Finding a theme or a sub-theme when collecting can provide focus and a sense of achievement. Within watch collecting, there can be many possible themes, maybe around complications (Chronograph, Perpetual Calendars) or use (Divers, Dress watches) or or or… One possible of such themes are Amagnetic watches, so watches that use special materials and shields to be protected from electro-magnetic fields.
So anyone working in an environment exposed to electro-magnetic fields, has the problem that his or her watch will loose accuracy over time as the magnetic forces start to impact the materials in a watch, essentially magnetising them and hence impacting their accurate mechanics. You don’t need to work at CERN for that, even an Engineer (or should I write Ingenieur) or someone working at the Railway could be quite exposed.
When it comes to Amagnetic watches, there have been a large number of such watches even going back to the WWII era, however, commonly acknowledged, there are the BIG FIVE of Amagnetic watches dating to the 50s/60s. So wouldn’t it be a nice theme trying to collect the big five Amagnetic watches?
I think it would. Problem is, it will take me on a long journey. Not only are those 5 Amagentic watches called “big” because of their importance, they are now also rare and expensive, becoming increasingly difficult to find in good condition. That does not necessarily apply to all five of them, but in some varying degree, this holds true. So as often with journeys, the road to the destination can be the more interesting and enjoyable part than the destination itself, so why not attempt to take that journey.
Let’s have a look what way points I have passed and what I still have in front of me.
#1: IWC Ingenieur 666 AD
The IWC Ingenieur is one of the recognised pioneers of Amagnetic watches and not surprisingly has put itself into the BIG FIVE category. Dating back to 1954/55 for the first series 666 with Caliber 852x, the IWC is probably the easiest to find of the Big Five. It was produced in considerable numbers and it is a quality construction. Only dials often have some blemishes but with a bit of patience, not so difficult to find.
My IWC 666 AD is from the second generation which was in production from 1959 to ’67. The Date version (AD) has caliber 8531. About 2/3 of 2nd Gen. 666 had no date and 1/3 came with date. Often collectors argue that the date window cuts a hole in the dial and there is a preference for the no-date version. On the 666 however, I find the quirky date that is quite centred rather an interesting aspect of the watch that makes it recognisable. What’s impressive, how accurate and smooth it runs at its age. Probably one of IWCs best and a worthy entry into the Big Five of Amagnetic watches.
#2: Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophsyic E168
Another legend of Amagnetic watches is the original E 168 Geophysic from Jaeger-LeCoultre. From the 1958 125-year Jubilee collection, it is considered one of the finest vintage JLCs, combining amagentic properties with a superb manual wind chronometer movement P478/BWSBr.
Available in steel and gold (yellow or rose) and with different dials (cross-hair and 12/6) and also different hands, mine is a yellow gold with 12/6 dial and sword hands. It was sold only in 1967 in Geneva and has no radium lume at all, neither on the hands nor in the little holes of the glass tension ring. The lack of radium has preserved the dial very very well. A lucky punch finding this little marvel.
Those are the way points I have reached in my journey, but there are 3 more ahead of me and neither is easy to reach, with quite some mountains to climb over to get there.
#3: Omega Railmaster CK 2914
I had mentioned in the introduction that often Railway workers were exposed to electro-magnetic fields and in the good old days, Railways ordered special Railway watches for their staff (those were the days!). While there are different kind of Railway watches (probably a theme on its own) when it comes to Amagnetic Railway watches, the Omega Railmaster CK 2914 is the one to have. I had the pleasure to see and try on a few of them from fellow collectors like the one below, but this is a must have for an Amagnetic watch theme.
Now finding a good and original CK 2914 is quite a task. Not as rare as the Geophysic but also increasingly rare and expensive in good condition, but I like a good challenge.
#4: Rolex Milgauss 1019
The 4th Amagnetic on the list of the Big Five has the magnetic theme in its name. The “Milgauss” is made to withstand 1000 Gauss of magnetic field strength. As with most Amagnetic watches, Rolex uses a soft-iron shielding and special antimagnetic materials. What makes the Milgauss 1019 quite special that it is a Rolex that does not look like a Rolex. You can spot a Submariner from 200 feet away and a Datejust from a 100 feet, but a Milgauss will go unnoticed for most, while it is a technologically very advanced watch.
Finding a Milgauss 1019 is not difficult. There is plenty of supply. Most are also well preserved and unlike Submariners or GMTs probably not as often faked (yet) with false patina or “original parts”. However, I noticed that of the 1019s on the market about 80% are white dial and maybe only 20% available now come with the black dial; and guess what, I dig the black more than the white. Only the lume dots require some attention as they often have disintegrated, but in the end, getting a nice vintage Milgauss 1019 is a matter of funding it.
#5: Patek Phillippe 3417 Amagnetic
With number 5 we really go into the Champions League, however, there is no way around the Patek Philippe 3417 if you want to complete a collection of the Big Five Amagnetic watches. Being a steel Calatrava and having “Patek Philippe” written on the dial, I need to realise that the train has left the station, actually it is more of a horizontal rocket. Auction prices have sky-rocketed for vintage Pateks and that includes the 3417 as well.
However, I don’t think that there is no hope. From time to time a 3417 hits the market that is not yet priced beyond crazy and especially the 3417 version with the plain dial without the “Amagnetic” writing on it, is not yet impossible to find and fund. It is certainly the biggest mountain to climb and I’m not sure I will reach the summit, but I think the journey and what I will learn on the way will be worth it.