The sale of astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s Vacheron Constantin in New York on 6 December is an out-of-this-world opportunity to acquire a link with human destiny itself
Perhaps the name of Edgar Mitchell is not the first to spring to mind when asked to list the 12 men who have walked on the moon. Yet beyond Neil Armstrong’s celebrated ‘giant leap’ soundbite, it’s likely that Mitchell’s reflections on the philosophical impact of his incredible experience have filtered through to more of us than any of his peers.
After seeing Earth from the surface of the moon, the Texas-born astronaut described how, ‘You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty,’ he continued. ‘You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch”.’ They are observations that resonate particularly loudly in this year of political upheaval. Mitchell died in February, at the age of 85.
After his return from space on February 9, 1971, this Vacheron Constantin Ref. 6351, completed in July of the same year, was presented to Mitchell ‘In the name of some Geneva citizens’, according to the engraved inscription on the case back. While the precise circumstances of its presentation remain obscure, its existence has excited watch collectors for half a decade since the discovery of a small black and white photograph of the watch, dated 1971, in the Vacheron Constantin archive. After years of investigation, Christie’s is proud to offer a watch that has been the subject of serious inquiry and curiosity.
The Vacheron Constantin ‘Apollo 14 for Edgar Mitchell’ reference 6351 has remained in its original box for decades since the present owner received it from a family member of Edgar Mitchell. The same Vacheron Constantin Ref. 6351 was made for Commander Alan Shepard, with whom Mitchell spent 33 hours on the surface of the moon, and Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, who made 34 orbits of the moon in the Kitty Hawk as part of the nine-day, one minute and 58-second Apollo 14 mission.
John Reardon, Christie’s International Head of Watches, recalls his delight on discovering that he was about to get a closer look at this rare and much speculated-upon treasure. ‘I received a phone call from a gentleman who said he had a Vacheron Constantin that he would like to have valued,’ he says. ‘After he had sent through some images to me I found myself on a plane within three hours, on my way to see it in person. I could barely contain my excitement.’
What awaited him was one of only three examples ever produced, with the insignia of Apollo 14 — a representation of Earth and the moon, with a gold star approaching the moon from Earth — featuring the last names of the crew, painted in miniature on the dial. Inside is the ultra-thin calibre 1003, which was introduced by Vacheron Constantin in 1955 and was the world’s slimmest hand-wound mechanical wristwatch movement for more than 50 years. It is considered one of the company’s most iconic, innovative and important movements.
‘When I finally saw the watch’s red presentation box and carefully opened the case to see the red velvet, I felt as though I were being transported back to 1971 when Edgar Mitchell opened that same case for the first time,’ Reardon recollects. ‘The smell of the aged velvet, the feel of the untouched original guarantee papers, and of course the watch — it all added up to an experience that I will never forget. I am already jealous of the next owner.’
Whoever that might be, after the watch has been offered in our Rare Watches sale in New York on 6 December, will be acquiring a spectacular link to the golden age of NASA — one which, says Reardon, it is a genuine honour for the Christie’s team to be able to present to the world.
The watch is also a link, of course, to a heroic yet humble man whose talents and endeavours are destined to have an impact on the very course of human history. ‘That spaceflight was the culmination of my being,’ Edgar Mitchell told NASA in 1997. ‘I think what we’re trying to do is discover ourselves and our place in the cosmos, and we don’t know [the answer]. We’re still looking for that.’
The watch is accompanied by a Vacheron Constantin Certificate of Origin, an Apollo 14 flight badge, an Apollo 14 flight badge pin, four silver commemorative medals and a Vacheron Constantin presentation box reading, ‘In the name of some Geneva citizens for Edgar D. Mitchell, Lunar Module Pilot Apollo 14, especially made by Vacheron Constantin Geneva’.