: Considering the Retailer Signed Dials
Text & Photos Nicholas Biebuyck

We don’t have to go too far back in the history of watch collecting to witness a time when desirability was king, and factors like condition and provenance were not nearly as highly valued by aficionados. It gave birth to such Frankenstein’s monsters as the Cartier-signed gold Paul Newman we have shared before, a watch that stands as a reminder that perhaps these double-name dials aren’t nearly as appealing as some collectors feel that they are.

I do not write these words to have ill-effect on this particular segment of the marketplace, merely to share the reasoning behind a personal avoidance of these sorts of rarities, and to muse on one of the few areas of hype that crosses over between modern and vintage watch collecting.

The first point to consider is the aesthetics: that it is never how the designer intended the dial to be configured, and is often unsightly.It should be noted that manufacturers spend years developing the configuration for the text placed on the dial and its exact position. As we discovered in the study of the reference 6538 Submariner, Rolex experimented with application techniques, wording, relative position of lines and exact designations before settling on a format that has remained virtually untouched to this day. Jack Heuer has been quoted on numerous occasions about the importance of keeping text that appears on the dial to a minimum, in the quest to make the time as legible and distraction free as possible.

What often results when a retailer name is applied to the dial is unsightly and unbalanced. There are examples where the indecision around the least offensive location for the second signature has resulted in a mixture of options being used, such as the reference 16520 Rolex Daytona where we have seen the name appear on the upper or lower half of the dial (a side-by-side is below, images courtesy of Christie’s & Sotheby’s). There are also occasions where there simply isn’t a practical location for it, as with the Patek Philippe Nautilus reference 5712, where the obvious location is ridged, making it difficult to apply the cliche evenly; therefore, the retail name is reduced to a minuscule size and relegated to a tiny sliver to the bottom right of the dial.

There are models where it could be argued that it improves the looks, but to those who say that the void on the lower half of the dial for the two-hand Nautilus is deserving of some text, to balance the maker signature on the top half, this was clearly not the feeling for Mr Gerald Genta. On the original design sketch for the reference 3700, the area had been left blank, and for many enthusiasts this sparseness is what makes the model so appealing, minimalist in the truest Rams-ism: nothing more, nothing less.

The next issue is authenticity, particularly with those bearing the Tiffany & Co. name. For modern Patek Philippe models bearing the signature isn’t much of an issue as most come with papers, full retail packaging, and can be verified by both the manufacturer and the retailer as having passed through the salon on 5th Avenue, or one of its satellite locations. The challenge is for vintage pieces, where the dial can easily be stamped with the additional name (with improved accuracy to authentic examples in recent years), and there is virtually no way to verify it. We have been fortunate to see some watches with excellent provenance to support the double-name dial, and it is also believed that some people have clandestine access to the Tiffany sales archive to confirm pieces (although it is unlikely we will see proof of this), but the simple fact is that the vast majority of these Tiffany signed dials are either unauthentic, or extremely difficult to verify beyond all reasonable doubt.

Fortunately, there were a selection of authorised dealers who had the foresight to engrave a stock number on the back of the lugs, such as Ricciardi and Cartier, and for Bayer it is still possible to check with their offices to confirm the watch is indeed correct, but this does not make it more appealing to have their name on the dial, in my opinion.

Thirdly, we have to consider the actual rarity. There are some references, such as the fourth series reference 2499 from Patek Philippe, where a decent portion of the overall production has another signature applied to the dial. Therefore it is worth questioning if these watches are actually that rare, and is the retailer name worth paying a premium for?

The final point is more philosophical and says something about consumerism, that is anathema to fine watchmaking. It’s rather odd to wear something that is permanently emblazoned with the name of the shop you bought it from, like a car with the dealers name painted on the bonnet below the makers emblem, and detracts from the efforts of the maker in creating this totem to craftsmanship. At the manufacture is a highly skilled workforce, often with some individuals training for years to perform a specific task, that has spent countless hours creating something that has the potential to bring immense joy and loyal service to the new owner.It is abundantly fair that they, as a team, should have the name of the company they work for, greeting the custodian each time they check the time. Yet here we have examples of the sales agent having the chance to place their name in equally valuable real estate, simple for the act of owning a shop in the location that the buyer decided to acquire it. One has to wonder, is this reasonable?

This is not to say that these double-signed dials do not hold an important place in the history of the distribution of watches, just that perhaps there is another way to commemorate it, such as a subtle engraving to the case back, as Serpico Y Liano applied, or exclusive colourways, as is the case of modern retailer special editions.

All of this does not take away from the fact that, when an important reference in spectacular conditions with iron-cast provenance appears in the market, and just so happens to have the retail name applied to the dial, this should not dissuade important collectors from bidding. Instead, they should consider if they would prefer to wait and find a comparable example without the second signature, if it even exists, or when they do decide to bid, is there any premium to be paid for this reputed rarity, and if so, perhaps it should just be a tiny portion of the final price, if any at all.