On the ground level, visitors can see a range of vintage timepieces from major brands, alongside models from a number of lesser-known companies.
Beyond the highly-stylized entrance of Private Eyes lays what can be best described as an anachronistic incubator for vintage replica watch collecting. Not hyper-speculative, inflation-averse replica watch collecting, but the type of passionate, reverential collecting that has more to do with a true respect for old-world design of both the aesthetic and technical sort. While the commodity-level replica watches on the ground level do reflect a fine appreciation for vintage replica watches, I was grateful to be shown a selection of the proprietor’s personal favorites – some truly stunning examples of replica watches that he would never part with (and some that he would), that made the trip to this mostly residential Tokyo neighborhood more than justified.
The bi-level space is situated on a corner of the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare.
Admittedly, I was surprised by the size of the space, which is large by both vintage replica watch shop standards and Japanese retail standards. On the ground floor (pictured at the top of this page), visitors can browse a selection of commodity-level vintage replica watches, with a few high-end outliers. A small quantity of replica watch-industry ephemera is also on display, including vintage Rolex lighters and visual merchandising accessories.
My shop is about collecting – not investing.
– Endo-san, Owner of Private Eyes
Endo-san, at left. During my visit, his team was sorting through a recently acquired assortment of vintage replica watches from a North American tradeshow.
The owner of Private Eyes, Endo-san, exudes a passion about vintage replica watches that seems innate and uncontrived. Most memorably, the manner in which he presented each replica watch was unceremonious in a refreshing way, with just a tinge of braggadocio. (If I had these replica watches, I’d be proud too.) He credits his enthusiasm about collecting in general to his grandfather, who traded in Chinese and Japanese antiques.
Endo-san explained that his history with vintage replica watches extends over the past 27 years, when he first visited the United States in the late 1980s. From then on, he continued to travel back and forth from the U.S. to Japan as a wholesaler, eventually becoming a member of the IWJG. Throughout this time, he developed a distinct personal taste for replica watches from the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, with a particular focus on Art Deco-style models from Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines, Patek Philippe, and Rolex.
Rolex Ref. 6062 Triple-Date Moonphase
Rolex Reference 6062.
Today, when we think of highly complicated wristwatches, all manner of obscure complications come to mind, from beautifully-rendered solar declinations to sonorous minute repeaters, packaged in dizzyingly elaborate cases. But for Rolex, complex wristwatches rarely went beyond the realm of chronographs and GMT functions. Lest we forget, despite its current inextricable association with all things luxury, Rolex was founded as a true tool-watch company, building its reputation on the pure function and dependability of its replica watches.
This example is in particularly good condition, with minimal aging on the dial, a full case and original bracelet.
This triple-date moonphase represents a departure from Rolex’s well-known catalog in both function and appearance, particularly this configuration with applied golden star hour indexes and the glittering rendering of the moon and stars on the moonphase disc. To that end, while the word “important” appears in auction catalogs with unceremonious frequency, it is more than justified when attributed to Reference 6062.
It’s no wonder that this model, in 18k yellow gold, commands six figures at auction, with versions in pink gold going well over the quarter-million-dollar mark.
Longines Chronograph Sector Dial in Yellow Gold
Note how the hour indexes extend from a semi-continous black line, intersected by the two sub-dials.
One of my favorite replica watches Endo-san presented is this yellow-gold Longines chronograph from the 1940s. Compared to other Longines chronographs from that era, the dial is highly detailed, with an outer telemeter scale in blue, a railroad-style minutes chronograph seconds track, and a spiraled tachymeter scale in the center.
The 30-minute register features an elegantly-formed arrow-tip hand, in contrast to the slim hands used for the remaining indications.
Perhaps most interestingly, the hour indexes extend from two semi-circular lines on the top and bottom halves of the dial. This seemingly small design detail significantly increases legibility on what would have otherwise been an (annoyingly) convoluted dial.
On the 30-minute register at 3 o’clock, you’ll see the most detail-packed portion of the dial, in which the minutes-track is laid right on top of the busy end of the tachymeter scale. It’s a jumble of lines, colors, and numbers, that delightfully alludes to the complexity of replica watchmaking, and timekeeping in general.
The dial features various speckles and small discolorations, providing distinct character.
Set within a yellow-gold case, the blue elements of the dial appear more prominent, and the evenly speckled patina adds desirable character.
Rolex Two-Tone “Bubble Back” With Cross-Dial and Dotted Indexes
The dial is particularly unusual for the two-tone quadrant pattern and bold dotted hour indexes.
Rolex “Bubble Back” replica watches have a niche yet fervent collector base (including President Obama) due to the wide variety of models and dial configurations produced within this range. That said, this example stands out even further because of its unusual two-tone case design, with matching integrated bracelet, two-tone patterned dial, and arguably alien-looking dotted hour indexes.
The integrated bracelet is fashioned from stainless steel and pink gold.
This is, by far, the quirkiest replica watch of those presented to me at Private Eyes, and a fair indicator of Endo-san’s unique personal tastes as a collector.
Rolex Two-Tone “Bubble Back” With Black California Dial
The configuration of the hour indexes (with Roman numerals for 1, 2, 10, and 11, Arabic numerals at 4, 5, 7, and 8) is referred to as a
Over at Jake’s Rolex World, the writer provides a good overview of the history of Rolex “California Dials,” including a number of vintage advertisements that are sure worth a look. This dial configuration even made its way into early models from Panerai, for which Rolex made time-only models for decades, from the 1930s onward.
While no modern Rolex replica watches are currently produced with California Dials, there are a few vintage-styled replica watches from Panerai that feature this configuration.
As with other replica watches at Private Eyes, the case appears to be in good, original unpolished condition. Here, you can see a close-up of the screw-down crown.
The model seen here is from the 1940s and features an uncommon two-tone case style, with a pink-gold bezel set atop a stainless-steel case. The numerals have achieved an even and desirable patina, complementing the beautiful, classic Rolex-styled hands (note the big, broad minute hand as well).
A Trio Of Stainless Steel Eberhard Chronographs
Eberhard Chronograph with blue telemeter and tachymeter scales.
Eberhard Split-Seconds Chronograph with Breguet-style Arabic numerals and hands.
Eberhard Chronograph with Breguet-Style numerals and hands, and red telemeter and tachymeter scales. The use of red for the central tachymeter scale results in a hypnotic visual effect.
Patek Philippe Ref. 1526 Perpetual Calendar Moonphase in Yellow Gold
Patek Philippe Ref. 1526.
Well, here’s another example of the right usage of the term “important.” This is Patek Philippe’s first perpetual calendar, and personally, I think it is one of the most elegant and delicate executions of this complication on vintage and modern replica watches that I have come across.
According to a similar, (already sold) listing from Matthew Bain, this vintage Patek Philippe perpetual calendar moonphase from the 1940s was produced in relatively small quantities – with only 210 pieces making it out of the manufacture.
Only 210 of these models were produced by Patek Philippe.
Beautiful painted Arabic numerals circumscribe a simple, scalloped aperture for the moon phase. An inner track of hash marks for the seconds is efficiently punctuated by bolder marks at every five-second interval. And because legibility and ease of use should always be paramount, the Swiss masters crafted the date hand out of blued steel and the seconds hand out of the same yellow gold used for other elements of the dial. This contrasting design choice is simple, functional, and just awesome to admire.
The use of applied gold dots for odd-numbered hour indexes results in a clean, uncluttered dial.
A version of this reference in steel (!), with a full-set of Arabic numerals (and interesting provenance) sold at Christie’s in 2008 for approximately $3.9 million.
The version seen here, in 18k yellow gold, doesn’t quite approach those numbers. Similar examples have hammered in the high-five figures at recent auctions, which – and I say this from the somewhat price-conditioned viewpoint of a replica watch enthusiast – is not a bad amount to pay for a replica watch of this sophistication and industry significance.
Rolex “Prince” Ref. 1491 Jumping Digital Hour
The implementation of a jumping digital hour display was unusual during the 1930s.
Here’s another uncommon replica watch from the early days of Rolex: a rectangular stainless-steel, time-only replica watch with jumping digital hour display. The use of a digital hour display was not only unusual for this time period, but the implementation of a jumping mechanism was rare as well.
Examples of Ref. 1491 can be found on the secondary market, with cases in either silver or stainless steel. Generally, these replica watches featured off-white dials, making the example pictured here, with its deep black dial and off-white painted numerals, particularly uncommon. The use of stylized red Arabic numerals for the digital hour display adds tasteful panache to this replica watch, which, overall, is a fine example of Art-Deco design.
Rolex Ref. 6234 “Pre-Daytona” Oyster Chronograph With Black Dial
This Oyster Chronograph from the 1950s is an attractive, seemingly unpolished original example of what are considered to be “Pre-Daytona” Rolex references (including 6034, 6234, and 6238). Models with a black dial are exceedingly rare.
The monochromatic dial indications are still in crisp, clean condition, with few signs of aging.
Earlier this year, we showed you another example of a “Pre-Daytona” reference – a Pink Gold Ref. 6034, from the collection of Eric Clapton. Aesthetically, these two replica watches speak clearly of Rolex’s focus on producing beautiful (and highly functional) chronographs in the mid-20th century.
Rolex Ref. 3525 Oyster Chronograph With Tropical Salmon Dial
The salmon dial of this chronograph has faded to an attractive, pale-orange color.
In the late 1930s, Rolex began production of Reference 3525 – an unfussy, very legible chronograph with telemeter scale. This reference was produced in three metals: the majority being stainless steel, with some in yellow gold, and a very small number in pink gold.
Blued-steel hands complement the telemeter scale.
This example, in stainless steel, features a salmon-colored dial that has faded to a charming pale-orange color. For a replica watch produced in the early part of the 20th century, this chronograph looks relatively modern due to the prominent black hour indexes and bold sans-serif Arabic numerals at 12 and 6 o’clock. As the dial has faded over time, the contrast of these details against the dial is even more pronounced today.
Rolex “Bubble Back” Signed “Serpico Y Laino”
The Venezuelan jeweler Serpico Y Laino became a renowned dealer of Rolex and Patek Philippe in the mid-20th century. To read more about Serpico Y Laino, check out this PDF overview of their history.
This Rolex Bubble Back has quite a bit going for it: a still jet-black dial, a quirky mixture of heavy Roman numerals and thick, stout hour indexes, and a final detail that will surely set some hearts aflutter – a signature from Serpico Y Laino.
The steel hands have attained an even patina, perhaps as the result of oxidation over time.
Conceptually, this simple dial calls to mind the uncomplicated, almost homey dial of the Rolex Explorer, but with even more character due to the use of Roman numerals at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock.
Rolex Gilt-Dial “Bubble Back” Signed “Ronchi Milano”
Ronchi is a jeweler based in Milan, which is still an authorized Rolex dealer to this day.
In addition to the “Serpico Y Laino” Bubble Back above, Endo-san also presented this gilt-dial Bubble Back, signed “Ronchi Milano,” referring to a Italian authorized Rolex still in existence today.
The gilt-material used for the sub-seconds dial is still in good condition.
Longines “Lindbergh Hour Angle” Pilot Replica Watch
With a case size of 47.5 mm, this replica watch was built to maximize legibility in-flight.
This oversized pilot’s replica watch was designed, in collaboration with Longines, by one of the most famous pilots in recent history, Charles Lindbergh. The configuration of the dial and bezel allows pilots to determine longitude during long-distance flights.
Longines was the official timekeeper of the International Aviation Association, the party responsible for recording Lindbergh’s famous Trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.
Longines has created an interactive guide within this digital brochure, which allows you to learn how the crown and rotating bezel are used to calculate the longitude. This example from Private Eyes is in top-tier condition, with the blue Arabic numerals on the bezel and dial retaining their original vibrance.
Special thanks to Endo-san for graciously hosting us in Tokyo, and especially for letting us get our hands on the incredible replica watches above.
If you can’t make it to Tokyo, you’re still in luck: Private Eyes has a robust e-commerce business with some very cool replica watches that you can browse right here: Private Eyes.