Wednesday, September 21, 2016

8171 auction

Catalogue Essay
Reference 8171, also known as “Padellone” (Italian for large frying pan) amongst Rolex collectors, is without exaggeration one of the most legendary, best proportioned and consequently sought after vintage wristwatches ever made by any manufacturer. If one were to ask the worldwide community of watch collectors which model, in their view, should be on the all-time top-ten list then, quite certainly, Rolex’s large triple calendar reference 8171 would quite easily make it into a top position. 

Thanks to the firm’s rich history full of technical innovation and blessed with a vast array of different sports models, Rolex models featuring a full calendar with moon phases are a little bit off from the firm’s core business, to describe it subtly. As a matter of fact, since its founding, Rolex only produced two models indicating the day of the week, the month, the date and the phases of the moon: the mythical reference 6062, featuring the signature Oyster-case with a large diameter of 36mm and its larger “brother”, reference 8171, boasting a surprisingly generous 38mm. Interestingly, both models were only in production during a very short period during the early 1950s and both were available in yellow gold, pink gold or stainless steel.

Reference 8171 impresses not only with its large diameter, in particular when considering that a large gent’s watch in 1950 was around 35mm, but in particular with its harmonious case proportion and razor sharp edges, facets and angles. As a consequence, the 8171 case excels when preserved in flawless and unpolished condition but equally loses much of its charm and original beauty when repeatedly and unprofessionally polished.

Amongst the world’s elite of collectors, auction house specialists and dealers, few can sincerely say to have ever held in their hands, yet owned, a truly mint, absolutely unpolished and unrestored example of Rolex’s celebrated 8171 series.

Whereas the gold version often ends up slightly rounded given the soft nature of the case material, steel examples are commonly seen in average to poor condition for two particular reasons: firstly, steel’s vulnerability to corrosion, consequently requiring extensive cosmetic interventions with the polishing machine. Secondly, due to the fact that the less costly steel version was more often worn carelessly, scratches and dents were inevitable (again making polishing necessary).

The present “Padellone” must be described as “better doesn’t exist”-condition as, in over sixty years of life, it has not only been spared from any polishing or other type of restorations but most certainly from any wear from being worn on someone’s wrist. Its owner can comfortably claim to own the world best-preserved stainless steel reference 8171 as, simply put, there is no better than virtually mint.

With the best intention we cannot think of more than two other examples that could match this 8171’s condition. These two other examples are both treasured by two uncompromising private collectors and, when acquiring them, both were delighted to volunteer paying an absolute world record price in order to secure them. One of them is prominently published in John Goldberger’s “100 Superlative Rolex Watches” on page 76 & 77.

The silvered grain-finished dial is highlighted by silver-colored facetted hour markers and the typical Arabic numeral 12, surrounded by the date ring with rich medium-blue colored numbers ranging from 1 to 31, all in the typical Rolex font. The needle-shaped date hand features an arrow-shaped blued tip whereas the hour and minute hand are in the timeless “feuille” (French for leaf) design.

The case preserves the perfect mirror-finished surfaces on the bezel and the top surface of the lugs while retaining an immaculate satin-finish to the band of the case and the sides of the lugs as well as the center of the case back. There, the demanding collector and scholar can admire the perfectly crisp Rolex coronet and 6-digit serial number. 

The inside of the case back displays the factory finish and shows only one watch maker’s inscription. This means that in nearly 65 years the watch has only been brought once to a watchmaker for oiling; consequently the movement does not show any trace of wear.

The expandable Gay Frères Oyster-style bracelet from the period beautifully completes this “Padellone’s" appearance.

During the last 30 years of auctions, less than a handful of stainless steel Rolex reference 8171 have been described as AAA quality, but during the same time period the number of savvy collectors and the level of scholarship has been multiplied one hundredfold. This equation makes it very evident to the collector of vintage premium watches that not only will it become more and more difficult to secure such a perfect ”Eighty-One-Seventy-One” but possibly, that this example here represents the last occasion to ever own such a gem.


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