Antiquorum Auction, November 15 and 16, 2008

"Heuer" Index Mobile Chronograph --
"Fake " or "Custom Made"?

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll.


There are thousands of watches sold at live auctions each year. From one season to the next, Antiquorum, Bonhams and Christies assemble hundreds of magnificent timepieces and then fill their auction rooms with enthusiastic bidders from around the world. This is a world of glamour, with beautiful people bidding on rare and precoius watches. The auction houses prepare for the auctions by issuing massive catalogs and taking the watches on world tours. After the auction, press releases announce the success of the event and highlight some of the most notable sales.

But this is not a story about precious watches and gushing press releases. This is a story about a single watch that was sold for a relatively small sum, in an auction hosted by Antiquorum on November 15, 2008. And this isn't a watch that was feautured in any catalog or press release.; rather, this is a watch that the auction house would prefer to forget. You see, this watch was a fake, sold by Antiquorum with full knowledge of its status, all for the sake of a small fee.

This is a story about how individual enthusiasts -- including private collectors and persons who have dedicated their careers to watches -- examined this watch, explored the history and were quickly able to determine that it was a "fake". Even after it received this evidence, Antiquorum made the deicsion to proceed with the auction, using ambiguous or deceptive words to provide some cover, while earning fees of approximately $770 for their efforts.

In the end, this is not a story about one watch, one auction, or even one auction house, but a story about the "price" that people in the watch business might put on their integrity and reputations. Can the auction houses say that they will cheat on the "small stuff" (a $3,000 watch), but can be trusted on the more valuable watches? Do they have experts for the Pateks and Rolexes, but suggest "caveat emptor" for the lesser brands? Finally, are customers comfortable in a world in which information is withheld for the sake of at $770 fee?


Shown at the bottom of this page, Lot 39 is an "Index Mobile" split-second chronograph, with the name "Heuer" on the dial. [Here, you can see the watch in Antiquorum's online catalog, by searching for "Heuer" or finding Lot 39, and here you can find our first discussion of this auction.]

Split-Second Chronographs of the 1940's and 1950's

Before we examine the Index Mobile chronographs produced by Dubey & Schaldenbrand, it is worthwhile to describe -- ever so briefly -- the operation of split-second chronographs and the state of the art, as it stood in the 1940's, before the development of the Index Mobile.

A split-second chronograph employs two chronograph second hands, which run together for a while, with the upper hand appearing to be superimposed on the lower hand. When the user wants to check an interval time, he presses a button, and that's when the magic happens -- one of the second hands stops (to mark the interval time) and the other hand continues to run. After a reading or interval measurement has been made, the user presses the button again, and the hand that had been stopped catches up with the hand that has been running continuously, and once again, they appear to be runnig together, as a single hand. [This "catching up" is where we get the term, "Rattrapante", from the French word, "rattrape", meaning "to catch up.] Such split-second chronographs are also called "double chronographs".

We can use the Breitling Duograph, shown immediately below, to illustrate how a split-second chronograph might be used to determine the differential between two cars in a race. The car leading the race has passed the start / finish line at the 54 second mark (at which point the user has pushed a button to stop the split-second hand). The other second hand has continued running, passing the same point at the 6 second mark. Glance at the gap between the two hands, and the user sees that there is a 12 second interval between the two cars. Whenever the split-second button is pushed again, the second hand that had been stopped at "54" will catch up with the second hand that has been running continuously. And so it continues, with the timekeeper checking intervals lap after lap.

Split-second chronographs are very complicated, with a separate castle wheel and numerous other parts being required for the amazing task of stopping one second hand (while another continues) and then having the stopped second hand catch up and continue on, with the primary second hand. In addition to the additional castle wheel and additoinal second hand, the movement of a traditional split-second chronograph will include a split-second brake (which looks like pincers), a split-second wheel, a heart-shaped reset piece, and various additional springs and cams.

In addition to being complicated, split-second chronographs are very fragile. Press the buttons in the wrong sequence, and the mechanism can be destroyed. It is also difficult to maintain the accuracy of the timing, as the split-second hand is stopped and restarted. Put all this together, and there were very few manufacturers making split-second chronographs in the 1940's, with these chronographs being very expensive. As Josh states in a discussion forum message about split-second chronographs, "Up until the late 20th century, when the complication was industrialized by IWC and later by Jaquet S.A., the rattrapante was the ultimate high performance timepiece with a price that was similarly lofty. Because of their complexity, rattrapantes were considered more difficult than tourbillons to render and on a par with minute repeaters in the alchemic finesse needed to properly adjust them."

 Among the manufacturers of split-second chronographs in this era were Patek Philippe (which began producing split-second chronographs in the early 1920's), Breitling (with its Duograph, powered by the Venus 179 (two register)  or Venus 185 (three register)) and Eberhard.

The Index Mobile -- The "Poor Man's" Rattrapante

Seeing the usefulness of split second chronographs, but the issues associated with existing designs, George Dubey set out to develop a split-second chronograph that would be simpler in design and less expensive in production. Beginning with a standard Landeron or Venus movement, George Dubey created a split-second chronograph by adding an additional chronograph second hand, and connecting the two second hands with a hairspring, with the hairspring fully visible between the dial and the crystal. When the chronograph is started, both the second hands move together. The user stops the split-second (or index) hand by pushing the button in the center of the crown, which applies a brake to the wheel turning the hand. When this button is released, this second hand (which had been stopped) "catches up" with the other second hand, which has continued running throughout the period being timed.

The Index Mobile was thought of as a simple, elegant solution, to a complex horological problem -- it allowed an inexpensive Landeron or Venus movement to be modified for split-second timing. The "Index Mobile" system was a clever approach for the production of a "poor man's" split second chronograph. By adding a few parts, common movements were able to deliver exonomical, reliable split-second timing.

Produced by Dubey and Schaldendbrand

During the 1950's and into the 1960's, Dubey & Schaldenbrand produced Index Mobile chronographs that were sold under its own name, as well as under the Edo name. Production was limited, with the company manufacturing less than 2,000 chronographs per year.

Beginning around 1970, Dubey and Schaldendbrand produced the Index Mobile chronographs under a "private label" arrangements for several other brands, including Comor and Berney (in the 1970's) and Eberhard and Breitling (in the 1980's and 1990's). Accordingly, we see that Index Mobile chronographs were sold under only six different brand names, as well as under the generic "Chronographe Suisse" name.

Suspicions about Lot 39

The reason that Lot 39 of the Antiquorum auction attracted so much attention in the world of vintage Heuer collectors is that none of us had ever seen an Index Mobile chronograph made by or for Heuer. A second factor raising some eyebrows among the collectors was that the Antiquorum listing indicated that the watch was from the 1950's, but the movement was marked "Heuer-Leonidas" (with the merger having occured in 1964.) In short, (a) we had never seen an Index Mobile chronograph with the name "Heuer" on the dial, and (b) there could be no "Heuer-Leonidas" from the 1950's.

My Research

In late October, I contacted representatives of Antiquorum who -- in a series of e-mail messages and telephone conversatios -- appeared to be interested in determining whether or not the Lot 39 chronograph was authentic (made for Heuer) or might be a fake (with either the name changed on the dial or a Heuer dial used on another brand of Index Mobile chronograph). I embarked on research relating to the history of the Index Mobile chronographs and any possibility of Heuer having been involved, with this research including e-mail correspondence with (1) a gentleman who was a senior officer at Heuer (in Switzerland) during the period when this watch would have been made, (2) an individual holding a senior position in Heuer's service department (in the U.S.) during this period, and (3) a world-renowned expert on vintage and modern chronographs, who was fully familiar with the history of the Index Mobile chronographs. All three of these individuals concluded that this Index Mobile chronograph was not authentic, but was some sort of fake.

Information Provided to Antiquorum

I forwarded e-mail messages from two of these experts to a senior official at Antiquorum, and also presented my own conclusion to Antiquorum. I concluded that Lot 39 was a fake, based primarily on the following points:

  • If this Index Mobile had been made by or for Heuer, surely my two sources who were in the company (one an executive in Switzerland and the other in the service department in the United States) would have been aware of the watch; this is simply not the sort of chronograph that these men might have forgotten.
  • The renowned chronograph who we contacted, and who was fully familiar with the history of the Index Mobile chronographs, concluded that this one is a fake.
  • Several articles have been published covering the history of the Index Mobile chronographs, and these articles mention the variety of private label Index Mobile chronographs; none of these articles refers to any Index Mobile chronograph made by or for Heuer.
  • Searching catalogs and other literature from the period, there is no evidence of an Index Mobile ever being offered by Heuer.
  • I had posted images of Lot 39 on discussion forums frequented by individuals who collect vinatge Heuer chronographs, and no participant had ever seen an Index Mobile made by Heuer or sold under it's name; individuals posting messages on these discussion forums have been unanimous in concluding that Lot 39 is a fake.

The Response from Antiquorum

The response from Antiquorum was that Lot 39 was being sold on consignment and had no reserve (so that it could be sold "for a penny"). Accordingly, Anitquorum made the decision to proceed with the auction, though they advised me that they would make an addendum in the catalog and mention the issue at the auction.

The Addendum

Imagine my surprise when, on the morning of November 11 (four days before the auction), I see that there is in fact an addendum to the online catalog listing, with this addendum consisting of the words, "Note: this watch was custom made"

The Questions for Discussion

So tell me, my fellow collectors of the vintage Heuers:

  • is the addendum -- "Note: this watch was custom made" -- an appropriate description of this watch?
  • in light of the information that we have provided to Antiquorum, is it appropriate for the auction house to sell this watch, at all?
  • why are we more likely to see this type of situation (fake watch being sold at auction) with the Heuers, rather than other brands (such as Patek, Rolex or Omega)?

I have attempted to present this narrative and these questions in an objective, unbiased manner, and I will look forward to responses from other collectors.

Additional Information, Please

As always, if anyone can produce any information to support the authenticity of Lot 39, I will be happy to publish this information. I will also be appreciative of additional information about the Index Mobile chronographs. They really are neat pieces; not easily forgotten.

Jeff Stein
November 11, 2008


Update -- Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There was discussion today, on three vintage watch forums, about the authenticity of this watch and the propriety of Antiquorum including it in its auction. The prevailing view: the watch is fake, the phrase "custom made" is ambiguous at best / deceptive at worst, and it is outrageous that Antiquorum allows it to be included in its auction. The minority view: perhaps "custom made" is an appropriate term for the Index Mobile chronographs, as Dubey and Schaldenbrand was actually providing components that could be used by "privateers". My view: a fake is a fake; this watch was not made by or for Heuer, and the name should not be on the dial. I expect that Dubey and Schaldenbrand assembled the genuine watches, whether under their own name or as private label watches; they did not assemble this one for Heuer.

Further Update -- Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Toward the end of the day, I received a further e-mail message from my contact at Antiquorum. He emphasizes that the grading report for Lot 39 had been changed and that a note has been added. He suggests that describing a watch as "custom made" is basically stating that the watch is a fake, and that Antiquorum has made "full disclosure".

OK . . . I will admit it . . . . I had not noticed these notations about the movement (which I have marked in red), but I am still confused about Antiquorum's description of this chronograph. Putting it all together, we are told that this is a "custom made" chronograph that has a "later" / "upgraded" movement. Maybe that is their code for describing a watch that has been assembled by someone (other than the named brand) from the parts bins . . . maybe that Antiquorum's polite way of saying "fake", without offending the person who has consigned the watch for auction. But for most collectors, this watch would not be described as "custom made", and to say that the movement is "later" or "upgraded" in absolute nonsense. This movement is neither later nor upgraded, it is a standard Index Mobile movement, most likely from a 1950's Dubey & Schaldenbrand or Edo chronograph.

"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

"When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

"Oh!" said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll.

Update -- Thursday, November 13, 2008

Today, we received corroboration from two sources that Dubey & Schaldenbrand never made an Index Mobile chronograph for Heuer.

First, Mme. Cinette Robert, President and CEO of Dubey & Schaldenbrand, sent an e-mail confirming that, to her knowledge, Dubey never manufactured any chronograph for Heuer. She suggested that a Heuer dial had been added to an Index Mobile movement to create the watch being sold as Lot 39 (and she seemed amused at the phrase, "custom made").

Second, Joel Pynson, a chronograph enthusiast in France who has written an article detailing the history of the Index Mobile chronographs, sent an e-mail stating that, to his knowledge, the only companies that have produced Index Mobile chronographs were Dubey & Schaldenbrand (some of them under the name Edo), Comor, Berney, Eberhard and Breitling. He also suggested that for a person who had the right parts, it's easy to make an Index Mobile with any Landeron, Valjoux or Venus ebauche. That was the goal of George Dubey, when he created this simple rattrapante in the 1940's.

OK, so let's count up the experts on each side of the question. Those suggesting that this watch is a fake include:

  1. a gentleman who was a senior official at Heuer in Switzerland, during the relevant period
  2. a gentleman who was a senior Heuer watchmaker in the United States during the period
  3. Mme. Cinette Robert, the current President of Dubey & Schaldenbrand, who has been in the watch business throughout all relevant periods
  4. Joel Pynson, who has written extensively about the history of the Index Mobile chronographs, and
  5. one of the world's top experts in the history of chronographs, who also has a couple of the Index Mobile chronographs in his collection.

And then we have Antiquorum suggesting that this is a "custom made" chronograph, with a later, upgraded movement. Maybe the real question here is the following: If a lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia can assemble this information with a little bit of efffort, why doesn't the esteemed auction house look into the history of the pieces that it is selling? Perhaps, in this instance, the more information you assemble, the lower the value of the watch? Or as they say in the U.S. Army, "don't ask, don't tell".

Update -- Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lot 39 sold this afternoon at a "Hammer Price" of 2,600 CHF (Swiss Francs) / $2,190 USD (US Dollars). Applying the buyer's premium (of 20%) and the seller's commission (of 15%), the following table shows the results of this auction:

Swiss Francs
U. S. Dollars

"Hammer" Price

2,600 CHF

2,190 USD

Buyers Premium

520 CHF

438 USD

Total Cost to Buyer

3,120 CHF

2,628 USD

Seller's Commission

390 CHF

329 USD

Net Proceeds to Seller

2,210 CHF

1,861 USD

Premium and Commissions to Antiquorum

910 CHF

767 USD

Looking at a couple of the key numbers in this table, we see that the Buyer will have paid a total of 3,120 CHF / $2,628 USD for his new watch; Antiquorum will have received a total of 910 CHF / $767 USD for its efforts; and the Seller will have received net proceeds of 2,210 CHF / $1,861 USD for his watch.

But Wait, What About the Antiquorum Guarantee Against Fakes?

As we bring this report to a close, perhaps there is one morer question to consider. Antiquorum has a "Guarantee" that protects its buyers against "fakes". Might the buyer of Lot 39 have some recourse against Antiquorum, specifically, the right to return the watch and receive a refund of the purchase price?

Let's work through the terms of the Antiquorum "Guarantee" to see how this question might turn out:

  • The first thing we notice about the Guarantee is that it is a guarantee against "intentional fakes" which have not been "mentioned as such" in the catalog description. So we have two questions, in the very first sentence of the Guarantee. First, what is an "intentional fake"? Second, was the fact that Lot 39 was an intentional fake "mentioned as such" in the catalog listing?
  • The second sentence of the Guarantee provides a definition of "intentional fake" as an imitation made "specially to deceive in respect to the . . . maker of the object". Of course, one problem here is that we don't know exactly why the person who made this watch chose to make it. Does the Guarantee require the disgruntled buyer to produce evidence regarding the state of mind or purpose of the faker? Clearly there is deception in putting a Heuer dial on a watch that was never produced by Heuer. On this point, I would think that the buyer would have a good case to demand a refund of the purchase price. Advantage, Buyer.
  • The next question in our analysis is whether the fake Index Mobile chronograph was "mentioned as such" in the catalog description. Antiquorum might contend that the phrase "custom made" amounts to mentioning that the watch is a "fake", but this argument seems very weak. For the average collector of vintage chronographs, the phrase "custom made" falls short of alerting the prospective buyer that the watch is a fake. Advantage, Buyer.
  • When we read the middle section of the Guarantee, we see that the buyer will have no right to a refund if (a) the catalog description corresponded to the generally held opinion of specialists or experts in the relevant field, or (b) the catalog description indicated a divergence of opinion concerning the object. It would appear that the Buyer would have no trouble at all in prevailing on this point. We produced five experts who concluded that Lot 39 was a fake; Antiquorum offered no specialist or expert to authenticate the watch; clearly, there was no divergence of opinion that this watch is a fake; it was unanimous. Advantage, Buyer.

To be continued



L'Index-Mobile de Dubey et Schaldenbrand (FR) or The Index-Mobile of Dubey and Schaldenbrand (Eng) -- by Joel Pynson

The Index Mobile Rattrapante System from Dubey and Schaldenbrand -- by Thomas M.

Dubey & Schaldenbrand -- An Historical Perspective -- Watches 2007

Dubey & Schaldenbrand Index Mobile Reissue -- by Steve G.

Evolution of the Split Second Chrono -- by Josh