Winston Churchill loved his watches. We know that because we’ve seen some of his favorite pieces up close, including his beloved Breguet pocket watch which he nicknamed the Turnip. We’ve also seen correspondence between Churchill and none other than Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf, regarding wrist sizes and engravings. Mr. Winston Churchill would later receive Rolex’s 100,000th chronometer, a gold Datejust with his coat of arms on the back, as a gift from Wilsdorf himself.
This week, we found out about another watch formerly in his collection. It’s an 18k yellow gold Lemania chronograph, another gift – this time from the Canton de Vaud. And it pre-dates his Datejust, no less. The watch, which was recently acquired by a private individual, is Lot 160 in Sotheby’s next watch auction, being held April 25 in London, and it’s special for quite a few reasons.
First off, the whole watch is made of gold. All of it, from the case to the hands to the hour markers, and even the dial is gilt. Therefore, it’s a very, very yellow Lemania, whereas most Lemania chronographs – when they were not ébauche movements supplied to other manufacturers – were cased in stainless steel. This is basically the opposite of that. Note that one of the pushers is a replacement, and not a very good one at that, which unfortunately throws the visual balance of the watch off a bit. See it here?
Second, it’s a chronograph of some repute. Inside the watch is a caliber CH27-C12, a manually-wound chronograph developed in the early 1940s in partnership with Omega, who called it the Caliber 321. CH27-C12 might not sound familiar to many of you, but Caliber 321 probably does. This movement was used to power, among other things, the Speedmaster that made its way to the Moon.
And, finally, this watch was a personal gift from the Canton de Vaud, where the Lemania manufacture was based (the manufacture was purchased by Breguet in the 1990s, and, to this day, the Swatch Group company uses the building to make its own watches). Churchill received the watch while he was vacationing in Switzerland with his wife Clementine, shortly before delivering a speech at the University of Zurich, where he shared his vision of a united Europe.
Because of the timeline, Sotheby’s is suggesting the watch is a symbol of Churchill’s "vision of peace and unity in Europe." The claim should be taken with a grain of salt though, since there is no evidence that Churchill wrote his speech while visiting the Canton de Vaud, or that his experience of Switzerland inspired his speech, or that he even wore the watch during the speech. Either way, the value of the watch resides in the certainty of its singularity and provenance, not its metaphorical significance.
Sotheby’s is estimating the value of the watch between £15,000 and £25,000 (approximately $19,000 to $32,000 at time of publishing). I suspect this lot will appeal more to collectors of Winston Churchill memorabilia than to watch collectors. The former will surely see past the condition of the watch – the case was severely knocked near the top pusher, and the dial is flaking between four and five o’clock – in order to secure an intimate piece of his watch collection.
For more information, visit Sotheby’s online.