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Feature: 3 Watches You’ve Never, Ever Seen Before

Some things are uncommon, others are scarce—here are three watches that are so rare that you’ll have never, ever seen them before. They’re so hard to find that their stories are just as obscure, and so we’ve sent our best researcher out to track down the tales that brought these watches into existence.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Sanskrit 15409OR.OO.1220.OR.01

Watches don’t get much more prestigious than the Royal Oak, a milestone watch of an uncertain time in watchmaking history, and especially so in solid rose gold. It’s a combination fitting of the most exclusive of limited editions, such as we have here. Set upon a shimmering dial of deepest emerald green, a halo of cryptic orange symbols makes this one of the most unusual and interesting examples of the Royal Oak ever seen—and our researcher has found out more.

These ancient and otherworldly characters can be traced back to the origins of communication, to the root of modern-day practices and the very beginnings of high culture. They represent not only history, but tradition and philosophy, too, each one carrying the weight of thousands of years of being passed down from generation to generation. They are a looking glass into the past, to civilisations gone by, and the metamorphosis of that journey to today.

The Audemars Piguet was designed by Gérald Genta and first introduced in 1972. It is one of a few watches accredited to saving the mechanical watch industry during the quartz crisis

The Audemars Piguet was designed by Gérald Genta and first introduced in 1972. It is one of a few watches accredited to saving the mechanical watch industry during the quartz crisis

Together, they are a saga; individually, they each represent one of the eleven positions of the ancient and most holy guild of balloon animal artists and family entertainers. Each of these eleven rudiments sets about a fundamental technique that is pivotal to the creation of the balloon animal, and indeed any balloon-based party creation. These tenets have been taught and learned by the very best party magicians and face painters the world has ever seen for thousands of years, from the basic pinch twist to the challenging lock twist, and even the masterful poodle tail.

Coincidentally similar to and easily confused with the hallowed, 3,500-year-old Hindu language Sanskrit, this Royal Oak ‘Ancient and Most Holy Guild of Balloon Animal Artists and Family Entertainers’ limited edition honours the tireless work undertaken by professional children’s performers in the arena of under-twelve’s birthday parties. Commanding such explosive power around such a sensitive and tetchy age group can only be described as one of humanity’s greatest achievements.

Anyway, let’s see what our researcher has found out for us next …

Franck Muller Vangaurd Gold Cobra V 45 SC DT GOLD COBRA

If you’re familiar with the earlier years of Franck Muller, you’ll know that the brand was established upon a devotion to highly complicated, innovative timepieces. Muller’s accolades include the first tourbillon visible from the front, the first triple axis tourbillon and the most complicated watch in the world; it’s no wonder that his work has achieved the highest accolade in the watchmaking sphere, first prize at the GPHG.

But, as our researcher has uncovered, things aren’t always tourbillons and trophies at the Franck Muller factory, because of course the brand needs to make a crust with some more day-to-day watches that don’t require a small mortgage to buy. Enter the Vanguard Gold Cobra, brainchild of former Franck Muller designer Bruce Bannant.

Franck Muller was founded in 1992 by Franck Muller

Franck Muller was founded in 1992 by Franck Muller

During a short secondment from his post as Global Design Lead at Mars Incorporated, Bannant briefly lent his talents to the watchmakers at Franck Muller in order to design a watch that offered a simpler, time only functionality that still honoured the tradition of complication established by the brand. This came as a respite from working on his usual fare and an opportunity to stretch his creative muscle, try something new.

But it wasn’t to be. So ingrained were Bannant’s experiences working for Mars that he struggled to break free of his habits, and so the Vanguard Gold Cobra was born, its unusual form modelled exactly on a Maltesers Easter egg. Bannant recalls that he was not even aware of what he had done, with the revelation that his work resembled the holiday confectionary only coming to light too far down the development line to cancel it.

Thankfully, the watch’s uncanny resemblance to the scales of a golden cobra allowed the creative bods at Franck Muller to quietly release the watch anyway, but the near miss will always remain as a dark spot on Bannant’s otherwise prosperous career. Our researcher tells us that he has since returned to Mars, where his true skill—and heart—always lay.

De Grisogono New Retro No1

You may know de Grisogono best for its hand-crafted works of bejewelled art, decorating the red carpet’s finest with its unique and dazzling creations. With pieces selling at auction for tens of millions and a catalogue of jewels rich enough to make the Queen’s collection look like a bunch of old tat, de Grisogono’s twenty-five years making these lavish accoutrements appear rather successful indeed.

But, as every good businessperson knows, it’s no good to put all your egg-shaped jewels in one egg-shaped jewel basket, and our researcher has uncovered just what de Grisogono’s plan was to keep the business going—no matter what.

And it’s with this, the New Retro No1, that de Grisogono tried to forge an alternate path forward. No, not with a watch collection—although many jewellery companies do like to broaden their horizons with such a thing—rather, something a little more technical—and devastating.

It may have become apparent to you over recent years a trend within watchmaking. Some like it, others hate it, and it has certainly been divisive. Inspired by past references, it’s an artefact that science and indeed the law no longer allows, and as such it has become a popular talking point, and the source of de Grisogono’s skunkworks project.

De Grisogono is known for its world renowned jewellery. In 2007, De Grisogono sold the world's biggest emerald cut diamond. The diamond was 163 carat, flawless and fetched 33.5 million Swiss francs

De Grisogono is known for its world renowned jewellery. In 2007, De Grisogono sold the world's biggest emerald cut diamond. The diamond was 163 carat, flawless and fetched 33.5 million Swiss francs

Suspended within the case, sealed by a shield of thick crystal and suspended within the safety of an air gap, lies de Grisogono’s dark secret. What you’re seeing here is no ordinary green dial—this is the source of what we know now as faux patina, the motherlode that brought us all the fake-looking luminous paint that graces our modern-vintage reissues.

Found in a meteorite in 2009, scientists at de Grisogono’s secret laboratory noticed that any paint touched by this alien material immediately looked sort-of-but-not-really-convincingly aged. At first this power was hired out to other watchmakers to help them make their watches look older than they were—but that power was too great, rippling through the industry, out of control. And so the scientists vowed to destroy the material, breaking it into dial-sized chunks and distributing it around the world within the New Retro No1, where it could never be reassembled and cause this much annoyance again.

It’s quite incredible what a good researcher can uncover, and these three stories demonstrate what fascinating hidden gems lie beneath the pristine veneer of our favourite watch brands. Particularly so since it turns out that our researcher managed to find all this out from a sunbed on a remote Caribbean island with poor internet connectivity, and in just a morning. At first I was sceptical, thinking the researcher had just simply made it all up and spent the rest of the allocated time sunning themselves—but as these three watches you’ve never seen before demonstrate, sometimes the truth is easier to swallow than a nice, cool Mojito.

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Looking for a Franck Muller watch? Click here