O f the many idiosyncrasies and rarities in watch collecting, the double signature stands out as a phenomenon. Few features can change the value of an otherwise familiar edition of a timepiece so much as double-signed dial. What may otherwise be an archetypal Rolex Daytona or Patek Philippe Nautilus – both serious, in-demand models in their own right – becomes something far more when we discover that stamped alongside the Rolex Crown or the Patek Philippe Calatrava Cross resides another emblem by Tiffany & Co., Gübelin, Beyer, or Bucherer's.
The question for many enthusiasts is: ‘Why?’ How did double signed watches come to be? And further, why do they command such premiums in today’s market?
What is a Double Signed Watch?
Before we launch into the history of these timepieces, it is first critical to understand what exactly they are. In simple terms, a double-signed watch is one whose dial features both the manufacturer’s logo – such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, or otherwise – as well as an additional brand, most often a specific retailer such a Tiffany, Beyer, etc.
Double-signed watches came to exist in notable quantities in the first half of the 20th century, at a time when most would-be watch buyers made purchases not through brick-and-mortar boutiques owned and operated by manufacturers themselves, but rather through third-party retailers. Many consumers would recognise and trust certain retailers as much or even more than the brands themselves, and so their associated logos would rise in recognition and value. Capitalising upon this, retailers around the world began stamping the dials of many watches they sold.
The strategy became a more frequent practice amongst prominent retailers. For example, in London, Asprey stamped their watches for a global clientele; in Venezuela, Serpico Y Laino met the massive petroleum wealth with its signed timepieces; and in Brazil, Gondolo & Labouriau made a name for itself as key provider of Patek Philippe watches in the wider Rio de Janeiro area.
Other prominent names included Gobbi in Milan which catered to fashionable circles with double-signed timepieces, and in Zürich, 1760-founded Beyer printed many of its retailed timepieces with its historically significant signature. Gübelin and Bucherer's catered to much of the rest of Switzerland with their double-signed options – the latter of which went on to become one of the most significant watch retailers in Europe and the world.
Most importantly, there is lastly Tiffany & Co. in New York, which for many years served as the eyes and ears of Patek Philippe in the United States, and whose double-signed watches are now arguably unmatched in demand. Today, Tiffany & Co. significantly remains the only official retailer in the United States to be entrusted to stamp their signature upon Patek Philippe timepieces, and in 2021 Tiffany and Patek Philippe unveiled one of their most important watches to-date in the double-signed, Tiffany blue dial Nautilus 5711/1A-018.
Double Signed, Medium Rare
For the many retailers that provided double-signed watches through the 20th century and after, they did not all mark each timepiece they sold with the same zeal; as such, some retailers’ signatures accompanying specific watch references are notably rarer than others.
Take, for example, Lot 2144 of Sotheby’s Important Watches I auction in Hong Kong: the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona reference 16523. While the watch at first glance might appear as a familiar two-tone, late ‘80s Daytona, the reference in fact indicates a highly unusual porcelain dial model, here executed with an equally uncommon “suspended logo”. That is, the word “Cosmograph” is dropped further below the four lines above it. While these features make the reference rare enough, it is made even more extraordinary due to its double-signed dial, here with Tiffany & Co. placed at the unorthodox 6 o’clock position which further adds to the watch’s rare allure.
In Lot 2168 of the auction, we find another notable double-signed timepiece, here in an uncommon Patek Philippe Nautilus reference 3900. This reference is notable for its classic Nautilus charm, here paired with an uncommon “boy size” of 32mm, calibre E23 SC quartz movement, and short production period of only five years from the mid to late ’80s. Add to this a double-signed Gübelin dial, and you have found yourself a watch which you are very unlikely to ever see again. Lot 2169, which features another reference 3900, though in 18k yellow gold and with a Tiffany & Co. stamp, is perhaps even more exceptional.
Yet, even within this rarefied category, there are further examples that even exceed these two double-signed Nautilus watches in scarcity and demand. Notably, in Lot 2176 you’ll find just that, with it being a modern Nautilus reference 5980 complete with a solid 18k rose gold case construction and flyback chronograph complication. This reference is already incredibly rare as far as modern Nautilus watches go; now with the small Tiffany logo printed towards the top of its dial, that makes it even more so. It stands amongst the highly exclusive selection of Patek Philippe watches today that are fortunate enough to carry the detail.
Outside of Nautilus watches, in Lot 2175 you’ll find a Patek Philippe reference 3940 – this particular reference coming as part of the second generation of perpetual calendar wristwatches produced by the manufacture. A watch of modernity, the model is one of the rarest perpetual calendars around, numbering one of only 25 editions that were ever produced by Philippe Stern personally for his friend Theodore Beyer to commemorate the 225th anniversary of Chronometrie Beyer. The Beyer logo printed below Patek Philippe serves as a key indicator of rarity, while the commemorative engraved case back of the model furthers the sentiment.
Outside of Patek Philippe, the differences between Lot 2276 and Lot 2277 marks an interesting differential in double-signed watches in this auction. Both models came as part of Rolex’s ref. 2508 chronograph series produced during the ‘30s and ‘40s, with one featuring the smaller case size of 35.2mm, rectangular pushers, and silver dial, and the other the larger and diameter of 37.2mm, olive-shaped pushers, and a black dial. While the watches are from the same reference series and same approximate era, it is nonetheless Lot 2277 – with its incredibly fine quality and supremely rare Bucherer’s signature – which ultimately commands the significantly higher estimate.
Double Signed Watches Today
In recent years, double-signed watches have continued their rise in prominence as collectors and enthusiasts have grown to admire the unique qualities and ideas they represent. This growing prominence via horological intrigue is amplified against the context of current trend in the larger world of luxury favouring collaborative branding efforts, which together have resulted in a massive growth in demand and value for double-signed timepieces. In this way, what was once a historical marketing and retail strategy has again become that and more, with vintage watches featuring double signage often commanding decisive premiums over their single-signed counterparts, and modern timepieces produced with double signage setting apart some of the most exclusive watches of today.
For the sheer exclusivity in double-signed watches, the presence of a two signatures on the dial – particularly in vintage timepieces – provides an additional opportunity for emotional connection and intrigue for collectors. Vintage models have long represented periods in time and the nostalgia surrounding them, but by adding the signature of some geographic-specific retailer you provide the watch with additional, location-based significance. Together with physical rarity and modern trends, these double-signed wristwatches are all the more compelling, meeting a hungry market which only grows in its very own, signature demand.