The Elusive IWC 5251


“My watch is large.
Its moon is full.
So much indeed, I
feel the pull.
And be not light, with certainty
But firmly felt, such

– Terrence Nolan, from the manuscript
“Not Yet Written”, 1999

Part One Somewhere Out There

There are those moments in our horological lives when we see a watch so clearly for what it is, that it overloads a cerebral circuit, rendering useless all forethought or reason. We might not know it exists until we see it, but when we see it, it blows us away. The attraction is immediate and compelling and we don’t care what anyone thinks, we just know that we must have it. Perhaps many of you awaiting delivery of the new Lange 1815 Moonphase fall into this category. I imagine that its attraction was just too strong to fend it off. You had to have this watch. You simply had to.

About eighteen months ago I received my first IWC catalog (Works of Art That Outlive Their Own Times, 1998/99) and thinking I’d just quickly thumb through it until I had more time to read each word, the very first watch to catch my eye was the IWC #5251. “Wow!” is the word that fired from some synapse, as I gazed at this gorgeous timepiece. That night I sat and read the catalog from cover to cover, but kept going back to page 99 and the image that filled it. I knew then that I must have this watch, but upon consulting the enclosed price list, my re-entry back to reality was swift. At a suggested retail price of U.S. $14,000, I let it go. For a while, anyway.

As time passed, I kept thinking about that watch and, occasionally, looking at page 99. In August, 1998, Ken Fox
(Foie Gras) and Michael Friedberg did an excellent Bulletin Board piece entitled
IWC’s Pocket/Wrist Watches, describing in delicious detail all they knew about this unusual IWC as well as the #5441 Jubilee
Portugeiser. Again, I was awakened to the pull of this huge Portofino with the beautiful enameled dial, the “real gold flux” moon and sparkling stars, and a movement whose observation, according to Michael and Ken, “approaches a religious experience“. It truly is beautiful to behold.

Soon thereafter, I started making contacts just to see if I could even locate this watch. My local IWC dealer said he might be able to order it but that it could “take forever, even if then”. He also wanted full retail, plus sales tax, plus, he didn’t seem to care for me much since I had apparently insulted him previously during something of a negotiation for a Patek #5035 Annual Calendar (seems I had the audacity to ask for a discount). I did accuse him of selling out the backdoor to the grey market, but only after he made me mad! We don’t see much of each other anymore.

My next stop, as I recall, was a post on the forum requesting information. Ken Fox e-mailed me an invitation to contact him with any specific questions, advising that he, indeed, owned one of these unique and rare watches. I figured if he had one, he might know where to send me. We talked back and forth a few times and he gave me a few leads, and he even alluded to the possibility of perhaps selling me his. We never got around to talking price and I did not want to seem too pushy to a guy with whom I was trying to establish a new friendship. I just assumed he wasn’t that anxious to sell. So, off I went, like a hobbit, looking for the ring. The ensuing search lasted about two months before I concluded that I would not find this watch, nor would I order it at retail and wait my life away. So back to the memory banks went the compelling urges, and as I recall, I was somewhat relieved that I had not actually found one, for I would have surely bought it. I was, by now, only a short distance past the purchase of the Annual Calendar and I did not need to part with so much money so quickly.

As time passed, I forgot about the 5251. Never having heard from any of the potential sources I had contacted, I moved on. In the meantime, I had made a pact with myself that I would buy only one new “expensive” watch a year, although I was being drawn more and more to vintage pieces and had yet set no limit on those.
Nearing the first anniversary of my Patek purchase, I had settled on a Breguet Type XX as my next new watch. This was another piece to which I was strongly attracted, and I was all set to pull the trigger on it, when the 5251 appeared – out of nowhere.

On the morning of June 14,1999, I received an e-mail from Michael Friedberg alerting me to the fact that a 5251 had just been posted for sale on a German website and that if I was still interested, I had better hurry. Almost at the same time, someone on the IWC Forum had also seen it and made a post to that effect. I was now a man on a mission. My strategy was to get to that watch before anyone else did. I immediately sent an e-mail to Germany telling them to hold this watch until we could work out the details. I then made a post on the IWC Forum that I had purchased it. It was a little like the Microsoft/DOS deal wherein Microsoft actually sold DOS to IBM some number of hours before they even owned it! I hadn’t really bought it yet, but only because I had not had an opportunity to conclude the deal. I had spoken for it and I simply did not want a line of people behind me, complicating the negotiations. I suppose, in retrospect, it wasn’t the most honest thing to do and I am honest, If I’m nothing else. But what the hell! I wanted this watch. I was not going to let it get away.

Over the next 48 hours, my life was mostly consumed with concluding the purchase of this watch. My correspondence with Germany was frequent, pleasant and ultimately productive. On the morning of June 17, I concluded the deal. The next day I received confirmation of shipment. It was on the way.

Continue to Part Two