NEW YORK – Three extraordinary Rolex watches that were presented to legendary balloon flight pioneer Julian Nott will be offered in Heritage Auctions’ Timepieces Auction on Tuesday, Dec. 10. Bid absentee or live online through LiveAuctioneers.
Nott reached new frontiers in ballooning, in terms of altitudes reached and distances covered, and also helped develop technology that forever changed ballooning in areas such as the use of solar power and flying in extreme temperatures. He set 79 world ballooning records and 96 British aviation records, and died in March 2019.
Like Nott, Rolexes are heralded for their precision and performance, even in adverse conditions; Mercedes Gleitze wore a Rolex Oyster in 1927 for her 10-hour swim across the English Channel, and a British climbing team summited Mount Everest for the first time wearing another version of the same watch in 1953.
Rolex’s response to Nott’s ascent into the top 10 percent of the atmosphere was to draw a parallel between Rolex, the Julian Nott Collection Ref. 1655 Explorer II (above), issued and used during 1974 record-breaking elevation of 45,836 feet in Bhopal, India, circa 1972 (estimate: $20,000+) was presented when Nott broke his own ballooning altitude record, which previously stood at 35,971 feet. After years of preparation, Nott and copilot Felix Pole soared over central India in January 1974 to his new record in the Daffodil II, which was the largest balloon ever constructed. The flight coincided with a multi-national print campaign by Rolex, which touted the indestructibility of both Nott and the Rolex Explorer II that he wore. “Thanks to Julian Nott and Felix Pole,” the promotion proclaimed, the Rolex Oyster is now guaranteed to float to 45,000 feet.” Nott was humbled by the attention, enough so that he wrote to Rolex in 1976 to suggest that he did not deserve to be in the same class of contemporary Rolex spokesmen as violinist Yehudi Menuhin, author Frederic Forsyth or golf legend Arnold Palmer.
The 40mm stainless steel three-body case houses a matte black dial with painted tritium hour markers and white luminous baton hands. It has a Rolex signed stainless steel bracelet with a flip-lock clasp and is signed Rolex on the case, dial and movement.
Five years after Nott and Pole climbed to their record altitude over central India, American Chauncey Dunn topped the mark when he reached 53,206 feet over Iowa, inspiring Nott to rise to the challenge of reclaiming his title. After 13 months of preparation, Nott rose above Colorado for about 70 minutes until he reached a height of 55,134, rewriting his name in the record book while wearing a Rolex, the Julian Nott Collection Ref. 16760 GMT-Master II with Unique Dial (estimate: $17,000+). Rolex’s PR effort included a declaration that, apart from style choices, the inclusion of such a watch “was never really in doubt.”
It features a 40mm stainless steel case, a black dial with applied tritium hour markers and dark gray minute track and script, with luminous skeleton hands. The Rolex signed Oyster bracelet includes a flip-lock clasp, and it is signed on the case, dial and movement.
Rolex, the Julian Nott Collection Ref. 16013 (estimate: $5,000+) was presented by Rolex to Nott for the 1984 Rolex Awards: “Spirit of Enterprise.” For 15 years, Nott planned a nonstop balloon circumnavigation of Earth – a mission that ultimately was completed not by Nott, but by Swiss psychiatrist and aviator Bertrand Piccard. The documentation dates back to the presentation of the watch, which is engraved on case back, “The Rolex Awards for Enterprise, Julian Nott, 1984.” The packet includes a Rolex press release recognizing Nott for planning “The First Non-Stop Balloon Voyage Around the World,” as well as the calligraphed award certificate issued directly to Nott. Collectors will be drawn immediately to an accompanying letter from Nott to Rolex, requesting the production of an Explorer constructed of titanium, a metal that has been implemented by numerous watch brands, but not yet by Rolex.
The watch features a 36mm case of stainless steel and gold, a champagne dial with applied gold hour markers and a gold luminous baton. With self-winding movement, rhodium finish and 27 jewels, it includes a Rolex signed Jubilee bracelet in stainless steel and gold, and is signed Rolex on the case, dial and movement.