Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice

    Description

    Rolex, The Julian Nott Collection Ref. 1655 Explorer II, Issued and Used During 1974 Record Breaking Elevation of 45,836 ft. in Bhopal India, Circa 1972
    Case: 40 mm, stainless steel, three body case with screw down caseback, 3097628
    Dial: matte black with painted tritium hour markers, white luminous baton hands
    Movement: Rolex Cal. 1570, self-winding, rhodium finished, 26 jewels, Chronometer
    Band: Rolex signed stainless steel bracelet with flip lock clasp
    Signed: Rolex on case, dial, movement

    BHOPAL, INDIA. REF. 1655 EXPLORER II
    Imagine the Indian subcontinent as the dial of a clock, with the Himalayan mountain range at twelve, the peninsula's southern tip at six, and the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea at three and nine respectively, and you'll find the fertile plains of Madhya Pradesh where the spinning hands are anchored. Nott selected this central Indian location as the site for a January 1974 attempt to break his own ballooning altitude record of 35,971 feet for its famously calm skies and for the vast, empty expanses of its borderlands that could allow for a successful touch-down at the flight's conclusion.

    The attempt had been years in the making, that time spent buried in mathematical formulae and rigorous testing of the various heating mechanisms to fuel the ascent, and safety equipment to support human life within those frigid and oxygen-free heights. At a volume of 375,000 cubic feet, the Daffodil II was the largest balloon ever constructed, dangling beneath it a pressurized tub-shaped gondola of carbon fiber honeycomb panels with pressure valves to counteract the constantly changing atmospheric conditions.

    After a particularly terrifying trial run that necessitated a 2000 ft/minute rapid descent from massive turbulence at 30,000 feet, Nott steadied his nerves for his assault on the record, rising to over 45,000 feet with copilot Felix Pole-eight and a half miles above the Earth. Tragedy was narrowly averted as an unforeseen drainage of liquid propane coated the gondola in the sub-zero heights when the burner was turned off to slow the ascent. But a successful reignition at 10,000 feet ended fears of incineration and the craft landed gently one hundred miles from its launch pad.

    Both literally and figuratively, this record-breaking voyage carried the daring young Englishman to new heights, aided in part by a multi-national print campaign by Rolex which touted the indestructibility of both Nott and the Rolex Explorer II he wore on the journey. "Thanks to Julian Nott and Felix Pole," the advertising boasted, "the Rolex Oyster is now guaranteed to float to 45,000 feet."

    While the watch brand reveled in Nott's success, the man himself remained characteristically humble, writing in a July 1976 letter to Rolex that he was flattered by, but unworthy of, the suggestion he belonged in the same class of contemporary Rolex endorsers as violinist Yehudi Menuhin, author Frederick Forsyth or Hall of Fame golfer Arnold Palmer. That letter, included within the folder of accompanying documentation which will be available for viewing in its entirety at our online listing, concludes with a request to have this watch cleaned at London's Green Street center for Rolex servicing after two and a half years of eventful wear.


    The Julian Nott Collection

    A month before Neil Armstrong placed the first human footprint into the powder coating of the Moon, another leading pioneer of aviation was just beginning his own romance with the skies, chartering a hot air balloon ride to impress a young lady who had struck his fancy. Mesmerized by the peaceful silence and scenic views of that inaugural flight in June 1969, Julian Nott realized he had found true love--not in the comely companion who shared his wicker basket, but in the gentle nullification of gravity and the scientific principles that made it possible.

    For the next half century, there would be no greater name in the field of ballooning than Julian Nott, who would compile a collection of nearly eighty world records in his dangerous profession, innovating pressurized cabins and solar heating mechanisms to soar to unprecedented altitudes and historic crossings of the Sahara Desert and the Australian continent. Sadly, Nott's long and beautiful dance with death would come to its conclusion in March of this year, a crash landing on a mountainside in Warner Springs, California. He was seventy-four years old.

    Biographical accounts have tended to stress the physical bravery of the world's aeronautical pioneers--from Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight to Sikorsky's treacherous early experiments with helicopters to the various Apollo missions--and certainly Nott was always fully cognizant of the possibility that his life might end in the manner that it did. But Nott was first and foremost a man of science, a highly skilled and innovative engineer whose contributions to the advancement of high-altitude travel lives on in the machinery he invented. His immortality in the field has long been assured by a voluminous folder of patents.

    Was it his daring or his intellect that brought him to the attention of horology's most celebrated commercial brand? The answer is almost certainly both. In retrospect, the partnership between Rolex and Julian Nott seems a match made in heaven--each dedicated to precision engineering and elite achievement in fields an unsentimental type might consider obsolete in an age of jet planes and cell phones tethered to atomic clocks. There is an inherent pragmatism in any form of science or engineering, but both the man and the brand have been fueled by a passion that transcends the practical.

    The clientele of Heritage Auctions is intimately familiar with this form of passion, and any serious collector of the Rolex brand will understand the enormous significance of the wristwatches that populate The Julian Nott Collection we proudly offer in the pages that follow, and the long tradition they represent. Rolex famously equipped Mercedes Gleitze with a newly-innovated Rolex Oyster in 1927 for her ten-hour swim across the English Channel to showcase its waterproof case. In 1953, Mount Everest was conquered for the first time by a British climbing team equipped with another version of that classic Rolex format. Julian Nott served as the perfect heir to that tradition of intrepid visionaries of the Rolex family, appearing in an array of print ads in the 1980's commissioned by Madison Avenue executives anxious to continue the branding of its watches as favored by the world's most accomplished and compelling pioneers.

    The wristwatches that comprise The Julian Nott Collection are the very ones issued to the renowned balloonist by Rolex during the period of Nott's endorsement, worn on some of his most important and treacherous flights. As such, there is no hyperbole in characterizing these examples to be among the most significant Rolex wristwatches ever to appear upon the auction block. Many have theorized that Nott himself was involved in some design aspects thereof, but the answer to that question will surely remain unspoken by the luxury brand's famously tight-lipped public face.

    But this much is certain--for the most sophisticated collectors of post-war horology, these personal keepsakes of the valiant aviator represent the pinnacle of Rolex intrigue. These are wristwatches that will fascinate and inspire their new owners, and, as such, serve as the perfect remembrance of the man who wore them with bravery and distinction in representation of the legendary Swiss makers.


    Condition Report*: Type: Rolex, The Julian Nott Collection Ref. 1655 Explorer II, Issued and Used During 1974 Record Breaking Elevation of 45,836 ft in Bhopal India, Circa 1972
    Signed: Rolex on case, dial, movement
    Model: Ref. 1655
    Dial: matte black with painted tritum hour markers
    Hands: white luminous baton hands
    Metal: stainless steel
    Case: #3097628
    Case Info: three body case with screw down caseback
    Case Width: 40 mm
    Crystal: acrylic
    Watch Movement: Rolex Cal. 1570, self-winding, rhodium finished, 26 jewels, Chronometer
    Band: Rolex signed stainless steel bracelet with flip lock clasp
    Circa: 1972
    *Heritage Auctions strongly encourages in-person inspection of items by the bidder. Statements by Heritage regarding the condition of objects are for guidance only and should not be relied upon as statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty, or assumption of liability by Heritage. All lots offered are sold "AS IS".

    Auction Info

    Proxy Bidding Ends
    December
    10th Tuesday 9:50 am CT
    Auction Dates
    December
    10th Tuesday
    Proxy Bidding Time Remaining
    1 Day 4h 4m 20s
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 10
    Lot Tracking Activity: 73
    Page Views: 2,352

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $300,000 (minimum $49), plus 20% of any amount between $300,000 and $3,000,000, plus 12.5% of any amount over $3,000,000 per lot.

    This lot is in: 1 - Signature® Floor Session (Live Floor, Live Phone, Mail, Fax, Internet, and Heritage Live):
    (Lots 54001-54199) - 10:00 AM Central Time, Tuesday, December 10, 2019 (11:00 AM Eastern Time).
    (Proxy bidding ends ten minutes prior to the session start time. Live Proxy bidding on Heritage Live starts 24 hours before the live session begins and continues through the session.)

    Show All Session Information

    Show Auction Type Info

    Exhibition Viewing Times, Title Page, Floor Session and License Information

    Additional Location Info:

    The Langham New York, Fifth Avenue
    400 Fifth Avenue
    New York, NY 10018

    Current Bid:
    $20,000
    Bid Protection
    w/ Buyer's Premium (BP) : $25,000.00 Minimum Next Bid: $21,000 ($26,250.00 w/ BP)
    Track Item