Wednesday, February 21, 2024

First Rolex Cloisonné Dial Watch from 1949

First Rolex Cloisonné Dial Watch from 1949
Set All-Time Record at Christies Auction
Unique Reference 5029/5028

Back in June of 2014, Christies Auction house sold a unique 18KT gold Automatic Rolex watch, which featured a sweep center seconds hand, along with star numerals on a Cloisonné dial. This watch is believed to be the very first Rolex ever sold with a Cloisonné dial, and it sold for a record setting $1,242.040!!! 

The Cloisonné dial depicts a whale and a frigate in full sail cruising through stormy seas. The watch is also unusual in that it has an applied Rolex cornet in the 6 O'Clock position.

Christie's Lot Notes

The present Rolex cloisonne enamel wristwatch can arguably be considered one of the most important Rolex watches ever manufactured. The watch was last seen at these sale rooms in 2005 and since then locked away from the public. The case, only slightly tarnished then has now become completely oxidized after its 8 years in a safety deposit box. Since the watch made its last appearance at public auction in 1998 there has been a significant development in scholarship.

Today we believe this present wristwatch is not only the earliest known Rolex cloisonne enamel watch, manufactured in 1949, but also the only known dial to be fitted with the sought after star-set numerals. Every aspect of this watch is exceptionally rare. The size of the case is a massive 36mm. The gold dial is fitted with a full cloisonne enamel scene which covers the entire dial, not just filling two-thirds like many Rolex and other cloisonne wristwatches have. The Rolex crown fitted at the 6 o'clock position is the exact crown made by Rolex in 1949. The Rolex signature is hard enamel underneath the enamel glazing. The dial itself is a Stern Freres dial, although not signed as later Stern dials came to be. The counter enamel on the reverse of the gold dial is completely free of any restoration and shows clearly that it is applied over the 624 Stern order number. The way in which the numerals are applied to the dial are placed in the way in which only Stern were known for at the time. The hand-cut star numerals are that of Stern Freres model number 453, the applied faceted baton numerals at the quarters, Stern model number 276 and Rolex crown, Stern model number 49.

The spectacular quality of this wristwatch is difficult to express in words. The cloisonne enamel dial is by Marguerite Koch a famous artist from Geneva who at the time was also designing and creating dials for Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. The reverse of the dial is almost identical to other known Patek Philippe dials numbered by Koch in a very similar way. The technique used to create the dial is very consistent with all other Koch's known dials. The colors and the exceptional miniature details that can be seen when examined under a microscope are mesmerizing. From the tiny specs of red and blue to the subtle shades of pinks and scarlet the colors blend harmoniously together creating a picture both mind blowing and stunningly beautiful. One can conclude that Rolex commissioned Marguerite Koch to design and create the dial and Stern then applied the Rolex signature and aspects such as the hand cut star numerals and Rolex crown at 6 o'clock.

Consigned by a prominent private collector the present watch is in outstanding condition and a true "Trophy Market" watch. There is no sign of any restoration to either side of the dial. The case has never been polished and supports beautifully the extraordinary and important cloisonne enamel creation. Cloisonne enamel dials are rare. Rolex cloisonne enamel dials are even rarer and to have an example covering the entire surface of the dial made by Marguerite Koch fitted with original star-set numerals and fitted into a 36mm case provides an exceptional opportunity to acquire a milestone in the history of watchmaking which will be treasured for eternity.

We are indebted to Eric Tortella for his assistance with the research of this incredible wristwatch.