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Antiquorum Listing -- Fake Heuer described as "Custom Made"

For a few days now, we have been keeping an eye on Lot 39 of the Antiquorum auction, to be held November 15 and November 16, 2008, in Geneva. Shown at the bottom of this page, Lot 39 is an "Index Mobile" split-second chronograph, with the name "Heuer" on the dial. [Here, you can see the watch in Antiquorum's online catalog, by searching for "Heuer" or finding Lot 39, and here you can find our first discussion of this auction.]

Index Mobile Technology. For those of you who may not be familiar with the "Index Mobile", here is the quick summary. The Index Mobile chronographs use a proprietary technology that was developed by Dubey and Schaldenbrand in the late 1940's. Beginning with a standard Landeron or Venus movement, Dubey created a split second chronograph by adding an additional chronograph second hand, and attaching the two seconds by a hairspring, which is fully visible looking at the dial. The user stops one second hand by pushing the button in the center of the crown; when this button is released, this second hand "catches up" with the other second hand, which has continued running throughout the period being timed. An example of how the Index Mobile chronograph might be used would be to time the differential between the car leading a race (which might pass the start / finish line at the 24 second mark) and the second place car (which might pass the start / finish line at the 36 second mark). [The photo below, on the right, shows this differential.] Whenever the button in the center of the crown is released, the second hand that had been stopped at "24" will catch up with the second hand that ran continuously. In short, it's all about this additional second hand, the unique hairspring that connects it, and the button that controls it. The Index Mobile was thought of as a simple solution, to a complex horological problem -- getting split-second timing from a simple Landeron or Venus movement.

Produced by Dubey and Schaldendbrand. During the 1950's, Dubey and Schaldenbrand produced Index Mobile chronographs that were sold under its own name. Dubey and Schaldendbrand also produced the Index Mobile chronographs under a "private label" arrangements for several other brands, including Edox (in the 1950's) and for brands such as Baume & Mercier, Eberhard, Comor and Tourneau (in the 1980's and 1990's).

Suspicions about Lot 39. The reason that Lot 39 of the Antiquorum auction attracted so much attention in the world of vintage Heuer collectors is that none of us had ever seen an Index Mobile chronograph made by or for Heuer. A second factor raising some eyebrows among the collectors was that the Antiquorum listing indicated that the watch was from the 1950's, but the movement was marked "Heuer-Leonidas" (with the merger having occured in 1964.) In short, (a) we had never seen an Index Mobile chronograph with the name "Heuer" on the dial, and (b) there could be no "Heuer-Leonidas" from the 1950's.

My Research. In late October, I contacted representatives of Antiquorum who -- in a series of e-mail messages and telephone conversations -- appeared to be interested in determining whether or not the Lot 39 chronograph was authentic (made for Heuer) or might be a fake (with either the name changed on the dial or a Heuer dial used on another brand of Index Mobile chronograph). I embarked on research relating to the history of the Index Mobile chronographs and any possibility of Heuer having been involved, with this research including e-mail correspondence with (1) a gentleman who was a senior officer at Heuer (in Switzerland) during the period when this watch would have been made, (2) an individual holding a senior position in Heuer's service department (in the U.S.) during this period, and (3) a world-renowned expert on vintage and modern chronographs, who was fully familiar with the history of the Index Mobile chronographs. All three of these individuals concluded that this Index Mobile chronograph was not authentic, but was some sort of fake.

Information Provided to Antiquorum. I forwarded e-mail messages from two of these experts to a senior official at Antiquorum, and also presented my own conclusion to Antiquorum. I concluded that Lot 39 was a fake, based primarily on the following points:

  • If this Index Mobile had been made by or for Heuer, surely my two sources who were in the company (one an executive in Switzerland and the other in the service department in the United States) would have been aware of the watch; this is simply not the sort of chronograph that these men might have forgotten.

  • The renowned chronograph who we contacted, and who was fully familiar with the history of the Index Mobile chronographs, concluded that this one is a fake.

  • Several articles have been published covering the history of the Index Mobile chronographs, and these articles mention the variety of private label Index Mobile chronographs; none of these articles refers to any Index Mobile chronograph made by or for Heuer.

  • Searching catalogs and other literature from the period, there is no evidence of an Index Mobile ever being offered by Heuer.

  • I had posted images of Lot 39 on three discussion forums frequented by individuals who collect vinatge Heuer chronographs, and no participant had ever seen an Index Mobile made by Heuer or sold under it's name; individuals posting messages on these discussion forums have been unanimous in concluding that Lot 39 is a fake.

The Response from Antiquorum. The response from Antiquorum was that Lot 39 was being sold on consignment and had no reserve (so that it could be sold "for a penny"). Accordingly, Anitquorum made the decision to proceed with the auction, though they advised me that they would make an addendum in the catalog and mention the issue at the auction.

The Addendum. Imagine my surprise when, on the morning of November 11(that's right, exactly four days before the auction), I see that there is in fact an addendum to the online catalog listing, with this addendum consisting of the words: "Note: this watch was custom made" [To be entirely clear, I point out that I have added the yellow highlighting].

The Questions for Discussion. So tell me, my fellow collectors of the vintage Heuers:

  • is the addendum, "Note: this watch was custom made", an appropriate description of this watch?

  • in light of the information that we have provided to Antiquorum, is it appropriate for the auction house to sell this watch, at all?

  • are we more likely to see this type of situation with the Heuers, rather than other brands (such as Patek, Rolex or Omega)?

I have attempted to present this narrative and these questions in an objective, unbiased manner, and I will look forward to responses from other collectors.

Additional Information, Please. As always, if anyone can produce any information to support the authenticity of Lot 39, I will be happy to publish this information. I will also be appreciative of additional information about the Index Mobile chronographs. They really are neat pieces; as we said with respect to one of our experts, "not easily forgotten".


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