Up Close With Rare High Jewellery Watches From Donald E. Gruenberg

If recent runways are any indication, the 1960s and 70s are back with a vengeance. Groovy period fashion has obvious contemporary relevance, but anyone looking for style inspiration should feast their eyes these ultra-rare, high-jewellery timepieces designed in the same era. Watch brands like Piaget, Omega, and Patek Philippe commissioned renowned jewellery designers like Gilbert Albert and Andrew Grima, often producing special one-of-a-kind timepieces.

Vintage watch dealer Justin Gruenberg, whose site The Keystone is a destination for collectors, keeps a sharp lookout for these rare pieces at his father’s eponymous Beverly Hills boutique, Donald E. Gruenberg. Discovering a few of the Gruenberg’s unique treasures on 1stdibs led us to even more buried treasure.

We spoke to Justin about his unique and very personal collection.

What attracted you to watches from this unique period? Do you have a favourite?

“Many of these pieces were wild in their designs, totally sculptural, artistic, and decorative. My interest, in particular, is in ‘jewelry watches.’ Their designs often overpower or supersede their functionality.”

“As a dealer of watches, I can’t get attached to too many pieces. I have one highly geometrical Chopard retailed by Kutchinsky that I just can’t sell. I bought this piece around six years ago at the Miami Beach Antique show. At the time, I paid a price that my father thought was outrageously high. In retrospect, I got a pretty fair deal on a truly one-of-a-kind piece. I would’ve paid double that price. I think when I like something I have trouble holding back!

Any interesting anecdotes about any of the watches? 

“I one time flew to Japan to buy a Piaget necklace, watch, earrings, and ring set. I heard it was coming up for sale at a local auction in a small town in the south of Japan. A friend in Tokyo notified me of this. I hopped on a plane a few days later and met up with him to buy the set. Luckily, I was the highest bidder. I absolutely love this set and have never offered it for sale. Maybe keeping it allows me to be constantly reminded of the story of acquiring it. Finding these pieces for me is mostly about the hunt. I am addicted to searching things out. Often after I buy them, I am onto the next one.”

Do you think there is a resurgence in interest in jewelry and watches from this period?

“Of course. I think jewellery and watches from this era are becoming increasingly more collectible and valuable. They are nostalgic to people that grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. To us younger folks, they represent a time in history when jewellery and watches were funkier often having bright colours and hand-finished gold work. After this period, the jewellery and watch industry expanded greatly, which created a much greater market for items, however, we saw such an influx of poor quality and mass-produced items. I believe that the 1960s and 1970s pieces will become increasingly more collectible as people want something is more unique and rare.”

Any current watches that you love that might be considered the modern day equivalent of these pieces?

“That is a very interesting question. For me, it is hard to find modern pieces that bring the same joy as the vintage counterparts. It is difficult to find ‘a hand’ in the current made pieces. They often feel mass-produced as the gem work is often machine-set and the finishing does not have the same feeling. This is not to say there are no great designs that currently being made. Piaget still makes incredible art pieces, and so does Cartier.”

From: Town and Country

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