The Prince, one of Rolexes iconic pieces dates from the early 1930s.It was always a piece I lusted after when I started collecting vintage watches. I saw these beautiful rectangular pieces in the catalogues and thought that one day I would have one in my collection.
Being a doctor, the piece had a special place in my heart as it was known as the doctors watch The movement had an extra wheel so that the second hand could be placed below the hour and minute hands, thus allowing for a more accurate measurement of the patients pulse- sheer marketing genius!
Adverts showed the watch being given to the doctor by a grateful patient in the days when the doctor patient relationship was very different to todays time.I secretly hoped that one day a patient would slide a little watch box across the table and in it would be a beautiful Rolex Prince. So far this has not occurred ( and to be truthful I doubt it ever will ) but the romantic notion spurred me on to collect these wonderful and varied pieces.
Most of the information I have gleaned about this wondrous timepiece has come from Dowling and Hesss book- The Best of Time. Rolex, an unauthorized history.
The Prince is special for a number of reasons.
One , as mentioned earlier is that it has a special movement, initially made by Aegler and Wilsdorf , when in 1927 a patent was filed for a shaped watch movement with a seconds dial. In this new watch the winding barrel and the balance wheel were at opposite ends of the movement allowing for a larger balance wheel and thus more accuracy. A larger winding barrel also meant that the watch could run for longer on a single wind. This allowed most Princes to be chronometer rated and most were indeed sold with a chronometer certificate( see ref 971A)
The Prince movement
The Prince Ref 971A with chronometer certificate
Even though Aegler movements were found in both the Rolex prince and the Gruen Alpina, a marketing arrangement kept the 2 models separate with Rolex being sold in the British Empire whilst Gruen was sold in the US.
So what drew me to this wondrous piece of horology?
Well besides the fact that I bonded with the idea of a doctors watch I really was attracted to the large variation of the Prince models available. Even though most movements were similar ( besides the rare Jump Hour model- more on that later) the cases came in many different shapes and metals.
I was particularl attracted to the Brancard cases( Brancard in French means stretcher and the case looked like a WW1 stretcher used to carry patients). Even this shape case came in many different styles. Made in stainless steel ( very rare), silver , 9ct and 18 ct and also rose gold ( again very rare), and platinum. The model that attracted me the most as the tiger stripe ref 971A. Often faked this model looked very elegant and at 41mm was quite large on the wrist. A very very rare model known as the facetted or stepped striped Prince where the two tone gold is separated by ridges rather than being smooth.
Some models were sold with stainless steel and gold as well. A veritable cornucopia of models!
The very special Tiger striped Prince
A special Brancard model was the Jump hour model or Heures sautantes. Also available in gold or silver this movement was slightly thicker than the regular Prince moevent and thus had a special case number as well. Most had the letters HS in the reference number. A major drawback of this model was it was very difficult to actually tell the time ( as I can attest).
The illegible Jump Hour
So now that I had a few of the Brancards not all I might add and there are a few that a re still missing eg two tone Brancard and possibly a Platinum piece but very very very expensive and many fakes around!( Thanks JD!)
The only rectangular piece I thought was worth having was the Railway model. A classic art deco design with a stepped case in two colours saw many pictures but could never buy one. Then the Mondani sale had one and I thought if I am going to buy one I might as well buy this one. It came with a bamboo bracelet and the dial was sublime. I remember staying up till midnight to bid at the auction . I got caught up in the fever of bidding and paid over estimate but when I eventually got the piece( that is a story in itself) I was not disappointed. It looked as though it had been kept in plastic its whole life. Condition was A1. ( It was a little small on the wrist though).
Railway model in PG and WG with bamboo bracelet
and on the wrist
So what else was available. In the 1940s Rolex issued another case shape. The Rams Horn or ref 3937. Again having very strong art nouveau inspirations it had flowing lugs which looked like a rams horn. This was the last case model issued by Rolex until the recent abomination of the Prince. It became the basis for Eaton ( a department store in Canada ) to issue their employees a gold watch for 25 years service- Like that would happen nowadays. These models had special dials which had ¼ Century Club ) inscribed on them in place of the usual numbers.. These dials were often refinished thus making an original one quite collectable today. My model does not have the Eaton dial just a standard Rolex dial..
Note the lugs
So what is left, I was looking for a Rose gold Brancard and came across a Prince Elegant ( a wannabee Prince ie a brancard case but not a true Aegler Prince moveent) Dilemna- do I shell out for a real 18 kt Rose Gold Brancard or go for the same case but a different dial and movement.? I initially thought I could not compromise but when I saw the reference 2771 I thought this not a compromise at all. A beautiful rose gold brancard case with a stunning dial-the movement was a chronometer grade ultra prima, So this is the latest in my Prince journey.
and the movement is nothing to be sneezed at either
What other Princes are out there.
A sporting Prince which comes in a separate case. Made for sportsmen who could not and did not wear their watches whilst playing golf or polo, these watches came in a separate hunting style case which could be opened similar to a pocket watch but was actually a wrist watch movement and dial.
Another style case I would not mind owning was the Presentation style case with a large blank piece of metal where the seconds hand was , where a mongram or initial could be engraved. Some of these were made in an asymmetric style as well with one end being thicker than the other. ( ref 3362 or ref 3361)
A special model made for the female market was known obviously as the Princess Smaller and more dainty than the male refernces these pieces are still quite rare . Today a woman could wear a regular Prince and would consider it a small piece!