The Mysterious Rolex Zerograph Chronograph

by Ross Povey - May 17 2016

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We all expected the Rolex Zerograph that was in the ‘Start Stop Reset’ auction at Phillips to do well and we weren’t disappointed by how it performed on the day, realizing almost 390,000 CHF! I picked it as one of my highlights from the sale as it has always been a watch that has fascinated me as an unusual and rather quirky piece of the vintage Rolex jigsaw.

 

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The Phillips ‘Start Stop Reset’ Zerograph

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The ‘Rolex Oyster’ winding crown and mono pusher

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The rear of the watch with crisp engraving

Two Names, One Watch

The watches first appeared in 1937 (according to the serial numbers of watches of known examples) and were based on the bubbleback watchcase, measuring approximately 32mm across. They were in fact produced under two names –Zerograph and Centregraph and both names seemed to be interchangeable. The general rule seems to be that the Zerograph, was given the reference number 3364 and the Centregraph reference number 3462 although this isn’t an exact science as I’ve found examples where the opposite is true!

The most well known example is the aforementioned Zerograph, that Phillips sold last weekend. Interestingly, the same watch was sold by Aurel Bacs at his previous auction house Christies in 2013. With its ‘California dial’, mercedes pattern hands and rotatable bezel it has more than a passing resemblance to the Submariner and Turnographs that appeared in the Rolex sports watch line some fifteen years later. The watch was first sold by Antiquorum in 1992.

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Zerograph ref 3346 at Antiquorum in 1992

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Reference 3346 Zerograph with plain steel bezel

ZG Ref 3890

Similar to the above watch – another Zerograph with plain bezel

The Earliest Chrono

The Zerograph was the first Oyster Chrono to come out of the Rolex factory and was completely made in house, including the movement which was based on the 10 1/2 ligne movement with the fly-back chrono function as a modification. These early chronos were different to later examples as the single button was used to return the chrono hand to zero, where it stayed until the button was released again (unlike later chronos where the chrono hand is started and stopped with one button and reset with another). Elapsed minutes were measured using the rotatable bezel. The chrono hand moves constantly once the movement is wound.

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Centregraph ref 3462 – Antiquorum

AQ CG 3462 B

Centregraph ref 3462 – Antiquorum

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Centregraph ref 3462 – Antiquorum

Presence

I have long been a collector of Rolex themed auction catalogues and one of my earliest (and favourite) finds was the Aniquorum ‘Art of Rolex’ catalogue. This sale featured the black dial Zerograph and I’ve been intrigued ever since. It was, therefore, an exciting opportunity to see one and try one on during the recent Phillips preview I attended in London. What struck me was the presence on the wrist for such a small case diameter. I wear a lot of 34mm watches and the Zerograph is comparable, in a large part due to the bezel I think.

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A Zerograph with reference 3346 from Antiquorum

The Answers

Will we ever know the true origin and history of these pieces? I suspect not – they were made in such small numbers and there are only a very few known pieces in existence that they will always be surrounded by questions and intrigue…but that’s what makes this hobby so much fun!

AQ 3346 CG

The above watch is one of the exceptions – it’s a Centregraph with reference 3346 from Antiquorum…is it a repainted dial?

 

 

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