The final Phillips’ watch auction of the year happened over the weekend (the 12th of December, specifically) and while the auction house will be more than happy with their performance over the year – they’re the first auctioneer to achieve a 100% sell rate, would-be sellers take note – it was an important sale for an often-underrated reference: the Omega Speedmaster.
Now, the headline grabber from the New York sale is undoubtedly the first ever Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 with a Tiffany Blue Dial. It broke the online wristwatch record with a staggering $6.5 million. It’s nuts – but not unexpected. You can find our own thoughts on the watch here but needless to say it was always going to be an intensely fought over watch, even by Nautilus standards.
What’s perhaps more interesting however is the Omega Speedmaster once owned by American writer Ralph Ellison. The Speedmaster has never really made it as a prestige watch at auction. It occasionally does well, but rarely makes headlines, which is a travesty. I’d put it up there with the greats of the chronograph world. Hopefully the new record set for the reference this at Phillips’ New York Auction – a fantastic $667,800 – will help.
Now, granted this particular ref. 145.012 pre-moon Speedmaster has a leg-up on the rest of the competition, given that it was owned and often referenced by American writer Ralph Ellison, the penman behind Invisible Man, one of the seminal works of black literature of mid-20th century. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the novel. Trust me, I studied it for a couple of years.
Granted in the book itself he references his father’s Hamilton, but let’s assume his tastes got a little more rarefied by 1968, when his ref. 145.012 was produced – the last reference to house the now-legendary and recently revived calibre 321. After he got it, Ellison was never seen wearing anything else, even when the top chronograph pusher had fallen off, right up until his death in 1994.
That pusher was in fact one of the only reasons watch historian Michael Clerizo was able to prove that this was indeed Ellison’s watch. Now it has a period-correct pusher installed in its place and a replaced crystal (the original was supplied with the refurbished watch), but otherwise is just as Ellison had it.
As Omega’s own Brand Heritage Manager, Petros Protopapas muses on the watch: “It always fills our hearts with pride to see our watches on the wrists of people going through every aspect of their lives. Once in a while we come across a human being that has marked his or her time with an important contribution to culture, science or adventure. Having just read “Invisible Man” again, I cannot overstate the sheer importance of Ralph Ellison’s work for our society and for our world.”
“For a writer concerned with social struggles in the way Mr Ellison was, the OMEGA Speedmaster with its rather utilitarian qualities would have been a “real watch” instead of a “showy” piece. I can imagine how the chronograph’s role during the pioneering days of America’s space program would have been a logical choice for someone with deep concerns about everyday life on Earth and under the stars.”
Perhaps this will set a precedent for other Speedmasters to follow as it’s a steady if not high earner, due for a boom. Hopefully this can be the spark of interest needed to light the fuse.
At the very least, it makes for a very good horological story.
More details at Phillips.