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EVERY TRUE COLLECTOR'S FANTASY
by GARY GEORGE

It is every true collector's dream, A long-forgotten safety deposit box key. A safety deposit sign in slip with years and years of accumulated dust. The adrenaline-pumping moments as the guards carry the boxes to the private room for your inspection. The door closes. You are alone with the steel boxes. Opening the first lid, you find hundreds of examples of your collecting passion. Old examples. But exactly as they came from the factory the day they were made. In the factory delivery boxes, Never opened, Never used. pristine. Imagine the thrill.

Ron Geweniger can. He experienced it in late-May when he acquired the entire inventory of "new old-stock" Breitlings from the estate of Joseph item of Zurich who first uncovered them in 1996. These are Breitlings that date from before August 1979 when the almost 100-year old Breitling firm was closed after Willy Breitling's death earlier that year. That was at a time, as you will no doubt recall, when the market for mechanical Swiss watches was moribund due to the advent of low-priced watches from the Far East, a price war, the inflated Swiss Franc, and the enthusiasm for electronic watches. Voluntarily closing the firm prevented a public auction of the remaining property. Rather than disposing of them for a pittance, the watches were stored away in a vault. And there they stayed for 17 years, outlasting the mania for quartz movements and enduring until an appreciation for quality mechanical chronographic movements was resurrected.

"It's like finding hundreds of completely untrod-upon 19th century persian rugs", said Geweniger "or an armory full of Civil War Confederate Officer's sabers and scabbards still in their original packaging. Completely unlikely and almost certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me." As might be expected with a "fresh from the factory" item, each watch comes with the original factory sticker on the back with the original retail selling price on it.

The impact of this find on collectors has been predictable. One bought one of each kind. Another bought two to put away as presents for the time when his young sons reach maturity. To make them more accessible to the world-wide community of watch collectors Geweniger has posted a complete catalog of the available inventory on his two Web sites: www.oldworldjewelers.com and www.ewatchshow.com. He has also kept the watches in their original condition, unopened and unserviced since the day they were made. He recommends that those who intend to wear their watch should have it serviced first, as the passage of so any years may have caused the lubricating oils to evaporate.

According to Geweniger, Breitlings are watches with a purpose. Telling the time with impressive accuracy is just the starting point for most of them. Probably the best known is the "Navitimer", introduced in 1952 and designed to meet the needs of flying enthusiasts, racing fans, and sports people of all varieties. It could be used to make all the necessary calculations for a rally or a flight; a true navigational instrument for the wrist. When it was updated in 1962 to include a 24-hour dial, it was named the "Cosmonaute" and was worn by Lt. Commander Scott Carpenter during NASA'S Mercury program. (There are a limited number Cosmonautes in this collection.)

In 1969 the Breitling firm participated in the joint development of an "automatic chronograph" a mechanical chronograph with automatic winding The watch, a sensation for the Swiss watch industry, became known as the "Chronomat." As part of the "Chronomat-Chrono-Matic" series, some 300,000 were produced including a variant automatic model for sailors known as the "Super Ocean."

"Where would runners be," queried Geweniger, "without the ground-breaking innovation by Breitling of a light-weight watch made of a composite of high-strength polymers and carbon fiber and finished with a stainless steel bezel and engraved scale to time heart rates? Introduced in the late '60s, it was named "Sprint," naturally."

All these and ore- "Trans-Oceans," "Datoras," "Referee's watches," "Long playings," pupitres," and dozens of Breitling stop watches of all descriptions- were in the Swiss vaults, keeping measure of the time until their time would come again. And now, thanks to the foresight of Willy Breitling and the luck of Joseph Iten and Ron Geweniger, it has.

Among the world-wide network of collectors with whom Geweniger regularly deals is what he refers to as the "CEO Club," whose members tend to be chief executive officers of major corporations. He will conduct searches for particularly rare and elusive models and will go to auctions on behalf of a collector to inspect particular lots and bid for them. Recently he acquired and sold a Rolex "Star Dial" Automatic Moonphase wristwatch, ca. 1950 and one of only 350 produced, to one of his "CEO Club" members. Some of his collectors, though, have only modest sums to spend each year, For them he suggests that instead of spending their entire budget on a single watch they buy a number of vintage watches in a more modest price range (by the way, over half the Breitlings in this collection are less than $2,000). That way they have a chance to expand their collections and keep their interest active. For those with more to invest, he entices them with his constantly changing offerings that with this collection of Breitlings include such rarities as highly unusual versions of Chronomatic Breitlings. He believes he has the best selection of "crisp" vintage wrist-watches in the Chicago area; and should a collector be interested in seeing antique Swiss pocket watches as well, his selection is equally deep.

Old World Jewelers does a considerable amount of its business daily over its toll-free telephone line and lnternet Web site. The showroom is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and the occasional Saturday when Geweniger is not attending one of the ore than 15 antique jewelry and vintage watch "Marts" around the country each year. (If you are visiting Chicago, it would be prudent to call ahead to make an appointment to visit Old World Jewelers.) In 1991 he organized an auction of some 200 fine antique and vintage pocket and wrist watches featuring the magnificent private collection of Chicago based watchmaker paul Kist, which attracted collectors world-wide Geweniger is a member of thc National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, International Watch and Jewelry Guild, Gemological Institute of America Alumni Association, and Jewelers Security Alliance.