In late-September 2023, over 175 collectors from 17 countries around the world descended on New York City for a weekend of fellowship and watches. The reason? Rolliefest 2023, a highly curated collector event designed to bring many of the best collections in the world together in one room. It’s at this point that you may be thinking “this all sounds great and exclusive, so what the hell was Bazamu doing there?” Well friends…I’ll let you know when I figure it out for myself.
The first Rolliefest took place in 2019 and was heavily focused on, well, you guessed it: Rolex. After a COVID-induced hiatus, however, Rolliefest’s creator, Geoff Hess (formerly of Phillips and now of Sotheby’s), took a different approach with the second iteration. The invitee list was expanded significantly and many collectors (such as myself) had wider-ranging collections beyond vintage Rolex. There were still plenty of mind-blowing examples of rare vintage Rolexes to be seen, but also ample representation of heavy hitters from other brands such as Patek Philippe, A. Lange & Sohne, Cartier, Movado, Longines, and Universal Geneve, among others.
The event spanned two days, kicking off on Saturday evening with cocktails and a formal dinner at the American Museum of Natural History near Central Park. The opening event was the first opportunity to interact with the full group of attendees, and it was particularly gratifying to connect faces with Instagram names, as there were many people in attendance that I had “known” for years without ever actually meeting. As was expected, the event was top notch in every respect, even rivaling many weddings that I’ve attended over the years.
Dinner took place in the museum’s iconic Hall of Ocean Life, where collectors were treated to live music and dined under a 94-foot, 21,000 pound model of a blue wheel. Geoff didn’t know it, but “eat dinner under a giant whale” had been on my bucket list for the past twenty years, so I finally had the opportunity to scratch that off.
I didn’t bring my camera the first night and took very few pictures, instead reveling in the grandeur of the event and enjoying time with many friends that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I was also waiting for Sunday morning, which was the “main event” of the weekend and would see every collector offer a glimpse into their respective collections. After dinner, a sizable group finished off the evening (and welcomed the next morning) at a rooftop bar in Midtown, where great drinks and conversation continued into the wee hours of the night.
Sunday’s schedule began with four hours blocked out for lunch and watch ogling in the iconic Rainbow Room at the top of NBC Tower. I, along with many other attendees, was slightly worse for the wear after the night before, but as the elevator doors opened on the top floor and we were ushered into the circular room, I was suddenly wired. In the middle of the room, there were multiple long tables waiting to be filled with attendees’ rare watches, and in no time, piles of drool-worthy pieces stretched across the room.
The weekend concluded with a cocktail reception at Manhattan Motorcars, a Porsche dealership in Midtown, though I was unfortunately not able to attend the event due to my travel schedule. As the rain poured down the terminal window near my gate, I pulled out my camera and started scrolling back through the many pictures I’d taken. The watches speak for themselves, as you’ll see, but the random portraits of friends and group photos from the weekend were what brought a smile to my face. The collections in that room mean very little without the personalities and passion behind them, and while the collecting community is full of oddballs and characters, it’s a true “community” in the best sense of the word. I can’t wait for the next collector gathering that brings us back together again.
With that sentimental note out of the way, let’s get to some watch photos! By now, you have likely seen other recaps of the event – such as Hodinkee’s excellent article, Adam Golden’s video recap, or Charlie Dunne of Wind Vintage’s photo recap – but I think you’ll find a slightly different experience through my lens. Scrolling back through my memory card in the airport on Sunday night, I realized nearly every picture I’d taken was of brands other than Rolex (with the exception of some beautiful Paul Newman Daytonas, which I will never grow tired of seeing) and the pieces that impressed me the most were almost uniformly from other brands. Perhaps this doesn’t surprise anyone, given my collecting taste, but it speaks to the depth of offerings and dynamic collections in the room.
Before providing you with a mind-melting gallery of some of the watches I wore during the event, I thought it would be fun to highlight my top five watches from Sunday. With so many people and so many watches, I estimate that I only saw ~50% of what was in the room (and photographed far fewer than that) – though as you’ll see below, that was more than enough to pack a punch.
For drama’s sake, we’ll count down my top-5 Rolliefest watches in reverse order. [Drum Roll Commences]
#5: A. Lange & Sohne Pour le Mérite Tourbillon
There was a real case to list this in the #1 spot. I was able to handle and try on hundreds of rare and interesting watches over the weekend, but I continually find myself thinking back to this Pour le Mérite Tourbillon (courtesy of @watchbonsai) as the most surprising and desirable watch that I had a chance to enjoy. The Pour le Mérite was one of the initial offerings at Lange’s re-launch in 1994 and it has subsequently risen to be the most desirable reference to the collecting community.
I was able to add a Lange 1 Tourbillon to my collection in 2022, and until Rolliefest, I thought the price differential between the two early tourbillons was unfounded (~2-2.5x). After wearing this Pour le Mérite for ten minutes, however, I can say that its place in the collector community is completely justified. The Pour le Mérite is note perfect, from the dimensions, to the dial design, and obviously, to the level of finishing.
At lunch, I joked that @watchbonsai is essentially who I want to be when I grow up, and in the case of the Pour le Mérite, I hope that I grow up sooner rather than later.
#4: Universal Geneve Tri-Compax reference 881101/04
The teal dialed “exotic” Tri-Compax (reference 881101/04) is easily the rarest of the 1960’s Tri-Compax references and was the last to be produced. The example above belongs to Kevin O’Dell (@theydid) and was originally unearthed by Adam Golden of Menta Watches (@mentawatches), and while I had seen pictures of the watch when Adam originally found it, I had not been able to see it in-person yet. To put it mildly, it did not disappoint.
The example above is most likely the best in the world and a true testament to the great legacy of Universal Geneve. And yes, it seems to pop even more when paired with my exotic reference 881101/03 (above, left) – I think these two are the most desirable of all 1960’s Universal Geneve references, and to see two examples in this condition together is a very rare sighting.
#3: Patek Philippe Reference 130 with Sector Dial
There are many amazing chronographs in the illustrious history of Patek Philippe, but the reference 130 often takes a back seat to the 1518 and 2499 references at auction and in collector circles. On some level it makes sense, as the reference 130 is only 33mm in diameter, was produced in greater numbers, and lacks the perpetual calendar functionality of the 1518 and 2499. But then you come across an ultra rare sector dialed reference 130 such as the one above and you start to question everything. From a design perspective, the two-tone, multi-scale dial is damn near perfect and has served as the inspiration for countless brands over the subsequent decades (paging Furlan Marri!).
This particular example was courtesy of Kirill Yuzh (@lunaroyster) and was a true standout in a sea of rare and valuable watches. Sometimes the smallest dog has the loudest bark.
#2: A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1, Dubail Edition
I have a confession – I debated leaving this Dubail Lange 1 off the list entirely. Devoted followers are well aware that I’ve developed a deep-seated love for all things Lange in recent years, and from the moment this Dubail Lange 1 example went live on A Collected Man’s site and entered my consciousness, the reference vaulted to the very top of my wish list. The watch features a blue mother-of-pearl dial that is famously hard to produce, and only 25 examples were produced in collaboration with the Parisian retailer. It remains the most captivating Lange 1 that I have ever seen, and I was overjoyed when my friend, Geoff Hess (@manhattanrollie), was able to add one to his collection earlier this year.
On a personal level, this watch was my favorite from the weekend and is also perhaps the most likely watch on this “top-5” list to be added to my collection in the future. By not listing it as #1, I’m simply hoping that people choose to scroll through the words without reading and keep these watches under the radar until I’ve managed to find one of my own (because my article has that much influence on the market).
#1: Longines Reference 4270 (with 13Zn Movement)
Yep, those mushroom pushers can only mean one thing: one of the greatest chronographs of all-time. As I was idly browsing some of the inner tables, a friend casually asked if I’d seen “the guy with all the vintage Longines.” After establishing that his collection included multiple reference 4270s, I sprinted for his location in the scrum.
The 4270 was produced between 1938-1942 and is impossibly rare (particularly in good condition like this one). In my opinion, the dial aesthetics have aged beautifully, it is perfectly sized for all wrists at 37.5mm, and it is powered by the truly legendary caliber 13Zn. I think many serious collectors consider this and the Patek Philippe reference 1463 to be the finest “pure” chronographs ever made (i.e. excluding more complicated chronographs such as the Patek 1518), and this was the first time I had ever handled one in the metal. Hopefully it’s not the last.
And if you thought that was impressive, wait for all the watches that didn’t make the top-5. See the full gallery below:
Rolliefest 2023: Full Gallery