Two years after Patek and 34 years before Audemars, Leonidas was founded in 1841. Nothing to scoff at. A man named Julien Bourquin started the company and, unfortunately, there is little information about Leonidas or its founder during this early period. A few sources note that Bourquin had a penchant for timing short time periods with stopwatches and early chronograph movements.
In 1912, Leonidas Watch Company was purchased by Constant Jeanneret-Droz, son of the founder of Excelsior Park, by then already a world-renowned chronograph èbauche maker. From there, the focus continued to be chronographs. Jeanneret-Droz took the firm to new heights, competing for military contracts in both World Wars and even winning some such as this insanely cool 53mm bomber pilot timers for the Italian Regia Aeronautica. This era of Leonidas is commonly referred to as the “Pre-Heuer” era as, by 1964, Leonidas Watch Company merged with Ed. Heuer & Co. The resulting firm was known as Heuer-Leonidas SA for a time with some watches bearing both names on their dials. However, most examples are seen just with Heuer branding. By the time Heuer became Tag Heuer in 1984, the Leonidas name had not been used for some time.
Available for auction is a great example of a Pre-Heuer era Leonidas. Our watch directly matches others previously sold pieces, both at auction and privately, that come stamped with a 754 reference number on the caseback. Although this particular piece bears no stamp, we believe this to be a reference 754 as well. The design language in our watch matches that of the Leonidas brand during this period, heavily influenced by military use tool watches with a simple and functional case shape, radium lumed dial, and screw-down “water protected” caseback.
Our least favorite word in the watch lexicon may be “rare” but very few examples of this particular chronograph can be found on the market. Big auction houses love to throw “exceedingly rare” on 1960s Rolex of which hundreds of thousands were made. If that is their definition exceedingly rare, a Leonidas ref. 754 in great to excellent condition is a needle in a haystack.
Inside the Leonidas ref. 754 is the Valjoux 72, a caliber that has been described as possibly the best manually winding chronograph ever produced. It was the heartbeat of Rolex’s Daytona, Heuer’s Carrera, and Certina’s Chronolympic, and it can also be found in this piece we have here today.
This example has a stepped-bezel screw back case that is preserved in great condition. The original geometry of the case, particularly the lugs, is completely intact with sharp edges. Compared to the few other examples of this reference that we have seen, this case is outstanding.
No serious scratches or gouges are seen on the caseback, however, the crystal appears to be aged, possibly discolored, and shows some scratches.
The Dial and Hands
The patina-ed dial is in good to great condition with a mostly even cream tone but some white spots are visible. The original radium lumed Arabic numerals have aged to a dark, earthen brown and are varyingly intact with the notable exception of the 1 and 4 o’clock hour markers that have lost a good portion of their radium.
The hands appear to be untouched and of the correct lengths; likewise, the styles leading us to believe they are original. Possibly the best aspect of this example is the lume filled hour and minute hands. All of the fragile radium lume remains within these hands and has aged to a pleasant caramel color, matching the patina of the dial perfectly.
The Valjoux 72 is in good running order, keeping accurate time. The service history is unknown.
|Dial||Radium patinaed cream|
|Case Material||Stainless Steel|
|Band Material||Leather Strap|