There is no shortage of lists of watch books available online, many deeming themselves to be the ultimate and final. What is probably more useful to offer up is not a definitive list of all the books that are out there, but rather publications that have proven useful when aiming to acquire vintage watches, or pieces from the more unusual contemporary brands.
While forums, social media and online publications have a wealth of information on more common contemporary watches, thanks to the advent of the internet and high-resolution photography, it is the references that exist off-the-beaten-track that require more in-depth study, and not simply by taking the opinion of an Instagram comment as gospel. There is no shortage of lifestyle and large-format books, so the list below aims to separate those which are just glossy photos and ephemeral information, from those which are authoritative and valuable additions to a horological library. The last factor of value is rather important when most of the titles proposed are over 100 CHF, resulting in a library that could be more expensive than certain coveted sports watches, so should be a worthwhile investment.
Before digging into the specialist titles, it is worth picking up at least one book to give a more general introduction on horology and its history. The two that would be most highly recommended are The Wristwatch Handbook, by Ryan Schmidt, and The Watch, by Alexander Barter, that prove to be complementary forces in many ways. The Wristwatch Handbook has the advantage of being written by someone who was a relative novice not so long ago, and used his smarts to not only gain a strong grasp of the subject, but was kind enough to share his learnings in a succinct way with others who ventured down the same path through this book. The Watch draws on the author’s decades of experience in the auction industry, and later as an independent adviser and dealer, to put together a publication that does an excellent job of examining the watch in relation to broader societal shifts throughout its history.
An important note before considering the books: many of the publications below are a few years old, and in some cases have had particular examples of references featured on their pages called into question; one should never take these as the absolute dictum of what to buy and what not to buy. It has often been said that big acquisitions in vintage or unusual watches should be run past an advisory board consisting of scholars who are focused on the particular area, trusted dealers who may have been offered the watch before and know the full story, as well as the auction house specialist who provides a perspective at face value. These books provide another member to the counsel of assessors and help to answer some of the more common questions before involving others. Without further ado, here are some recommended additions to a comprehensive and insightful horological library.
As an illustrative example of what a manufacturer’s heritage team can put out when they have comprehensive records and the resources to produce a book such as this, Audemars Piguet 20th Century Complicated Wristwatches is a detailed study that is nicely described in the title. Its excellent photography, in-depth analysis, carefully verified statics from the production records, and well-considered prose give colour to the narrative as one of the Big Three toiled away during the ups and downs of the last century. The book is recommended for those not just considering acquiring a complicated Audemars Piguet from the period covered, but for those looking to understand the inner workings of a company during this pivotal time frame for the industry. 150 CHF
On the surface, it would be easy to mistake this for just another glossy tome produced by a brand to push their agenda, but the reality of Fifty Fathoms, The Dive and Watch History 1953-2013 is very different. Covering the major iterations of the iconic model since its introduction as a pioneer in its class of sub-aquatic timekeepers, it also has first hand accounts from professional divers who used these tools, as well as beautiful photographs from the artists that Blancpain has partnered with over the years. The book proved an extremely useful resource for our study of the Fifty Fathoms in 2018, and is worthy of consideration for those interested in the model, and also collectors wishing to understand how the dive watch has been used as a tool since the 1950s. 340 CHF
An amazing example of ingenuity and quality that can be arrived at through an individual’s obsession, George Daniels and his relationship with the work of Abraham Louis Breguet is well known to many, but best summarised in The Art of Breguet. Produced over many years with photographs and text executed by Daniels with his trusty Leica in hand, the now celebrated watchmaker traveled extensively to view the most important collections and record the work of his hero, forming a part of his apprenticeship in advance of the creation of his own watches. It is amazing to think that it was published in a time before digital photography and Adobe InDesign, and is a testament to the fact that George would strive for his absolute best no matter the discipline, making it a worthy addition to the library of those with an interest in Breguet and fine watchmaking beyond. 250 CHF
White Cartier Bianco
While White Cartier Bianco is technically out of print, it can often be found for sale at the various Antiquorum offices dotted around the world, and provides one of the few academic studies of Cartier watches. There are many titles dedicated to the Parisian jewellery maison, but few are of substance when it comes to the output and variations of its watches, and the book authored by Osvaldo Patrizzi does an excellent job of exhibiting the incredible oeuvre of Cartier, focusing exclusively on those pieces produced in white metal. It would be wonderful to eventually see a companion volume covering those in yellow gold; all we can do for now is keep our fingers crossed. Circa 250 CHF
As his early watches become increasingly collectible, those chasing the works of François-Paul and his namesake brand would be well advised to add F.P.JOURNE – Invenit et Fecit to their bookshelves. A history of the man and his atelier, it sheds valuable insight in the creation of the manufacture, the personality which shaped it, and how it was built from its humble origins into the coveted position it holds today. It is also unusual among this catalogue of books in that it takes a rather intimate note, and shows the measure of personality that is required to found an independent business in watchmaking. 230 CHF
Vintage Heuer was one of the hottest commodities in the watch collecting world a few years ago, and these books provided the basis for much of the buying decisions that were made during this boom period. Some of the information that has come to light since the market cooled has taken a bit of a shine off of these titles, but it should not take away from the bulk of the data that is provided on their pages. With detailed photography, production dates, serial number ranges, and chronological studies of the dial variations that existed for each reference, they offer a decent foundation for those interested in these important sports chronographs, to seek further advice from the known industry experts before committing to a major purchase. Circa 250 CHF each
A storied manufacturer that was, until fairly recently, rather under appreciated among most vintage collectors, Longines has seen increasing interest with ever escalating auction results for truly exceptional pieces. With the realisation of the absolute quality that the early watches represented, comparable to far more elevated brands, this authoritative and scholarly text produced by the legendary John Goldberger has been of great assistance to the collector’s community since it was published. With its in-depth coverage of the coveted models and reference, carefully curated into logical sections and accompanied by detailed images, it is an indispensable reference for those looking for something from Saint-Imier. 390 CHF
Moonwatch Only was borne in a period of increased interest around collectible Speedmasters and represented the first time a real buyer’s guide was put together, covering not only the various references that have existed, but how to tell the more nuanced iterations apart, and identify the real from the not so real. Followed up by Flightmaster Only, both are must-have titles for those looking to acquire either of these important models from Omega. 250 CHF & 180 CHF respectively
Vintage Panerai has been regarded as a bit of a murky world due to the ease of which a watch can be fabricated. Fortunately, provenance is king and the books authored by Ralf Ehlers and Volker Wiegmann do a great job of sharing the incredible stories behind these battle-worn watches. Breaking down the references by dial type, giving production number estimates, serial ranges, analysis of the calibres used, and examining the examples that have surfaced with exceptional provenance, these books not only tell the story of Panerai as a company operating under the duress of war time, but also the remarkable stories that surround the divers they were originally issued to. 189 to 239 EUR dependant on title and edition
Another exceptional output from John Goldberger, Patek Philippe Steel Watches is one of the rare occasions that a watch book could be recommended for its cover material alone. Wrapped in cork, as per the box of the original reference 3700 Nautilus, the book is an encyclopaedia of all things acier from Patek Philippe, covering everything from early models like the reference 96 and 130 chronograph, through to the aforementioned Nautilus and more recent references. A beautiful publication that is deserving of being displayed and looked at regularly, Goldberger has even done the collector’s world the service of offering the book in digital form as an iOS app for easy reference. 320 CHF in print, approx. 35 CHF as a digital iOS app
Another comprehensive output from the heritage department of a manufacturer, Patek Philippe Watches (Catalog of the Patek Philippe Museum) is a useful addition to the shelves of those with an interest in the house of the Calatrava cross. With examples of nearly every major reference and variation, together with prototypes and various unique pieces that have been produced over the years, this two volume edition also includes valuable information on case and movement numbers. As one of the more expensive books on the list, it requires a commitment to studying Patek Philippe to get the most out of it, but for those that do it will prove an assistive resource. 660 CHF
The work of Pucci Papaleo is held in high regard by enthusiasts, particularly for his photographic efforts, even assisting with multiple thematic auctions for Phillips. These two books covering the manual wind and automatic Daytonas are required reading for those passionate about the sports chronographs from Rolex, not only due to their beautiful photography, but thanks to the authors, including Paulo Gobbi, Cesare Maria Mannucci and Ross Povey, and their compendious accompanying text. With examples of even the most minor variations, the books offer detailed studies of the vast array of configurations that have existed within the model, proving that a lifetime of collecting can be done within an extremely rich vein of perhaps the most ubiquitous manufacturer. 380 & 400 CHF
A Journey into the Deep
There are still a few more works from John Goldberger on this list, with his most recent publication A Journey into the Deep providing the penultimate entry. Chronicling the collection of a well-known enthusiast, Reza Ali Rashidian, the book is exclusively focused on Rolex dive watches and includes such rarities as the Deep Sea Special and early Sea-Dwellers issued to professional divers for testing purposes. Offering a comprehensive overview of one of the most familiar collecting themes out there, the book presents an exceptional array of watches that took decades to put together, and shares the valuable lessons learned during this journey. Circa 800 CHF
100 Superlative Rolex Watches
Another publication that is out of print but is held in such high esteem that it really has to be listed, 100 Superlative Rolex Watches is the last book on the list (for now) by John Goldberger, and offered such a strong overview of watches to bear the coronet on the dial that it was a staple of the Apple design studio when the Apple Watch was being conceived. Covering all of the major models with images for each example, accompanied by case and movement number information, given when the book was published it was extremely prescient of the direction that market tastes would follow. Dedicating much of the volume to the steel sports watches that have become so coveted, and offering significantly more detail than other books before it, in many ways 100 Superlative Rolex Watches was the prototype for many of the books that we deem so valuable today. Circa 500 CHF in print when available, circa 25 CHF as a digital iOS app
The final book on this list is not one that is referenced regularly, but can have such a profound effect on a collector’s understanding of how a watch is actually made from start to finish that it is the ideal volume to finish off with. Watchmaking is perhaps George Daniels’ greatest legacy to the world, and that is saying a huge amount when you consider the output from his workshop, the various other titles he authored, the co-axial escapement, and the multi-million British pound George Daniels Educational Trust that was created by his estate. Now translated into multiple languages, and required reading for everyone in the industry who has their hand in product creation, it really is of vital importance that any dedicated enthusiast owns the book, even just to be able to glance at it and realise what a specular amount of work, and innovation, is squeezed into the small metal object attached to their wrist. 75 CHF
Please note that many of the links above direct to www.watchprint.com, and while we have no commercial relationship with the Watchprint, we are great fans of the service that Fabrice offers to the horological community and endeavour to support him in his efforts. If you have any books that you feel must be included on this list, feel free to mention in the comments below, or email us, firstname.lastname@example.org