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In the world of vintage chronographs, the Longines 13ZN--so-called because of its movement, the 13ZN, touted as one of the most beautiful chronograph calibers ever created--is spoken of in almost hushed terms by collectors. Wittnauer often comes up in conversations about Longines, particularly in the context of being a distributor for Longines in the United States. But even considerd by itself, Wittnauer is a brand that has a storied tradition of producing quality chronographs of its own.
Aviators such as Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Mattern used Wittnauer watches and instruments during their flights. Their dependability in aviation attracted the attention of NASA. In March of 1965, NASA approached six leading watch brands for submission in a series of grueling tests, the object of which was this: to produce the first watch certified for use in manned space flights.
Rolex's entry to the contest was a Valjoux 72-based chronograph, predecessor to the Daytona. The Navitimer, Reference 809, was Breitling's entry, and had already left Earth's atmosphere on the wrist of American astronaut Scott Carpenter during his historic space-flight on May 24, 1962. Other entries included the Omega Speedmaster and a chronograph by Wittnauer.
NASA's Qualification Test Procedures included timing tests that involved running the chronograph for several hours. The watches were decompressed for 90 minutes, and exposed to temperatures from 0 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, intense vibration for 30 minutes, and then had to withstand shocks of 40 Gs. Of all the watches that underwent these intense trials, only the Omega Speedmaster passed each trial intact. The Rolex stopped running twice and the second hand warped. As for the Wittnauer, the Wittnauer's crystal warped and disengaged from the case during the decompression and high pressure tests.
While there's no proof from either the brand or NASA that the chronograph submitted by Wittnauer was this watch, the Reference 242T, advertisements following the Qualification Test Procedures did proclaim the 242T as Wittnauer's entry into the contest. Whether this is true or not, the 242T certainly resembles the Speedmaster and Navitimer in looks, with a matte black dial and bright luminous hour markers.
The dial of the 242T is unique in that it has a chapter ring in decimal time, which breaks a 24-hour day into 10 decimal hours consisting of 100 decimal minutes, comprised of 100 decimal seconds. This had its uses in aviation and was also used by Gallet and Meylan on chronographs. It's an attractive alternative to the tachymetre bezels that adorned the Speedmaster and Navitimer.
Speaking of the dial, with its big globular lume plots, it hearkens to a map of the constellations. With a Valjoux 72 movement and attractive looks, the 242T fits the ideal of a mid-century pilot's watch. In the air or on the ground, it's absolutely stellar.
Stainless steel case is approximately 39mm (excluding crown). Wittnauer Ref. 242T, Valjoux 72 movement. Circa 1960s.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition over all, with sharp bevels on the lugs and no signs of over-polishing. Case shows some light scratches and pitting on the lugs and bezel but is in otherwise good condition. Dial is in very good condition with minimal signs of wear in keeping with its age, including some flaking on the numerals and hour markers, which have gained a fine even patina over time. Hands have been professionally repainted to match the hour plots. Unsigned crown; signed case back has some scratches and tool marks but is in otherwise good condition.
Includes one 20mm tan leather strap.