Christie’s, New York, December 6 2016
Sold for $62,500
Mention watches and space travel and Omega’s Speedmaster immediately springs to mind – followed, perhaps, by dial names such as Bulova, Breitling, Fortis and Heuer. But few people would link the work of astronauts to Vacheron Constantin, making the appearance at auction of this decidedly rare Reference 6351 hand-wound dress watch all the more interesting.
Made in 1971, the watch features an enamelled depiction of the mission patch from the Apollo 14 expedition, together with the surnames of the three crew members: (Alan) Shepard , (Stuart) Roosa and (Edgar) Mitchell.
For decades it was not fully understood why the watch existed, but it is now generally accepted that it was one of three similar pieces produced at the behest of a group of Swiss admirers of the space programme who simply wanted to acknowledge the astronauts’ heroism by presenting them with a special gift.
This particular example was the one dedicated to Mitchell, the lunar module pilot, and was engraved on the case back with his name and the date of the lunar landing – February 5, 1971. Texas-born Mitchell was a naval aviator before being selected as an astronaut in 1966 at the age of 36, serving on the crew of both Apollo 9 and Apollo 10 prior to the Apollo 14 mission.
During the latter, he and Shepard spent more than 33 hours on the moon, nine of which were spent moon walking, collecting rocks and – famously – hitting golf balls into space.
Christie’s did not refer to the vendor of the watch in its catalogue notes, but the fact that Mitchell died a few months before the sale indicates that it may have been consigned directly from his family. It was sold complete with its original presentation case, an Apollo 14 mission patch and four silver medals commemorating landmarks of flight.
In summary: Vacheron Constantin’s Reference 6351 remained one of the slimmest mechanical wrist watches produced between its launch in 1955 and the early 2000s – making it interesting in its own right. This example’s unique link to space history, however, served to increase its value five-fold. But, even at a selling price of $62,500, it was probably a bargain.