appears to have been created specifically for the wristwatch prototype you see here. The lot notes read, in part: