A spectacular discovery, this "Neptune" is not only preserved in superb condition but also beautifully documented in the archives of Stern Frères. In fact, the reverse of the dial is stamped 103*774 and furthermore hand-scratched Neptune. The first three numbers, 103, are the internal client code for Rolex.
The sales records of Stern Frères, here reproduced, list the dial of the present watch as follows:
3774: this is the job number of Stern Frères. It is most comforting to know that the last three digits of this project code are reproduced on the back of the dial (see first paragraph)
1: quantity of dials ordered/made
"Neptune": name of the subject
No. 83: precise drawing job. It is not uncommon that the same drawing was also finished for another manufacturer. Interestingly, job no. 83 was also supplied to Omega
O 31.60: the precise diameter of the dial. Interestingly, several independent measurements confirm the diameter of the present to be precisely 31.60 mm.
midi 132: this indicates what type/style of gold application had to be put at the noon (French midi) position. In this instance, shape 132 is the gold Rolex crown
3/4 No. 60: this code explains what type of gold numerals are applied at the three, six and nine o'clock positions. In this instance they are elongated, hexagonal facetted batons
8 No. 116: this abbreviation defines the remaining 8 numerals to be applied at the 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 o'clock positions. Here they are highly unusually double-facetted dagger-shaped hour markers
Today, only two other Rolex wristwatches with cloisonné enamel dials depicting are known to have survived. One of them is prominently illustrated and described in 100 Superlative Rolex Watches by John Goldberger, pp. 46 & 47, the pride of a European collector.
Another highly unusual feature of the present watch is its large and, for Rolex, unusual case design. With a substantial diameter of 37 mm., it is not only larger in size than its Oyster cased peers with enamel dials but has even some resemblance to Patek Philippe's celebrated reference 565.
The combination of the dial's rarity, its beautiful condition and especially well documented history and fresh provenance render this masterpiece one of the most important "time only" Rolex wristwatches of all times.
In the 1950s, the design of Rolex watches reached its peak, notably with the manufacture of cloisonné enamel dial wristwatches in conjunction with the renowned Fabrique de Cadrans Stern Frères of Geneva. Founded in 1868, the firm specialized in the production of highest quality dials including dials decorated with cloisonné enamel scenes which they supplied to the most important watch manufacturers such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Omega, Vacheron Constantin and others.
The production of such dials was extremely costly as they had to be individually made by a skilled craftsman and not on a production line. The artist created the outline of the desired motif by arranging thin gold wires on a dial. These partitions, called "cloisonné" in French, were filled with small quantities of enamel powder in the desired colour. The dial was then fired in an oven at around 1000 degrees Celsius causing the powder to melt. Finally it was hand-polished until obtaining a perfectly flat surface.
Consequently, only important watches were fitted with these dials, such as the present watch. An exceedingly small series of reference 8382 was produced in the mid-1950s, the few watches of this very rare model to have appeared in public to date fitted with plain enamel dials. The present watch however is believed to be the only example of a reference 8382 upgraded with the rare cloisonné enamel dial known to exist.
Rolex cloisonné enamel dial watches were and still are considered the most unusual and attractive watches the company ever made and are thus highly sought after by collectors.
Neptune, God of the Seas
One of the most important deities in Roman mythology, Neptune (called Poseidon by the Greeks) was the supreme ruler of the seas. A powerful god, he used his mighty trident not only to provoke earthquakes and stir ocean waves but also to raise new land from beneath the sea or cause existing land to sink below the waters. Neptune was often helpful to humans, protecting sailors at sea, guiding ships to safety, and filling nets with fish.
He rode the waves in a chariot drawn by dolphins or sea horses but his most honoured creation was the horse - according to tradition, he was the one who breathed life into the first horse on earth.