22 July 2024

Maritime pioneer Vital Alsar’s Rolex watch sells for £10,000 in Shrewsbury

A rare Rolex watch that was owned and worn by Spanish maritime pioneer Vital Alsar during his Amazon and Atlantic exploration in 1977 has sold for £10,000 at a leading Shropshire fine art auction house.

A design classic, the stainless steel Rolex GMT Master wristwatch, which has a ‘Pepsi’ red and blue bezel, went under the hammer at Halls Fine Art’s fine art, antiques and jewellery auction in Shrewsbury.

Purchased by a Southern England collector, the timepiece has a fascinating backstory, having been one of a number of wristwatches gifted by Rolex to Alsar for his well published oceanic expeditions in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Born in Santander, Spain in 1933, Alsar was fascinated by early oceanic exploration and was inspired by Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 crossing of the Pacific between South America and Polynesia on a primitive raft called the Kon-Tiki.

This voyage was intended to demonstrate that ancient civilisations were capable of making long sea voyages successfully.

Alsar was consequently inspired to make a series of Pacific crossings in various craft during the 1960s and ‘70s. His first, in 1966, set off from Ecuador using a raft constructed from balsa wood but was shipwrecked after only 90 days.

His next attempt, in 1970, on a similar raft, called ‘La Balsa’, successfully saw Alsar reach Mooloolaba in Australia after 163 days at sea, having travelled over 8,500 nautical miles.

He led a further successful mission in 1973, this time on three rafts and then, in 1977, built three small brigs in Guayaquil which he and his crew sailed down the Amazon river before crossing the Atlantic to reach Santander, a distance of 11,000 nautical miles.

His expeditions attracted interest from Rolex, who became an unofficial supporter. Alsar had worn a Rolex GMT Master on his journey aboard ‘La Balsa’ and the company was delighted to send him replacement watches whenever he needed them. He even featured prominently in a Rolex advertising campaign.

Alexander Clement, Halls Fine Art’s watches specialist, said the watch sold by the company was worn by Alsar in 1977 during his Amazon and Atlantic voyage, and was later gifted to his family.

“Vital favoured the GMT Master watch because it was designed to allow up to three time zones to be read simultaneously and was an indispensable navigational tool for him,” explained Alexander.

“Vital’s niece contacted Rolex and they confirmed that the wristwatch was one of those issued to him. Rolex also sent the family an advert that they published at the time which featured Vital on one of his rafts.

“It was an incredibly rare and exciting discovery and we hope that it’s sale will encourage owners of other rare and valuable watches to consign them to Halls Fine Art for auction.

“The buyer is a private collector on the England’s south coast who was very keen to own a Rolex and is delighted to now have a piece of maritime history in his collection.”