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Archive for November, 2013

Rolex as seen by artists
by admin

The mechanical movement of a Rolex watch in itself can cleary be called a form of art. Both technically, the whole of screws, cogs and coils that can accurately keep time, as esthetically, the beautiful way the movement is finished. But still there are people that go even further, people who approach the subject Rolex with their artistic skills.
The following pictures show that this phenomenon can take many forms. It is a colourful collection of drawings, sketches, paintings and statues. There is even a hotel that is designed around the theme Vintage Rolex watches.


Pic.: an artistic impression of a Rolex Daytona by the Italian artist Marcello Reboani.
The following link to his site shows another Rolex piece of art by Reboani:
Rolex Daytona by Marcello Reboani

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Pic.: the Rolex Milgauss as seen through the eyes of Charles Helleu.
Apart from Rolex Helleu also has pictures of other watch brands as can be seen on his site:
Horloges by Charles Helleu

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The three pictures above are made of pieces of art made by the Brazilian artist José Geraldo Reis Pfau. This 57 year old Brazilian was born and grew up in Blumenau, Santa Catarina. Reis Pfau constructs miniatures of motorcycles by using watch parts, Rolex also among them. For him it is still a hobby that he performs in the evening. Until now the collection, consisting of more than 200 pieces, is still private property but in the future Reis Pfau hopes to be able to sell them as well.
Reis Pfau’s passion for motorcycles started in the Sixties and along the way he became interested in building miniatures of them. While doing research into the possibilities for his newborn hobby he saw beautiful pieces made from wood, pottery, screws and wires but working with watch parts and glasses seemed to really be the way to go in the future.
A friend of Reis Pfau, Alexandre Ranieri Peters, was a great help to him in obtaining the nessessary parts. Ranieri Peters was a shop owner and he launched an advertising campaign saying that the customer, when buying a new watch or glasses, could use their old stuff as a first installment.
Take a look at many more motorcycles on the site of Reis Pfau:
José Geraldo Reis Pfau

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These pictures were taken at the fantastic Hotel d’Orologio in Florence. The starting point for the design and interior of this hotel has been the ‘International Haute Horlogerie’, with emphasis on the Vintage watches. Collector’s items from the watch world have served for details in the decoration and as suggestions for the interior design. The details are so subtle that for instance the taps look like watches’ crowns.
On the site of the Hotel d’Orologio there is a slide show with more beautiful pictures:
Hotel d’Orologio

The British artist Thomas Brown has a site which shows a lot of pictures made by him, about all sorts of subjects, but there are also four pictures of Rolex watches:
Thomas Brown Rolex

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In the above picture is the French painter Didier Valle, born in Paris in 1958 and now living and working in Bordeaux, with a painting of a Rolex Daytona. On his site he says: “I LOVE WATCHES, SO I PAINT THEM…”.
A couple of years ago he was working on a serie of paintings of collector’s cars dashboards when, looking at the clocks on the dashboard, he suddenly thought how logical it was to start painting watches: watches had everything he sought in a subject, different materials, formats, fonts and transparancy.
Following link shows a wall full of watch paintings by Valle, including two Rolex watches:
Didier Valle

Jaap Bakker

November 27th


Serpico y Laino: Rolex in Caracas, Venezuela
by admin

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Pic.: Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex

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Pic.: personal words from Wilsdorf to Serpico y Laino


Pic.: Rivello, Vicente Laino’s place of birth

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Pic.: a portrait of Vicente Laino at an older age

Born in Rivello in the Basilicata region, Vicente Laino was a young goldsmith and one among the many Italians who sought their fortune in Venezuela at the beginning of the previous century. During the long boat trip over the ocean Laino had fantasies about the still unknown country that was to become his second home land. He dreamt about raising his children and grandchildren in Venezuela and proudly and full of hope he had visions of the work he was going to find.
On his arrival in Venezuela he had nothing but hopes for a good life. Almost immediately he became acquainted with a compatriot, Leopoldo Serpico, with whom a special friendship would develop. There was a large Italian community in Caracas and everybody helped everybody.en iedereen hielp elkaar.
When Laino and Leopoldo Serpico first met, the latter had a small jeweller’s shop where he sold and repaired jewellery. It was this shop, ‘JOYERIA SERPICO’, that provided the basis for the history of Rolex in Caracas. The shop, known as ‘Serpico y Laino’ from 1925 till 1966, was situated in the Bolsa a Mercaderes in Caracas.
Serpico soon invited him to assist in the shop, as Laino was a goldsmith, but there was one problem: Laino was penniless. However, Serpico realised that Laino was well-educated, both intellectually and in business, and suggested that he became ‘SOCIO INDUSTRIAL’. With Serpico’s money and Laino’s intellectual capital the ‘Serpico y Laino’ branch was established.
In order to promote their sales to a higher level in the early 30s, Laino suggested travelling to Europe to find a watch brand that had not been sold in Venezuela so far. He travelled to Geneva and decided to choose Rolex. Laino’s instinct turned out to be good, for Rolex had been selling many watches to Venezuelan customers already.
Serpico and Laino decided that Laino should return to Geneva for negotiations with Rolex to obtain the exclusive right on the ‘Serpico y Laino’ branch. The talks with Hans Wilsdorf went off favourably and Laino went back to Caracas with the exclusive right to sell Rolex.
The Rolex deal was a big success for ‘Serpico y Laino’ and the company managed to obtain the exclusive rights on other watch brands as well.


Pic.: a Rolex Oyster from 1935 (ref 5050) sold by Serpico y Laino

The friendship between Serpico en Laino became even stronger by lot. Laino met the sister of Serpico’s wife and fell in love with her. In the middle of their wedding preparations Laino received a letter from the Italian government saying that he should present himself in his homeland as soon as possible in order to fight in WO II. He left behind everyone and everything he cared for and returned to Italy.
The biggest tragedy, however, was that Serpico lost his life in 1944.
After the war Laino was left to his own devices. He travelled to Europe increasingly often and stayed there for a couple of months to purchase for the company. For this purpose he visited Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and France. He forwarded all purchased goods directly to Venezuela by waterway, except precious stones which he kept.
After his travels throughout Europe Laino used to spend a week or so in Rivello, his place of birth, to rest himself for a while in order to take fresh heart to continue his business.
Unfortunately, while his business was doing well, Laino’s wife fell ill and died, so he was left with two children. From that moment Laino was only occupied with the company, his total dedication resulting in lots of work and success for ‘Serpico y Laino’. An important element was that in the shop the best European watches could be bought directly whereas orders in Europe were not forthcoming because they had to be forwarded by boat. During Laino’s travels to Europe the following individuals were responsible for the shop:

- Fernando Ponce de Leon, the husband of Serpico’s daughter; most of the guarantee forms were signed by him – Agustin Laino, Laino’s eldest son
- Efrain Serpico, Serpico’s son
- Domingo Laino, Laino’s brother; was no partner in the company, but he worked as a representative
- Andreas Gambardella Laino, Laino’s nephew

In 1959 Vicente Laino passed away, so the brains behind ‘Serpico y Laino’ ceased to exist.
In spite of this heavy loss the shop continued on a favourable trend for a few more years until the circumstances in Venezuela changed drastically. The investment climate, which used to be decent, turned into an atmosphere of crime, murder, theft and kidnapping. Members of both families became involved in kidnapping attempts, but a bomb attack in the ‘Joyeria Sucursal del Este’ in 1966 brought an end to ‘Serpico y Laino’.
It was decided to return the remains of the goods to the manufacturers and to start completely different business with no partnership between both families.
Andreas Gambardella re-opened the shop, but he was forced to use a different name, ‘Serla’, because he was not granted the right to use the original name initially. Once he had been given consent, some years later, he no longer had the exclusive right to sell Rolex.
In the early 70s Andreas Gambardella died and his widow appointed a shop manager. She went to Italy, taking her four sons with her. ‘Serpico y Laino’ never regained its old reputation. In the year 2013 there is a shop in the Eurobuilding Hotel in Caracas called ‘Serpico y Laino’, but it has nothing to do with the wonderful company that Leopoldo Serpico and Vicente Laino had established almost a century ago.

Below you will find an overview of a number of the beautiful Rolex watches sold by ‘Serpico y Laino’ over the years.

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Pic.: ref 6062, ref 6034 and ref 6036 ‘Jean Claude Killy’


Pic.: ref 5512, ref 5508 ‘small crown’ and ref 5512 ‘underline’


Pic.: ref 6542 GMT Master

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Pic.: ref 1675 GMT Master, transition model around ’63-’64 with ‘underline’ (new tritium generation) dial


Pic.: ref 6542 GMT Master

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Pic.: ref 5512 from 1963 with ‘pointed crownguards’ and ‘underline’

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Pic.: yellow gold Rolex Bombay with 3-6-9-12 dial and ref 5512


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Pic.: ref 6309 Thunderbird with 50m = 165ft on dial


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Pic.: ref 6350 Explorer from II-1953, exactly the moment when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were climbing Mount Everest (see article:’Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay: Trial of Strength with Mount Everest’)

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Pic.: marking of ‘Serpico y Laino’ (S&L) on the inside of the case (acero = steel)

Until 1960 the beautiful city of Caracas was a nice place to be. But it was far more important for ‘Serpico y Laino’ to be able to do business in a fair and agreeable fashion until that time.

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Finally, a Rolex with a Dutch touch sold by 'Serpico y Laino'.


Pic: Rolex Bombay (in this version the top-side watchcase legs are spherical in contrast to the straight ones of the standard Oyster). What makes this watch really special is the honeycomb dial, a model which was produced only for a short period of time.



Pic.: this picture clearly shows the honeycomb dial

However, the most remarkable thing about this watch is the inscription on the back of the watch cover, saying ‘G G’ in capitals and ‘Gervegeria Heineken 1954′ around the back side. This watch was offered as a farewell gift to someone who had established the Heineken brewery in Caracas between 1951 and 1954. What golden handshake!


Jaap Bakker

November 27th


Voltaire: main character in the watchmakers’ war
by admin

When thinking of difficult times for the Swiss watch industry, the troublesome 80s of the previous century are very likely to come to mind. The watch market was flooded with Japanese brands such as Casio, Citizen and Seiko with their digital watches. These were far more accurate than the mechanical watches from Switzerland, equipped with all kinds of new functions (e.g. calculators) and much cheaper. 
The Swiss watch industry was able to keep its head above water thanks to the brilliant invention of the Swatch. The mechanical watches gradually got back on their feet again and, in spite of the actual crisis, the sales of luxurious watches doubled in 2012.


However, in the late 18th century, a true war, the so-called watchmakers’ war, was fought between the Genevan watchmakers and the watch empire of the French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) at his domain in Ferney, France.


The flourishing Genevan watch industry in the 17th and 18th century was based on a solid commercial organisation in the city and, in addition, the ‘marchands etablisseurs’ who travelled around to buy components and assemble watches. 
It all looked well enough on paper, but in reality there were many abuses, socially, economically, politically, resulting in quite some watch makers emigrating to more hospitable places. All this was caused by the inflexible rules and regulations of the ‘Corporation des horlogers genevois’ which had the exclusive rights to employment. 
Eventually the Genevan watch industry got beaten at its own game. Talented watchmakers took up their residences in other cities and countries and started exerting their influence from there. They settled along Lake Leman, in the valleys of the Jura, Vaud and Neuchatel and the Erguel region of the canton of Bern. An even more serious threat to Geneva were the competitive watch producing centres in Moscow, Montbeliard and Pforzheim.

Voltaire had come to Geneva following the steps of the well-known physician Theodore Tronchin (1709-1781) and resided in his Genevan house ‘Les Delices’ from 1755 to 1760. Voltaire built a good relationship with the ‘cabinotiers’, the independent watchmakers who, like himself, were greatly interested in actual items on which they conducted lively debates. 
Voltaire took actively part in the Genevan conflict between the citizens and the ‘natifs’, an underprivileged group of people who were original Genevan inhabitants. Voltaire encouraged them to rebel and also invited their leaders. As a consequence the relationship between Voltaire and Geneva was flagging and in 1758 Voltaire bought an estate in Ferney (F). Once moved and settled into his new home, he accommodated the Genevan ‘natifs’ and planted orchards and vineyards in fallow land. Voltaire developed more and more into an industrialist investing in tannery, a tile oven, pottery and factories producing silk stockings, lace and ceramics.

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Pic.: Voltaire’s estate in Ferney in the 18th century

In 1766, the Republic of Geneva refused mediation for its internal conflicts, which was suggested by France and the large Swiss cantons. The French minister Choiseul then continued his economic war against the Republic, at the Versailles Court known as the ‘watchmakers’ war’, until 1769.
In the year 1770 a Genevan enactment offered the ‘natifs’ two options: either take an oath of loyalty and remain in the city or leave. Moreover, the city threw agitators out without mercy. Among them were the watchmakers Edouard Luya, Louis Philippe Pouzait, Pierre Rival and Guillaume Henri Valentin.
Choiseul had tried to start a new watch factory in Versoix, but in December 1770 he lost favour definitely and a substantial number of watchmakers who had not returned to Geneva sought the support of Voltaire in Ferney.
These developments led to opening the attack to the ‘Fabrique’ by Voltaire and he warmly welcomed the exodus of protestant watchmakers to the Catholic Gex district.
Ferney-Voltaire quickly developed from a few houses into 20 and eventually about 100. The ‘cabinotiers’ set to work in an old barrel which was equipped with benches and the factory was run by the watchmakers Pierre Dufour and Louis Ceret.

The high days of the Ferney “royal” (it never obtained this title officially) watch factory covered the period between 1770 and 1778. It appears from various letters that in that period the number of employees had grown from 40 to 1,200.
The first watches were ready in April 1770 and on the ninth of this month Voltaire wrote to Fr. de Caire that “they, although just started, had already enough watches to send to Spain in a small box. This is the beginning of a very large company”. Watches were sent to the Duke and Duchess of Choiseul, Voltaire’s patrons, and to the King. In ’70, ’71 and ’73 watches were also offered to the Versailles Court for royal weddings, but the majority of these consignments were not paid for.

The watchmakers worked in five other factories as well under the direction of partnerships: Pierre Dufour and his brother-in-law Louis Céret, Louis Servant and Antoine Boursault, Guillaume Henri Valentin and Antoine Dalleizette, Panrier and Mauzié, and Georges Auzière and his brother, for watch cases. Although none of the watches had the Voltaire signature, they all bore the name of Fernex, Ferney, Fernaix or Ferney Voltaire in Europe.

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Pic.: a watch made by Georges Auziere (1713-1799) in the eighties of the 18th century; it had a Ferney Voltaire, Mestral signed clockwork

Voltaire offered the watchmakers free loans and provided them with raw material, particularly gold. In this way he served as an ‘etablisseur’ according to the Genevan model and invested his large fortune in the company. Important part of his battle against the ‘Fabrique’ was that he had made arrangements with French Post for free consignments of Ferney watches.

An example of Voltaire’s marketing efforts is the following letter of the 20th of December 1771 to the Count of Aranda, a Spanish minister: “Should you wish to adorn the finger of a distinguished Spanish lady with a ring watch showing the seconds and repeating the quarters and half hours on a carillon, all decorated with diamonds, such a watch is only made in my village, and we are at your disposal. It is not vanity that makes me say this, since it was pure chance that brought me the only artist [probably watchmaker Jean François Auzière junior] who makes these little marvels – marvels that are not likely to disappoint you”.

The famous watchmaker Jean-Antoine Lepine worked for Voltaire until 1774 and after that he went to Paris to open his own shop in the Place Dauphine. The Lepine calibre, developed in 1775 or so, was used in Ferney.

The hardest problem Voltaire’s company faced was selling. In Spain and Turkey Geneva still held a position of authority. He approached Catherine II from Russia to help him conquer the Chinese market and the Tsarina became Voltaire’s best customer.
Voltaire used his network to the maximum illustrated by the following circular letter he wrote to the French ambassadors (5-6-’70):
“Sir, I have the honour of informing Your Excellency that Geneva’s burghers having unfortunately assassinated some of their fellow countrymen, several families of good watchmakers have taken refuge on a small estate I own in the Gex region, his Grace the Duke of Choiseul having placed them under the King’s protection. I have had the good fortune to enable them to practice their talents. These are Geneva’s best artists. They do work of all kinds and at a more moderate price than any other factory. They can very quickly do any enamel portrait for a watch case…”.

Voltaire praised his watches by saying that they were at least so good as those from London, Paris or Geneva and that, in addition, their price was 2/3 lower than the prices customers paid in Paris. However, Voltaire’s customers were poor payers. 
The catalogue contained a large number of types of watches exposed for sale: gold (18c versus 20c in Paris), enamelled watches, precious stones, clockworks with second hands, cylinder echappements, silver (lower carate than the competitors) and imitation stone and marcasite decorated. The enamelled types were concentrated on landscapes and portraits.
The quality of the clockworks varied. It appeared from an anonymous letter from 1773 that the Ferney workplaces produced approximately 4,000 watches annually (ca. 400 watchmakers), whereas Genevan ‘Fabrique’ produced 33,000 watches on an annual basis (5,000 watchmakers).

In 1775, the Ferney watch empire got into trouble by laborious negotiations for obtaining raw material and for various fiscal matters. In 1776, a watchmakers’ exodus from Ferney took place because the Genevan conditions had substantially improved. Simultaneously, Voltaire lost his interest in the watch industry. In Februari 1778 he moved to Paris in high expectations, but in May of the same year he died. 
After his death efforts were made to restore Ferney to its previous glories. Historically interesting is that, in 1793, the world-famous watchmaker Abraham Louis Breguet was asked to save the factory, but he did not really succeed.

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Pic.: the actual Ferney-Voltaire

Jaap Bakker

November 13th