Imagine buying a bunch of old watches because you recognized a hard-to-find grail watch among them. And now imagine that after a year, you revisit this same pile of old watches and realize there is a genuine Rolex bracelet in it too.

Last week, I told you a story about how I had landed my no-pusher Nicolet chronograph. It was quite a find with an epic Landeron 251 movement hiding an untouched dial under heavily scratched Plexi. The watch was not listed properly; it was basically hiding among a set of old watches that included Cyma, Miramar, and Emperor. Guess what I did as soon as the package arrived on my doorstep. I unboxed the long-awaited Nicolet no-pusher chronograph, and without much thinking, I put all the other watches into the junk-watch box.

I have an old box where I keep all the watches that came as part of a bigger purchase. Let’s call them collateral purchases — watches I never wanted but that were listed together with watches I did want. They are mostly junk; beaten-up time-only watches with heavily worn cases or dials that are not dials anymore.

Over the years, that box has gotten quite full, but I didn’t want to throw it all out. I have a plan for it. Someday when I have enough time, I will perform treatments — or perhaps I should say “surgeries” — myself. I guess it’s an inevitable step on my journey to become a watchmaker. I realize that my dream to be able to service my watches myself may never become real, but that’s what dreams are for, right?

In January, I was searching for something in my parts box. As it sits next to my junk-watch box, I laid my eyes on two chronographs sitting on top of it. I barely recognized them, and I was actually stunned. “What is such a nice pair of chronograph watches doing in here?”

Miramar chronograph

It took me some time to realize that they came together with my Nicolet no-pusher chronograph. I was so excited about that watch that I ignored the other two. No matter how irrational it sounds, I considered them junk before they arrived. But this time, I took the first one in my hands and I realized it was pretty solid. Its nearly 38mm gold-plated case was fairly worn but not beyond the unacceptable level.

The pearly dial had developed light freckles that gave it a cardboard-like skin, and the applied triangular indexes and Arabic numerals were surprisingly small. The simple stick hands were also a perfect match with the case. To my eye, the watch seemed to be perfectly authentic. Even the crown seemed to be original. I gave it a few turns, and the movement started to tick. I played with it for a while and found that it was perfectly functional.

WAB Rolex bracelet

“Fake” Rolex bracelet

But the most amusing thing was finding that the chronograph starts with the upper pusher but has to be stopped with the bottom one. Quite curious, I was ready to free the Miramar chronograph from its bracelet just to get to the movement. I slipped the bracelet around my fingers and turned it around. You could imagine how surprised I was when I spotted what you can now see in the picture above. “Is this a Rolex logo that I am looking at right now?”

WAB Rolex bracelet

To be completely honest with you, I first thought it was some cheap, fake Rolex bracelet. I am not a big Rolex nerd and have only two Rolex watches in my collection. Both have bracelets, and I was pretty sure the stamping on them was much sharper and clearer. Their Rolex crown logos are sunk deep inside, not protruding like it is on the bracelet that came with my Miramar chronograph.

Original Rolex bracelet

When I unfolded the bracelet, I didn’t find any stamping at all. I got puzzled when I turned it around and found something unusual stamped on the underside. Fairly clear stamping reads “WAB, Made In England, Stainless Steel, Rolex”. I picked up this lot of old watches in England, so that’s why “Made In England” caught my attention. Well, I would not expect modern (or neo-vintage) fakes to be stamped Made In England. I started to think that I might be looking at something genuine here.

Mercedes Benz “La Pickup”

Research brought back memories of my grail car, which you can find in South America only. Mercedes-Benz once built “La Pickup” on its indestructible W115-body. It was assembled in Argentina between 1972 and 1976 at a time when it was forbidden to import cars and trucks into the country. But it was possible to assemble them locally in the form of CKD (completely knocked-down) production with imported external and mechanical parts. What does an ultimate-classic Mercedes pickup that I dream of driving on my nonexistent farm have to do with a Rolex bracelet? Think again about the “Made In England” stamp…

Wilsdorf’s friends

Educated members on Rolex forums shared their own research on the history of this unique bracelet. WAB stands for Watch Accessories Birmingham, which was owned by Oscar Winter, a friend of Hans Wilsdorf and the owner of Rolex UK, the importer of Rolex watches in the UK.

“Rolex sourced bracelets from outside Switzerland to get around tariffs that were levied on fully complete watches. This is where C&I, WAB, Clewco, Gay Frères, the Mexican Rolex bracelets, and other non-Swiss-made items fit in, reads the Rolex forum. Watch heads only were shipped to distributors outside Switzerland, perhaps with hang tags and chronometer certificates. Authorized distributors then added bracelets, boxes, and even papers at the point of sale.

WAB Rolex bracelet

Fitting the WAB Rolex bracelet

As I don’t have any other Rolex watches, I decided to break the taboo: I put it on a non-Rolex watch. The 17mm end links stamped “REG875088” perfectly fit one of my rarest birds, the 24-hour Gruen Airflight. It’s weird to wear a Rolex bracelet on a different watch, but I find it amusing today. It doesn’t disturb me; on the contrary, it reminds me of the original story of landing this bracelet. I still keep thinking about how it got on a Miramar chronograph…

The look and feel

This bracelet is pretty light. It wears close to the wrist, and the Rolex coronet sticking out from the clasp makes it easy to open. The closing click is sharp and precise, even though it’s a bit more wobbly than the Swiss-made Jubilee I wrote about here or the Oyster on my GMT-Master 1675. If we consider it’s from the 1950s, I find it to be of great quality. My particular example has almost no stretch and feels perfectly compact.

WAB Rolex bracelet

Initially, I thought of selling it because I didn’t have any other Rolex watches to go with it. But since it found its new consonance with my Gruen, it will probably stick around. Besides, WAB Rolex bracelets go for around $800 to $1,500, depending on the condition. If I include the Nicolet no-pusher chronograph, about $3,000 wasn’t a bad deal for this set of abandoned watches.

Wearability confirmed

I don’t have any precise info on the production range or volumes, but WAB Rolex bracelets could be dated from the ’50s to mid-’60s. “They are really comfortable because they easily wrap around the wrist,” says my watch friend FlexNew. They are “very real and cool!” adds Eric Wind, an expert on vintage Rolex watches. Another Rolex forum member confirms his words too. “I don’t know why, as they are just another set of bracelets from a different maker – but there is just something super cool about them!”

WAB Rolex bracelet

Last thoughts

If an unknown Nicolet no-pusher chronograph gets listed in an auction without a proper description or the slightest recognition, it’s not surprising. But if anything stamped with a Rolex coronet gets listed without mentioning the strong brand, that is pretty shocking. You don’t need to be Aurel Bacs to know that even silly hang tags, pens, or boxes sell for crazy prices these days.

WAB Rolex bracelet

Even more fascinatingly, this Rolex bracelet wasn’t listed by a random I-don’t-care-what-I-have seller on eBay. No, it was in a proper auction by a smaller auction house — well, a we-don’t-care-what-we-have kind of auction house. What’s the verdict for us? I don’t have as much time for auctions as I used to, but there are still tons of surprise lots hiding treasures in terms of watch rarity, originality, and value. Happy hunting!