To be honest, I am not the most avid reader of books. So when Colin got in touch to check out his book, The Vintage Rolex Field Guide, I was intrigued to say the least. It’s good to point out that this is a reference book, and not really designed for a spot of light bed time reading. Colin himself told me “trying to read it cover to cover will be quite a grind”!
As soon as you start to flick through the pages, the amount of information in this book is mind blowing. I can honestly say that whilst I am not interested right now in explicitly purchasing a vintage Rolex; I naturally appreciate what the brand has done for watchmaking in general, therefore the book is still of great interest to me – and should be for any watch aficionado. I love the fact that it’s more of a detailed historical book – which is why it appeals to general fans of the brand, not just those looking to purchase a vintage piece.
On top of that, one of the main phases of watch collecting is developing a deep interest in vintage timepieces, Rolex or not. This book also touches on general information that anyone who is serious about watch collecting should know. This is particularly the case with the introduction section, where Colin helps us understand the difference between “antique” and “vintage”.
Illustrations / visual aids
It’s not just a book of words. Being in the design industry, one of the first things that struck me was the great illustrations throughout the book. Examples can be found below. The amount of time and thought that must have gone into creating his book is impressive.
Pg 6 – vintage Milgauss
Pg 9 – case and crown
Pg 39 – evolution of the Rolex coronet
Pg 47 – hand types (names and descriptions) – vital information for any watch fan
Pg 49 – crowns
The first 5 chapters contain the kind of information that anyone can, and should read; such as general historical information on vintage watches as well as Rolex-specific.
Following this, we then go into the nitty-gritty for a number of models. Firstly, some antique and pocket watches. Then the juicy models: Submariners, Sea Dwellers, Yacht-Master, Oyster Perpetual, Milgauss, Explorer and Explorer II, to name a few. Each model covered has a detailed introduction and also a summary of every model number in tabular format and what they mean.
Finally, we are provided with information about the different types of bracelets found on Rolexes (such as oyster, jubilee and president) and the end links, the movements found within (with a very detailed table of the specs of each caliber), and other accessories (such as boxes, booklets, tags and papers).
Colin’s final words in the epigraph provide some eye-opening stats about the counterfeit market. Even vintage Rolexes are copied nowadays – and his hope is that this book will bestow the reader with enough knowledge and ammunition to not be caught out.
That, it certainly does. As mentioned in the offset, this is not a book you’d read in bed for some “light reading”. This is a collection of facts and figures – and information overload and perfect for those looking for vintage Rolexes. On top of that, it’s interesting enough for those who have a general interest in the brand to be able to enjoy it, such as I.
Questions to the author
I’ve also had the pleasure of putting forward some questions to the author, Colin A. White:
How long did it take you to collate all this information?
Most watch collectors invariably end up with stuff and junk related to their watches. Typically boxes, receipts, user manuals. With time this grows to include books, merch and other trinkets. My watch-junk collect has survived several purging but has grown for over 20 years. It came to include old watchmaker service manuals, adverts and articles from old magazines, auction catalogs and of course a ton of bookmarks and links.
When I finally decided to pull all this data together and consolidate it all, it took about 6 months of work.
Which section was the most challenging?
Chapter 7 – Professional Watches. This is the one most casual collectors become interested in first. It covers favorites like the Submariner, GMT Master and Explorer. There are just so many references and variations and the data is simply not clean, clear-cut or definitive. Unlike other manufacturers, Rolex doesn’t offer an Extract of Archive service and will not verify or validate their vintage watches. This leaves a lot of wiggle room for uncertainty and subjectivity. This is part of the attraction of vintage Rolex! Throw in transitional references, special editions, production defects, and things get complicated quite quickly.
Which part are you particularly proud of?
Probably the data – all the tables, charts and timelines on the 1,400+ references. I’m not aware of another book that’s tried to make such a serious effort to catalog everything. And while I’ve done my best to clean and validate the data, I’m pretty sure it’s incomplete. There are bound to be obscure references I’ve missed and I encourage readers to highlight things I missed or got wrong.
During production I used Amazon Mechanical Turk to crowd source the data validation. I talk about this process in the Introduction. I think this is a first for this kind of book. Being a data-guy by trade, I go to length to explain the data is not perfect but simply as good as I can make it, given my time and budget.
If you had the choice of any of the watches featured, which one would you have?
I have my heart set on a GMT Master 1675/8 with the brown nipple dial. I’d have to liquidate much of my modest collection to afford one, and frankly I’d be too paranoid to wear it!
I’ve become more interested in the precious metal models as I learned more about them. The King Midas is a good example – an absolutely amazing watch with a really interesting design pedigree. Not not your everyday GADA watch, but an amazing piece to have in a collection!
What can we expect next?
I was really surprised by the warm and generous feedback on this book. One of the biggest requests was for more photos and more historical context. And a Spanish edition!
So I’m working on a more graphical desk reference in hard cover. It’ll be called the Chevalier Edition and will feature real watches you’ll commonly find in the market – not your museum pieces offered to elite collectors at premium auctions. It’s taking a closer look at case, dial and bracelet refinishing. Also introducing some of the professionals in the industry, their work and their techniques. And of course, space flown Rolex thanks to help from the guy behind MoonWatchUniverse. With the 50th anniversary of the Speedmaster Professional, the Rolex story has been eclipsed, so I’ve spent quite a bit of effort documenting this.
And of course the Spanish translation of the Classic Edition! My Spanish is very limited so it’ll be fun trying to figure out how market this. If any of your Spanish speaking readers want to give me some advice, I’d love to hear from them!
Buy here for UK: https://amzn.to/3dx3iFY
Buy here for USA: https://amzn.to/2WVAdhv
Colin White can be reached on Instagram @morning_tundra or [email protected]