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A Brief History of Retailer Signature Dials

In the world of vintage wristwatch collecting, it really is all in the details. What might seem like an insignificant dial smudge to some has the power to multiply the market value of a watch, so long as it’s the right shape, or just so happens to be the words “Tiffany & Co.”

The latter of the two provided examples is what’s known as a retailer signature, which is music to the ears of serious collectors living in the year 2019. With the offering of an outstanding example in the current collection, we couldn’t think of a better time to take a closer look at what makes this dial trait so special, and deserving of further study.

Before we go any further, what exactly a retailer signature is should first be appropriately addressed. Essentially, during the golden era of watchmaking which horological enthusiasts like ourselves hold in such high regard, various notable retailers sold timepieces stamped with the names of their respective establishments on the dials. These retailers included Tiffany & Co., as previously mentioned, in addition to Gübelin, Asprey, Serpico y Laino, Freccero, Beyer, and countless others. Certain signatures are regarded as more rare and unconventional than others, affording them a unique appeal. Others are perhaps more conventional, and feature the names of long-established retailers, though are equally desirable due to the renowned nature of the associated name.

Even knowing all this, some might still be perplexed as to why many choose to collect retailer signatures, though the reasoning is in fact rather simple and beautiful. What it boils down to is that these retailer signatures add an extra degree of context. Though all of our beloved vintage watches were undoubtedly retailed by someone at some point, retailer signature dials differentiate themselves by proudly displaying their point of sale. Collectors of certain nationalities also appreciate watches fitted with retailer-signed dials, as an important timepiece signed by an important retailer from the land they call home allows for a more personal approach to amassing a collection.

For some, these dials are also compelling on a more base level, as there’s objectively more going on from an aesthetic standpoint. This is especially true when the signature has been executed in a different typeface, instantly letting you know upon first glance that this isn’t a standard fare example. It could be argued that some of the most stunning examples of the incorporation of retailer signatures are sports models from Rolex, as the seemingly unnecessary, additional line of text reinforces the utilitarian and transparent nature of a sports Oyster’s dial. If you’re already going to list specs and patented terms, why not note where it was sold, while you’re at it?

Though such dials are both an exciting and uniquely nuanced corner of the vintage watch market to focus on, it should be noted that with nuance comes nuisance. Simply as a result of the increased knowledge of the prices these dials command, many less than upstanding individuals will try their hand at stamping a retailer signature of their own. For this reason, many view the acquisition of watch with a retailer-signed dial as an arduous process. In some cases this can be true, though as always, dreams can ultimately be realized through doing one’s homework by way of studying examples, or through the consultation of a trusted, knowledgable dealer, like Craft & Tailored. Buy the seller, as they say.

While focusing one’s collection solely on retailer-signed dials is an interesting idea, it could perhaps prove to be quite difficult. This is thanks to the varying styles of confirmed, genuine signatures, especially when discussing everyone’s favourite – Tiffany. Those seeking answers can attribute this to two main things. First off, one must consider that dials were stamped with the Tiffany & Co. name both by Rolex, prior to leaving their manufacture, and in select instances, by Tiffany themselves at retail locations. Next, it’s worth remembering that Tiffany service dials were produced, as well, making research a more than necessary component of the hunt.

Should you wish to skip right past the hunt, then it’s probably worth your time to check out this Ref. 16750 GMT Master, which is dated back to 1985 by its serial number. By all means, this is a top grade example of a genuinely outstanding, transitional reference. Details to take heed of include the unpolished stainless steel case, the all-original hands, bezel insert, and “spider” finish dial, emblazoned proudly with the words Tiffany & Co. You’ll find them placed just above GMT Master branding in a confirmed typeface, that under the loupe is funky as the day is long. Dials featuring retailer signatures really are where it’s at, and if a watch configured like so is what you’re after, then look no further.

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