First book ever published on” Russian” Presentation Watches


[Review published in the December 2011 issue of
ANTIQUARIAN HOROLOGY
The Journal of the Antiquarian Horological Society, the leading British organisation of horological enthusiasts



Graciously bestowed…, The Gift, Presentation and Prize Watches of the Russian Empire, Book 1. By Mazyarkin Gennadyi and Valdimir Yudkevich. Published 2011, Moscow (Russia) by the Authors. ISBN 978 5 8493 0073 3, 28 cm high x 21 cm wide, 112 pages, text in Russian (Cyrillic alphabet). Copiously illustrated with hundreds of large, larger than life size, mostly color, photographs of watches (case, dials, engravings, presentation boxes, as well as often also images of the honorees and recipients; very few movement images ). Bibliography. Available from the authors through osipovvu@gmail.com

Collecting high grade, gold or silver cased pocket watches of the late 19th and early 20th century bestows all the same pleasures of collecting historic timekeepers of any type and era, such as enjoying their beauty and craftsmanship as well as investigating their technical features and innovations. But often there is an added element because such watches were so often given as an award, a prize or a gift for a specific achievement, usually commemorated through an appropriate engraved text on the case back (or under the outer dust cover). Such inscriptions turn even relatively un-rare products into unique keepsakes.

There are various types of presentation watches, rangeing from personal/family gifts (often wedding gifts), through professional recognition (retirement or 40 years of service), to athletic prizes (with Swiss rifelery prize watches (“Schuetzenuhren”) being an especially large and visible subcategory. But the peak of this special area of horological collecting is held by the official “Presentation” watches bestowed by the government (or Royalty) for special services. This is a corner of horological collecting and horological history which has been covered by only precious few publications. A notable exception is the catalog which the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, Switzerland published in 2005 for its special temporary exhibit ‘Timepieces for Royalty, 1850-1910’ (by Arnault Tellier et al, ISBN: 2 8399 0113 7). Other references to presentation watches can often also be found scattered throughout auction catalogues of high grade pocket watches.
But now another title in this area has just been released, and it deals with a nearly as exclusive subset as Patek Philippe Royal presentation watches: The presentation watches bestowed by the Russian imperial family, the Romanow’s, on their subjects. It is part of a planned set of three books dealing with Russian presentatian watches. The first volume (reviewed here) deals with Imperial Romanow presentation watches only, the second volume (due in a few months) will document presentation watches by the Imperial Russian Armed Forces, and book three (expected in 2012) will deal with presentation watches originating from a variety of Russian Imperial Ministries.

With the breakup of the former Soviet Union, and the reemergence of a class of consumers with substantial disposable income, in Russia there has lately been a resurgence of interest in both historic artifacts and in luxury goods in Russia, and these three unusual horological books are part of that trend. For us non Russians unfortunately the text is all printed only in Cyrillic lettering, making it difficult to understand much of the information presented (although access to Google translate does provide a general idea of what is said).
However the book is richly illustrated with countless superb, large color photographs, and most watches are presented in nearly twice natural size, making it easy to appreciate the often unique decorations or engravings. Very often a one-of-a-kind presentation box is also illustrated, and often there are images and other information on the honoree. There is much horological ‘eye candy’ for the reader who does not understand the Cyrillic alphabet.

It appears that the current interest in these objects in Russia is driven more by an interest in history, or objects of vertu, rather than a specific horological interest, because there are very few watch movements shown. And many watches are unbranded, or labeled by a reseller.

While this reviewer has no personal interest in Russian presentation watches it is exciting and most gratifying to see the emergence of a new class of horological scholars, authors and publishers in a part of the world that appeared mostly blank to this global horological bibliographer.

Fortunat F. Mueller-Maerki, Sussex New Jersey (USA)