At Quintet Private Bank, we believe that living richly transcends wealth and materialism – and that goes for possessions too. Of course, cherished objects have a monetary value, but more than that, they are often imbued with emotion, a sense of history and a feeling of pure enjoyment. They are a way of connecting, whether to our own memories or shared experiences. Which is why it’s so important to protect them and keep them safe. Here, we speak to four individuals whose very different jobs all have one thing in common: looking after fascinating possessions.
‘I felt added responsibility for this watch because it was held so dearly by the family. And it was all the more special because the owner didn’t realise how much it was worth.’
Watch specialist, Sothebys
‘In 2018 I sold a very special watch: a 1969 Rolex Daytona. When it was released, it wasn’t very popular because it was one of the sportier chronograph watches and not on a par with the 1960s aesthetic. The client was bought this watch by his wife in 1975. The couple had been burgled and she had lost her engagement ring, so they went to replace it, and at the same time, she wanted to buy him a new watch. The fact that the Rolex Daytona was still in stock six years after it was made goes to show that it wasn’t selling. In fact, such was the difficulty Rolex faced that they had designed ‘the exotic dial’ – which this watch had – to boost its popularity but this proved even more of a flop. The couple bought the watch for £134 (approx £1000 in 2018) and received a £1 note in change.
The owner wore it all his life: he slept in it, showered in it and cherished it. He was an engineer by trade, so he used it when he was on a train to calculate the speed it was going, timing the distance between the milestones on the side of the track. It was a very personal piece. Then in late 1970s, it became known that the actor Paul Newman owned a Rolex Daytona, and he was pictured wearing it in films and magazines; by the 1980s the watch had gathered a cult following and prices skyrocketed for this particular dial (Rolex had made relatively few of them). The other interesting thing about this dial is that some of them had paint defects so over time, areas that were black turned to brown.
In 2017, when the owner was in his 90s, he went into a jeweller who pointed out that his watch could be quite special. His grandson sent me some photos of the watch and they were mind blowing. One of the factors that made the watch special is that it was still in the hands of the original owner, so it was unknown to the market. It was also in fantastic condition: he had kept the box, the paperwork and the original receipt because it meant so much to him. The grandson bought the watch in and said that they he had been told that it might be worth five figures. I thought it was worth between 200-400,000 Swiss francs. It was one of those watches where the potential of the piece is so great that the first thing one looks for isn’t what’s right but what’s wrong. I did more research and it turned out that it was exactly what we thought it to be – perfectly original. In 2018, it sold for 951,000 Swiss francs.
I felt added responsibility for this watch because it was held so dearly by the family. And it was all the more special because the owner didn’t realise how much it was worth. Being part of that story alone provides you with a certain weight of responsibility, but then there’s also being part of the watch’s story – being bought inadvertently for a minimal sum, then the model becoming an icon and one of the most important watches ever made. Purely as an object it’s an incredibly important thing, which deserves a certain amount of respect and that comes in the form of responsibility of making sure that the right people know about it and see it. The telling of its story needed to be as accurate as possible. For a collector, this particular watch is the holy grail because it’s one of the best examples of the model that will exist, and it will probably never appear on the market again.’
Photo: World Rugby/Getty Images
‘The unity and sportsmanship seen in rugby is what makes it so special and enriching - the trophy is the pinnacle of that teamwork and dedication.’
Photo: World Rugby/Getty Images
Founder and event director, Barnstorm Global
‘In the run up to the Rugby World Cup 2019, I was commissioned by World Rugby to organise an international Trophy Tour, visiting 20 countries over 18 months. The purpose was to excite the next generation of fans and players and tell the world about rugby, so we went all over – schools, rugby clubs, television studios, places of interest – as well as met prime ministers, presidents and kings.
For those 18 months, I carried the Webb Ellis Cup with me the whole time – a bit like a baby. Made in 1906 by Garrards in London, it is sterling silver, gilded in gold, and based on a Huguenot design from 1740. Before the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, the tournament directors realised they needed a prize, so they went to look in the vault at Garrards and selected this cup. It was engraved and has been presented to the winners of the Rugby World Cup ever since. What was really nice about doing the Trophy Tour is that no one is ever disappointed to see you when you arrive with something so shiny and exciting. When we went to South Africa for instance, the people we met couldn’t get their head around the fact that they were standing next to the trophy that Nelson Mandela held and presented to Francois Pienaar when he led the team to victory in 1995. It’s more than a trophy; it’s a moment of history.
Looking after the trophy during the tour was a massive responsibility but more than that, it was an honour to be entrusted with it. Iconic trophies like this are great in museums but what’s amazing about what I do is the opportunity to take it to people. They may not have been able to get a ticket for the world cup or travel to Japan where it was held, but this is their once in a lifetime opportunity to see it up close in their school or rugby club, and it was a privilege to be part of that. One of the best things about rugby is that the sport has such a strong value system; there’s a real sense of working together and being part of something bigger. The unity and sportsmanship seen in rugby is what makes it so special and enriching - the trophy is the pinnacle of that teamwork and dedication.’
‘What I love is that even though the boards themselves have such strict geometric confines, it’s like delving into someone’s personal biography.’
Luxury board games designer
‘During the first lockdown it felt very symbolic to be commissioned by British distillery The Last Drop to design a backgammon board based around travel and adventure. All of my bespoke commissions are so diverse – currently I’m making a backgammon board for someone who loves hippos, another one based on someone’s travels in Africa and a third for an Australian rugby player – but what I love is that even though the boards themselves have such strict geometric confines, it’s like delving into someone’s personal biography.
The Last Drop scours the world for forgotten casks of extraordinary bourbon, Scotch whisky, rum and cognac which they bottle and sell in low numbers. The brief was based around discovery, so I used different types of oak and the ancient technique of marquetry to create contours that illustrate the journey of the spirits. Other details include plants (sugar cane for rum, corn for bourbon, barley for Scotch whisky, grapes for cognac), compasses, a decanter and glassware by Richard Brendon, and silhouettes of the two founders, Tom Jago and James Espey. They wanted a board that tells the story of their business at a glance, which engages people and creates conversation.
There’s always a collaborative aspect to designing a board. It can be a daunting prospect to understand what a client wants and translate it, but I relish that responsibility. Each one is touched by at least nine UK workshops (one company makes the box, another makes the leather pieces et al) so the highest level of care and detail goes into it. The best part of my job is when people see the finished backgammon board for the first time. Although they have approved the design, they don’t know how it’s going to look and feel in the flesh. They are always so taken aback by the skill involved, especially for marquetry, so it’s a big moment and very rewarding for me. I feel so invested in each board; often games live in a cupboard, but these are beautiful objects designed to enrich the owner’s life by being kept out on display and played on for generations to come.’
‘We are the result of history. Exhibitions like this are enriching and open the mind.’
Prof. Dr. Friederike Seyfried
Dr Friederike Seyfried
Director of the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection at the Neues Museum, Berlin
‘In 2012 I curated the “In the light of Amarna – 100 years of the Nefertiti discovery” which marked the 100th anniversary of finding the bust of Nefertiti. This exhibition was a milestone for me personally because it was the first time the museum had an exhibition that was purely archaeological and focused on the Amarna expedition, led by excavator Ludwig Borchardt in the early 20th century. It featured more than 1300 objects dating between 1351 and 1334 BC; many came from our storage, but we also had loans from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London.
What was so important for me was that these objects ranged from small, everyday household items, to pieces related to the royal family, so it was a complete overview of the time. Usually, tiny objects aren’t given so much importance in an exhibition; visitors expect gold and treasures, and of course that was there as well, but I wanted to show the lives of ordinary ancient Egyptians. Some of the objects – such as simple wooden levelling tools – had new interpretations that had never been discussed before, so it almost felt like a new excavation, which for an archaeologist was fantastic. One of the highlights, now in the permanent collection, was the bust of King Akhenaten, Nefertiti’s husband. Previously the bust of the king hadn’t been on display for five years and we did a careful conservation.
Everybody knows that our own society is dependent on the past; we are the result of history. Exhibitions like this are enriching and open the mind. By taking a contemporary look at objects that are more than 4000 years old, we realise that not much has really changed. Of course, it’s my job to respect these artefacts and take care of them to ensure that they are kept in the right conditions but as I get older, I also have more and more admiration for these old cultures.
Last October there was some vandalism on Museum Island where someone spread an oily liquid on seemingly random objects in five museums including the Egyptian Museum and the Old National Gallery. As a director of a museum, I felt violated, like someone was striking me in the face and there was nothing I could do. It is our duty to allow visitors into museums so they can have direct contact with objects. Some pieces such as painted figures and reliefs you can keep behind glass and in showcases but for others, such as huge Egyptian sarcophagi, it’s not possible. The majority of visitors respect history so this vandalism left us speechless.
Luckily, our conservationists were able to remove the liquid completely and now the objects are pretty perfect so we are relived but there is no answer as to why anyone would do such a thing. The responsibility of looking after artefacts is huge and we do everything we can to protect them, but on the other hand museums must be a place for interaction, for a kind of conversation between visitors and objects. We want people to be able to go as near as possible to the objects and the majority are thankful for this.’