Finally – An Attractive Tourbillon

greubel forsey tourbillon 24 secondsA tourbillon isn’t a new invention; the first patent for it was issued in 1801.  Back then, there were problems building watches that kept accurate time, and the tourbillon was invented to help offset the effects of gravity on the escapement and balance wheel.

While long used as a means of keeping better time, the tourbillon today is best known as a “me, too!” addon that’s frequently found on high end watches.  They might help keep accurate time, but high quality watch movements have been pretty accurate for decades now, with or without a tourbillon.

Still, they do look interesting, and that’s where the problem comes in.  As a tourbillon adds thousands of dollars to the price of a watch, watchmaking companies feel that they must be seen.  That’s OK, except that they’re really not all that attractive.  Nevertheless, if you’re paying for that amazing, gravity-defying gadget, then the watchmaker is likely to put it where you can see it.

That may be on the back of the case, visible through a transparent case back, but most of the time, they put them in the case where you can see them from the front.  More often than not, the tourbillon appears at roughly 6 o’clock on the watch face and is visible through a part of the face that’s transparent.

All of that is fine, but most watches with a tourbillon simply don’t look that good.  They tend to have this “look at me!” vibe to them, and the complication is usually prominently placed on the watch, perhaps with other complications, as well, and the whole thing ends up looking rather busy.

Busy is not what most people want in a watch.  It’s certainly not something they want in a watch that’s really expensive.  When you’re spending a lot of money, it’s OK to have a watch that attracts attention.  It’s not OK to have one that attracts attention because it looks like a pile of wreckage in a junkyard.

That’s where the new Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes comes in.  Admittedly, at $325,000, this watch is jaw-droppingly expensive.  It’s also one of the most handsome watches I’ve ever seen that had a tourbillon as part of the movement.  It’s there, at 9 0’clock, and you can stare at it all you like.

But you won’t be staring at it because it’s some sort of monstrosity.  You’ll be staring at it because it’s an attractive and surprisingly understated watch.

The Tourbillon 24 Secondes has a yellow (or red, blue or chocolate) gold case with a leather strap, and the case measures 43.5 mm across.  The mechanical movement features a 72 hour power reserve, which is fairly generous for a mechanical watch.

The price is steep, and availability will be problematic.   The company intends to produce only about 100 examples of this magnificent timepiece.  They will be sold through their own network of authorized sellers, so if you’re looking for one, now is the time to track down a dealer.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

2 headed nickelIn some hobbies, production mistakes are regarded as just that – errors, and they’re disregarded or at least not held in particularly high regard.   A record by the Beatles with the same label on each side might be regarded as an oddity, but it isn’t a record that collectors will pay a lot of money to own.

It’s different in the coin world, where production standards are very high and where the U.S. Mint takes tremendous care to ensure that no mistakes occur.  Mistakes do occur, however, and that’s not surprising, given that the Mint produces billions of coins every year.

Still, they’re better at it than they were in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, where date overstrikes, mint mark overstrikes, and off-center strikes were far more common than they are today.

One particular oddity that has never been common, however, is a coin bearing the same artwork on each face.  Either a two-headed or a two-tailed coin are both quite rare, with only a handful of examples in existence dating to the first days of U.S. coinage.

How rare are such coins?  To date, there are only four known examples:

  • Two Washington Quarters with tails on both sides (undated, obviously)
  • A Roosevelt Dime with tails on both sides (undated)
  • A Jefferson Nickel with heads on both sides (2000-P)

That’s it.  Part of the reason for the relative rarity of double-anything coins is that there are two dies used to strike a coin.  One is known as the “hammer” die and one is known as the “anvil” die.  They’re made with shafts of different lengths, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to accidentally confuse the two, making it almost impossible to pair them up incorrectly…unless you’re doing it on purpose.

That is the speculation on the double-headed Jefferson Nickel, according to a recent article in Coin World.   The coin has been PGCS certified as MS 65, but few people believe that the coin is an actual Mint mistake, especially since there is only one known example.  Not only that, but the coin has been weakly struck, with Jefferson’s image being poorly defined on each side.

Despite the coins lack of perfection, it is unique in that it is the only currently known example of a U.S. coin pressed with heads (and a date) on both sides.  That, regardless of condition, makes it a Pretty Big Deal in collecting circles.

The nice thing about a double headed coin is that it does have a date.  The dates of the other three known same-sided coins can only be guessed, since the dates are on the obverse and these coins don’t have one.

Of course, not everyone collects error coins, but those who do largely collect nothing else, and if you’re looking for a truly odd example of an error coin, along with one that is almost guaranteed to let you win any coin toss, then you might want to look at this one.

According to the article, the coin is now in the possession of Mike Byers of Las Vegas, and it’s being offered for sale for $100,000.




Want This Porsche Watch? Buy a Car!

porsche 911 turbo s watchThere are lots of nice watches on the market, and lots of new ones that come to market every month.  Many, especially in the $10,000+ price range, are also limited in production.

Depending on how “limited” these models are, they might be available on a first-come, first-serve basis, or they might be sold only to regular customers, or they might be distributed through some other unusual mechanism determined by the manufacturer.

Usually, the people who buy such watches are already people who have a large collection of really expensive watches.

In the case of the new Porsche 911 Turbo S chronograph, however, the company has decided to determine who gets to buy one of these stylish new timepieces through an entirely different mechanism – you only get to buy the watch if you have already purchased the matching Porsche automobile.

porsche 911 turbo s carThat’s pretty amazing, given that the car itself is a limited production model, with just 500 of them being produced.  At a price of roughly $250,000, the number of buyers is likely to be somewhat limited, though the car can reportedly has a 205 MPH top speed and power in the 600+ horsepower range.

Porsche Design, who created the car, also designed the watch, which carries a price tag of $12,650.  The case is made from titanium, and has a black PVD coating.  It comes with a black titanium bracelet, but is also accompanied by two leather straps.

The movement is a Werk 01.200, and the watch is a certified chronometer.  The timepiece has a 48 hour power reserve, 25 jewels in the movement, and a flyback module.

The center strip on the watch, which is shown as orange in the photo, will also be available in Golden Yellow Metallic, Carrera White Metallic, Agate Grey Metallic, Black, Guards Red, and Graphite Blue Metallic, so you can order one to match the color of your car.

You can order both the car and the watch at your neighboring Porche dealer.  Each is limited to 500 pieces, so be sure to order quickly.  No word on whether the glove compartment includes storage for the watch.

I also have no idea if this is the beginning of a trend from Porsche Design.  Will future watch models also be limited in production and offered only to people who buy the cars?  It will be interesting to see if any of the car owners part with the watches, and it’s pretty likely that if they do, the price on the secondary market is going to be a lot more than the original retail price, given that only car buyers will be permitted to buy the watch at all.


What Kind of Watches Interest You?

pocket watch
A pocket watch

The average consumer likely regards a watch as something that tells the time and little else.  At their most basic, a wristwatch is exactly that, and nothing more.  It’s a portable clock, and over the past 100 years, most people have worn one at one time or another but likely haven’t given them a lot of thought.

Horologists, or watch/clock aficionados, feel differently, of course.  These are people who are fascinated with devices that tell time and they often have collections of them.  You might find collectors who own dozens, or even hundreds of wristwatches, and each of them has a story to tell.

Each individual collector, however, has their own interests and motivations and if you’re new to the hobby, you might not even understand what sorts of watches that people collect, or why they collect them.

There are a wide variety of watches out there and hundreds or even thousands of companies have made them over the years.  It’s true that many makers simply manufacture timekeeping devices, usually made with inexpensive Chinese parts, and those are made to tell the time and do nothing else.  These watches can often be purchased for less than $10 and are of little, if any, interest to collectors.

Other types of watches do interest them, however, and here are just a few of the different sorts of watches that people might collect:

  • Pocket watches –  While largely out of favor with the public now, the earliest watches were those designed to be carried in the pocket.  Many of these were quite intricate and featured cases made from precious metals, along with sometimes unusual mechanical complications.
  • Mechanical wristwatches – Originally, the only wristwatches were the mechanical variety.  These had to be manually would every day and if not would regularly, they would stop.  Mechanical watches are still made today, and high end models are surprisingly reliable in their ability to keep accurate time.  Many high end mechanical watches also feature additional complications, such as the date, the day of the week, the phases of the moon, and more.  One elaborate complication is a tourbillon, a device intended to help keep accurate time while offsetting the effects of gravity on the watch.
  • Automatic wristwatches – Automatic wristwatches are an extension of mechanical ones.  A moving weight within the case winds the watch as it is being worn, making manual winding (which can still be done, if needed) largely unnecessary.  Many automatic watches also include elaborate complications.
  • Quartz watches – While most watches sold today have quartz electronic movements, the first such watches are now nearly 50 years old and are themselves rather rare today.  They were also quite expensive when new, which means that they sold in fairly small numbers back when they were first introduced.  While people who collect vintage quartz watches are a small subset of watch collectors, some of these early models can sell for quite a lot of money when they turn up for sale.
  • Famous brands – Many brands of watches are long-established and are famous in their own right.  Collectors often become attached to specific makes of watches, such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Bvlgari, Chopard, and Audemars Piguet, to name just a few.  Each of these makers has made hundreds of different models over the years and some are relatively common and others are quite rare.
  • Ultra-limited edition models – Many watches are made in limited editions, but some are produced in quantities of well under 100.  When produced by famous makers, these watches always attract attention from collectors and often make tremendous investment items.
  • Precious metals – Some high end watches feature cases made from precious metals and may include jewels, such as diamonds.  A few newer models may have their cases milled from sapphire.  All of these models were expensive when new, but can sometimes be a good value when acquired used.
tourbillon watch
A watch with a tourbillon

These are just a few of the different types of watches that interest collectors.  Obviously, each collector has their own interests and motivations and you will likely never find any two watch collections that even remotely resemble one another.  Collectors do like to share their stories and interests, however, and even collectors of mechanical watches might find a collection of early quartz models to be interesting, even if they have no interest in collecting such items themselves.

That’s the beauty of collecting anything.  The collector gets to decide what they’re going to collect, the extent of their collection and why they’d like to collect.  Regardless of the reasons, it’s all interesting and fun.

2017 Silver Proof Sets Released

2017 silver proof setCoin collectors are undoubtedly excited about the release of the 2017 silver proof sets, which the U.S. released this week.

While coins made for circulation haven’t had any silver content for decades, the proof sets include a dime, several quarters and a half dollar that are 90% silver.  These coins are also proof coins, which are specially produced to offer a mirror-like shine.

The 2017 silver proof set includes the following coins:

  • One Lincoln penny
  • One Jefferson nickel
  • One Roosevelt dime in 90% silver
  • Five quarters in 90% silver from the Beautiful Quarters program, featuring Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa; Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, DC; Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri; Ellis Island in New Jersey; and George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Indiana.
  • One Kennedy half dollar
  • One Native American $1 coin

These coins are all proofs, and were all minted at the San Francisco mint.  They will, of course, bear the “S” mint mark.  The sets will be sealed in clear plastic lenses that make them easy to display but which will protect them from handling and the elements.

The set is available for sale at the U.S. Mint Website.  You can also likely find it for sale at your local coin shop.

Proof coins have long been favored by collectors over circulation issue coins.  These coins are especially made for the collector market and are intentionally limited in production, though not so limited that people cannot actually buy them.

Dies are chosen carefully in order to ensure that the coins struck will be exceptionally nice examples.  The dies are also specially polished in order to give the newly minted coins a mirror-like finish that is never seen on coins minted for general circulation.  Proof coins are usually minted in exceptionally small quantities and often provide a good investment.

As three of the coins in this particular set include silver, which is not used in the coins minted for general circulation, they’re even more desirable than the coins you’d find at your local bank.


A Limited Edition of One

In the world of coins and of watches, one frequently sees the term “limited edition.” It usually means that whatever is being produced is not going to be produced for a long time and the numbers will likely be limited.  This limitation could be defined by a certain number of items made, or it could be determined by a certain period of time during which the item will be made.

Regardless, the limits are there, and this scarcity ploy has worked well for a long time to get people to buy things right away when they otherwise might be inclined to take their time to think about it.

Recently, however, we’ve seen the limits of “limited” editions taken to extremes.  The MB&F company recently created a limited edition “Alien Nation” watch that was limited to just four pieces.  Even at that, all four of them were purchased by a a single collector.  At that point the price, which was $500,000 each, is almost irrelevant.   All the money in the world won’t buy one if the only person who has them isn’t willing to sell.

In the coin world, we’ve now seen this taken to a new extreme.  The Perth Mint recently announced that they are minting a special commemorative set of three coins called the “Australian Trilogy.”  The set will consist of one coin each made from platinum, gold, and rose gold, and each coin will weight one kilogram.

The three coins will also have diamonds from the Rio Tinto mine in Western Australia embedded in them.  The price for the set of three coins will be AUD $1.8 million ($1.4 million U.S.)

That’s a lot of money for a newly minted set of coins.  But here’s what’s even more interesting – the set is limited to one.

That is it.  There will be one set of three coins made, and no more.  Granted, at that price, there likely wouldn’t be a whole lot of people lining up to buy them, but a set of one?

That seems to be taking the whole “limited edition” thing a bit too far, in my opinion.

Such production does draw attention to the people offering it for sale, and as an attention grabbing tool, a limited edition of one certainly works.  But collectors are often turned off by such limited availability.  The wine collecting magazine The Wine Spectator has been getting grief from their readers for years when they review spectacular wines that are produced in minuscule amounts.  After all, who cares how good something might be if you can’t get it?

These coins are certainly lovely.  At one kilogram each, they’re also probably eye-catching, as that’s a pretty good sized coin.  They’re going to be on display at the mint through June, but only if they haven’t sold them first.

After that, they’re gone for ever, and no one will ever be able to see them again.

We’re seeing more and more of this sort of thing in all areas of collecting, and collectors are rightly growing tired of it.  It’s turning a fun hobby into a contest, and that probably isn’t why most people got into collecting in the first place.