With price as no object, what’s the one watch you’d want to own? We posed this question to some of the best watchmakers working today, and, given their mechanical insight, you can bet these folks chose some complicated watches. But they also, to a man, chose vintage watches, often citing the pre-CNC handmade tradition as awe inspiring. Having toiled over the bits and pieces inside the world’s best watches, these folks know a thing of mechanical beauty when they see it.
We also asked them to site their favorite personal watch, and like most people these watchmakers chose a timepiece imbued with personal meaning, one that marked a personal milestone, a gift, or which came to them seemingly through kismet.
Steve Kivel of Grand Central Watch
Steve Kivel is the third generation to operate Grand Central Watch, which his grandfather opened in 1952 right inside the famous train station in Manhattan. Steve has been at the center of one of the most vibrant watch repair sites in the country since birth.
Kivel’s Ultimate Watch: Signed Vacheron Constantin Ref. 4261, Movement No. 501’908, Case No. 328’056, manufactured in 1954
“I saw a Breguet double barrel tourbillon from Christies that was so spectacular, and at the same time I had a Vacheron Constantin minute repeater wristwatch in the shop from the 50s, maybe the late 40s, which was so simple and such a thing of beauty. I think I’d have to go with the Vacheron. Knowing that they made something like that with such a beautiful sound that’s so precise, how can I say I want a new Nautilus, or a new Patek, when I see something like that? When you compare it to modern things, made with better machines and better tooling, then does better mean better? Technology has taken over. It’s a little too easy now. I like that it used to be more of a struggle. I think someone would be better off talking to my grandfather than talking to me, because he had harder struggles in life getting to where he went, and I think that’s sort of true with a lot of these watch companies.”
Kivel’s Favorite Personal Watch: Rolex Datejust in Steel & White Gold with Perch Buckley Dial
“This is called the Buckley dial, because a gentleman who had a business on 47th St for 40 years owned more of these than anyone else. Fifteen years ago, I was working in the store with my Dad and my cousin, and my cousin bought this watch to resell. When it came in I loved it, and I said, I think I gotta buy this watch. My cousin said, no, I bought this for your Dad to sell and make money. So we ended up selling it to a customer. And for years and years this customer would come back, and I’d ask him about it. I’d ask all the time about it. About eight months ago, the guy comes up and says he had a few watches he was looking to sell, and my heart was racing. Sure enough, I got it.”
Jose Vega, Watchmaker at Betteridge Jewelers, Greenwich CT
A talented skateboarder and watchmaker, Jose graduated from Lititz Watch Technicum and now holds down a very busy bench at one of the North East’s most prestigious watch retailers.
Jose’s Grail Watch: Patek 1518 Triple Date Calendar Chronograph with Moon Phase
“The 1518 is the first triple date calendar chronograph and moon phase in a 35mm case. You can’t get a better watch than that, and it’s got everything. If you look at the movement, it’s just beautiful. If you get one of those then you scratch every itch. I enjoy a traditional chronograph, and the layout functions so well. As a watchmaker you see it a little differently than most people. It was just so well engineered. It’s very traditional in the sense of how it’s made, and Patek set the standard for a traditional chronograph, and most other brands followed from there making that same style chronograph. It’s super complicated, and at the time it was the highest complication you could possibly get. It’s also a perfect size.”
Jose’s Favorite Personal Watch: Tudor 20300 Chronograph with White Dial
“I was thinking of this the other day. I have about 20 watches, and I’ll put one on and wear it for a few days, but I always go back to my Tudor Chronograph, which is like a diploma from watchmaking school. I’m not allowed to sell the watch, so I can’t think of even selling it, and I wouldn’t anyways. It feels like a part of me.”
Roland Murphy, Watchmaker and Founder of RGM Watch Company, Lancaster Pennsylvania
RGM Watches is an American watch manufacturer in the storied home of Hamilton Watches, Lancaster, PA. RMG make a wonderful line of vintage-inspired timepieces, and they repair and restore watches, largely those of historical significance to American watchmaking.
Roland’s Grail Watch: Waltham Crystal Plate Watch
“That’s a tough question because I own a lot of watches. A Waltham crystal plate movement watch would be incredible, though. Waltham was one of the biggest watch companies in America, and they made the whole gambit from higher grade movements to run-of-the-mill inexpensive ones, and they also did a lot of experimenting and prototyping. One of their researchers took a trip to Mexico, and he brought back this rock crystal, ground it and made the top plate to the watch movement out of that. They did this for a few models only, just to test what it would look like, and it is super rare and original. When this was done it was totally unheard of. There were a few short runs of them, but they were really fragile, and needed to be handled carefully. It’s a part of early watchmaking history, and we take a lot of inspiration from early watchmaking at RGM.”
Roland’s Favorite Personal Watch: EF Bowman Pocketwatch
“This was an early watch made here in Lancaster, and they only made 50 watches before they decided to stop. E. F. Bowman was a jeweler in Lancaster, and they ended up starting the Bowman technical school, which I went to actually. So they made just 50 of these watches, because they thought that financially they weren’t going to make sense. The one I have is apart because we’re restoring it. My 2nd place watch would be my E. Howard, which was sold to Keystone watch case company, the cases were just signed Howard, but they made the Edward Howard, which was in an 18k case, which was rare for America at that time. It had a free-sprung balance with diamond endstones, and we used that watch to develop our Caliber 801 movement. They made between 300-400 watches.”
Jack Dorety of Gehan & Dorety Watchmakers, Sandy Hook, CT
A relatively new shop of just seven years, Gehan and Dorety offer up soup to nuts watchmaking services. They own a lot of manufacturing equipment, which means they can fabricate parts for vintage watches when necessary.
Jack’s Grail Watch: Patek Philippe 1563 Waterproof Chronograph
“I have to say the Patek 1563. They only made three that we know of, and it’s a waterproof chronograph from the 50s and 60s. It’s a high level complication in a waterproof case. Such a fine delicate mechanism, but meant to be used in the rain and such to time your horse races and so on. It’s finished to an extremely high degree, and it’s from the golden era of Pre-CNC manufacturing in the wrist watch size. This was right before the the Quartz Crisis struck.”
Jack’s Favorite Personal Watch: Omega Seamaster 143.006 from the 1960s.
“My daily watch is an Omega Seamaster form the 1960s, a reference 145.006. I’ve had it for three years, and I bought it on a watch selling forum. I serviced it myself, and it was in really good original condition, which is one of the reasons I bought it was because it hadn’t been worked on a lot over the years. I switch out the bracelet for different straps a lot, and I have it on a leather NATO right now.”
Rudy Albers of Wempe Jewelers in New York City
As the president of Wempe Jewelers, Rudy Albers is a fixture of the Manhattan watch world. He earned a Master’s Degree in Watchmaking in 1987 in Hamburg Germany, and runs one of the most respected watch stores and repair shops in the world.
Rudy Albers’ Grail Watch is His Favorite Personal Watch: Patek Philippe 5110 World Timer
“The watch that I currently wear and have for the past 10 years is a Patek Philippe World Timer Reference 5110. When the watch came out, I had a client who was coming for 10 years to Wempe, and I showed him all kinds of watches, and we had very intensive watch discussions, but he never made a purchase. Then he got this big promotion, and he started to buy expensive watches, and he said to me, “What’s your favorite watch?” At the time, the 5110 was just introduced, and I told him it was practical, beautiful, and amazing. And a week later he asked me the same question, and I gave him the same answer. And then he pulled out the watch, and gave it to me. He said that it was to thank me for all the time I’d spent with him discussing watches without buying them.”