OVERVIEW OF DOUBLE SIGNED WATCHES THAT HAVE SET THE MARKET ON FIRE
Their names are regularly associated with Patek Philippe, Rolex or Audemars Piguet, and panic collectors when they appear in double signature on a dial.
Known as “AD” in watchmaking jargon, Authorized Dealers have, since the end of the 19th century, allowed several brands to distribute their watches in countries where they did not yet have branches.
Particularly sought after by vintage enthusiasts, watches with double signatures are currently setting the market alight.
Why do they fascinate so much collectors ? Here is an overview of the most essential pieces…
Tiffany & Co for Patek Philippe in New York, Hermès for Jaeger-LeCoultre in Paris, or even Asprey for Rolex in London … More than just retailers, they were once true business partners who enabled the most prestigious watch manufacturers to distribute their watches in countries where they did not yet have branches.
From the beginning of the 20th century, their name, synonymous with trust and notoriety, sold worldwide to a clientele who still knew little from the Swiss watchmaking industry. From the 1930’s, a new practice became widespread: the dealers themselves put their name on the dial of watches entrusted to them for sale.
These double signature have become today extremely popular among collectors over the past few years. Today, some of these double signed watches have become legendary even in the history of modern watchmaking.
TIFFANY & CO, THE MUST-HAVE
Tiffany & Co is undoubtedly the most sought-after double signature among collectors today. The name itself “Tiffany & Co” on the dial is driving up prices drastically. Latest example: a Nautilus 5711 co-signed by the American jeweler and Patek Philippe, fetched a record price during Phillips auction in New York at more than $5 millions dollars in December 2021, a model to commemorate the 170 years of commercial partnership between these two luxury giants.
Tiffany & Co has always sold more and more expensively. This is what seduced Antoine Norbert de Patek in 1951 when he was looking for a partner and a prestigious ambassador in New York to position his brand on the American market.
As early as 1876, Patek Philippe and Tiffany & Co sealed a commercial agreement for the United States, Tiffany becoming “general agent” and overseeing the interests of the Geneva watch manufacturer to best promote the brand locally among rich American customers.
This agreement was certainly one of the major factors in the development of specific relationships with the most prestigious clients from the beginning of the century, such as James Ward Packard or Henry Graves Jr. These two great American collectors made the legend of Patek Philippe with their frantic race to manufacture the most complicated watch in the world, made in 1933 for Henry Graves Jr.
The finest Swiss manufacturers quickly also trusted Tiffany & Co to distribute their watches, and the most famous personalities in the United States touted this institution on 5th Avenue to acquire their watches, as evidenced by the famous Omega double signed Tiffany & Co worn by the king of rock’ n’ roll, Elvis Presley.
CARTIER, THE FRENCH TOUCH
Almost as desirable, Cartier is a double signature of great value. Present in Paris, then London in 1902 and New York from 1909, Cartier became one of the dealers of Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet or Piaget. Today, the Patek Philippe / Cartier combination remains the most coveted, and the watch that has made the biggest impression at auction in recent years is certainly the one that belonged to William E. BOEING. This Patek Philippe yellow gold chronograph, ref. 130, specially ordered for the founder of the aviation company in New York in the 1930s was sold for nearly €500,000 at Christie’s Geneva auction in 2014.
BEYER, THE OLDEST RETAILER
While major manufacturers are developing partnerships with powerful brands, some family businesses are also becoming important partners.
Beyer is one of them. This Swiss German retailer is the oldest watch retailer in the world. Beyer Watches & Jewellery was founded in Zurich in 1760, and today the family business is run by the eighth generation and is an authority on the German market. Among the watches bearing this double signature, one of the most remarkable is a ref. 1518 with perpetual calendar and chronograph, produced by Patek Philippe and delivered to the retailer in 1942. This watch is now in the collection of the Patek Philippe Museum (Inv. P-696).
Italian double signatures are extremely popular with collectors. If Astrua in Turin is famous, Gobbi in Milan is even more so. Still in business, this Patek Philippe, Rolex, Tudor and many others dealer is now run by the 5th generation. One of the most beautiful vintage pieces recently presented at auction is certainly the Audemars Piguet chronograph sold for €93,600 in January 2019 by Artcurial. This steel watch had been delivered to the retailer in 1942, a period when gold was much less accessible given the conflict context.
In Rome, it is the dealer Hausmann & Co that has the exclusive rights to the finest Swiss manufactures. Today, some models with very rare dial configurations can become a unique piece thanks to the signature of a dealer. This is exactly the case with a steel Calatrava ref. 3417 sold for nearly €60,000 in Monaco last summer by Artcurial.
SERPICO Y LAINO, FROM 1925 TO 1966
Another Italian signature, perhaps the most enigmatic, is that of Serpico Y Laino. Vicente Laino and Leopoldo Serpico left Italy for South America in the early 1920s. Following the discovery of large oil deposits in 1914, Venezuela attracted many foreign investors. This clientele of wealthy expatriates inspired Serpico Y Laino to open a luxury boutique in Caracas. Important from Switzerland for high-end products, they became AD for Rolex and Patek Philippe. For 50 years, they will put their signature on the watches they sell, the activity ceases in 1966 when a fire ravages the building and the company closes permanently in 1970 after the death of the 2 founders.
A record price today is held by a co-signed Patek Philippe model, ref. 2499, a yellow gold chronograph sold for over $3,355,000 by Christie’s Geneva, 12 November 2018.
A PRACTICE ABANDONED IN THE 1990’S
Watches with double signatures have been much rarer since the 1990s, as the major manufactures have consolidated their distribution networks through the opening of numerous boutiques.
However, while watch brands now have more control over their distribution, they still maintain close ties with prestigious retailers. From these commercial relationships, new collections are sometimes born, but the name of the retailer no longer appears on the dial. For example, in 2017 Breguet produced a series of 20 watches especially for Harrods, one of its legendary partners. In just 2 years, this model has become a collector’s item, its price reaching nearly €35,000 in auction rooms.
In the same spirit, Jaeger LeCoultre is developing a special collection in 2019 for De Greef, its famous authorized dealer in Brussels. This series of 33 enameled pieces, “Magritte’s Bird”, is distributed exclusively by De Greef, a way to pay tribute to Belgium, its creators and its collectors. This watch is now a true collector’s item, one of which was sold for nearly 45,000€ at auction in Monaco in 2020, a record price for a steel model from the Reverso line without complications!
Because they have the power to transform a rare reference into a unique piece, double signatures considerably increase the value of a watch.
If they sometimes make prices soar, double signatures remind us that a few years ago the watch industry relied on the reputation of independent watchmakers to sell its products.
Today, the most famous authorized retailers have become full-fledged brands belonging to what is called “the great watchmaking family”.