A very fine and extremely rare stainless steel anti-magnetic diver’s wristwatch made for the United States Navy

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  • Manufacturer: Tornek-Rayville
    Year: Circa 1966
    Reference No: TR-900
    Case No: 0922
    Material: Stainless steel
    Calibre: Automatic, cal. AS 1361, 17 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: Nylon
    Clasp/Buckle: Stainless steel
    Dimensions: 41mm Diameter
    Signed: Case, dial, and movement signed.

  • Catalogue Essay

    The Tornek-Rayville TR-900 is a watch ordered during the development and refinement of combat diver programs in the world’s armed forces, the dark presence of a Cold War between post-World War II military superpowers, and proxy conflicts in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. These watches needed to suit the needs of soldiers being sent to those faraway places, and withstand the rigors of military combat.

    Today, the TR-900, made for the United States Navy, is one of the rarest and most sought after military watches for collectors. Delivered in two batches, one in late 1964 and the other in mid-1966, a total of about 1,000 watches conforming to U.S. military specification MIL-W-22176A were provided by Blancpain through their American subsidiary Tornek-Rayville. Due to the 1933 "Buy American Act" that remained in force, the U.S. Navy could not directly purchase Swiss Blancpain watches, specifically the Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec, which they had already tested and approved for use by the Navy Experimental Diving Unit in 1958. Allen V. Tornek, of the Allen V. Tornek Co., based in midtown New York City, was an importer of Blancpain and won a bid to be the American supplier of Blancpain for the U.S. Navy. The second name "Rayville" was the official name of Blancpain, adopted in 1932 after the death of the last member of the Blancpain family to run the company, Frédéric-Emile Blancpain, forced a legal name change.

    The Navy Experimental Diving Unit used elements from three watches tested: the Rolex Submariner, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and the Enicar Seapearl 600 to create the specifications for the TR-900. The official report detailing the findings of the Navy Experimental Diving Unit regarding these watches notes the need for a dull case like the Blancpain, rather than a shiny case such as the Enicar and the Rolex which “should not be used in tropical waters where biting fish abide.” The hacking mechanism, humidity indicator, luminous bezel and dial, and most importantly, an easily adjustable rotating bezel, made the Blancpain the ideal choice.

    According to scholarship, most of these TR-900s were destroyed by the United States government; however, a few escaped destruction and it is believed somewhere between 30 and 50 examples survived. To find one is rare, but to find one in exceptionally preserved condition, such as the present lot, is even rarer. Making a seldom-seen appearance on the public market, this Tornek-Rayville will delight discerning collectors of military watches.

70

Ref. TR-900
A very fine and extremely rare stainless steel anti-magnetic diver’s wristwatch made for the United States Navy

Circa 1966
41mm Diameter
Case, dial, and movement signed.

Estimate
$50,000 - 100,000 
CHF49,800-99,700
€43,400-86,900
HK$392,000-784,000

sold for $106,250

Contact Specialist
Paul Boutros
Head of Watches, Americas
+1 212 940 1293
pboutros@phillips.com

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New York Auction 5 December 2018