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Auctions Long live horological variety

An overview of the Geneva watch auctions in May 2014

As of mid-April, the catalogues of the international auction houses with branches in Geneva started being delivered to the community of collectors. After a first study of the watches on offer it became evident that it was going to be a good season, good in many senses.

Firstly, it was a well-varied selection with an unusually high number of new discoveries – meaning watches which have not yet been seen or offered on the market before. Secondly, it was overall a high-quality assembly of collector’s pieces, mostly in above average and original condition. Lastly, I cannot recall having seen so many watches which were capable of making it into the so-called “Top Ten” – lists which auction houses publish after their auctions. Traditionally, these “Top-Ten” lists were dominated by one or two extremely prominent names – this season we can count nearly ten different names. I consider this proof of how varied the market is with a nearly unlimited number of different tastes and collecting areas. Let’s not forget to mention that between the most antique watches selling for a record sum and the youngest are precisely 200 years!

Generally, one can divide the market into three principal segments: Antique pocket watches – ranging from the end of the renaissance to the late 19th century; vintage pocket and wristwatches, dating from the early 20th century to approximately 1980 and contemporary wristwatches, made after the1980s. This spring season all these categories enjoyed strong bidding and record results.

Going backwards on the timescale, the stars of the youngest segment were names like A. Lange & Söhne, fetching at Christie’s an amazing CHF 437,000 for a unique white gold Tourbillon “Pour le Mérite”, nearly tripling its presale estimate of CHF 150,000 which was, back in 1998, about its official retail price. This watch is a wonderful example of how esthetically appealing, technically superior and very limited edition watches continue to appreciate in value. Also popular were creations like the jeweled “Reine de Naples” at Sotheby’s, selling for CHF 161,000, four times its conservative presale estimate. This watch also showed that female watch aficionados are joining our market, a domain long held exclusively by gentlemen collectors. More cutting-edge designs, for example the limited edition RM006 Tourbillon by Richard Mille, also attracted healthy interest, selling for CHF 177,500, more than double its presale estimate.

 

ALS_701_028_Tourbillon-Pour-le-Merite


In the section of antique watches and historical masterpieces of fine watchmaking, two pieces stood out: On one hand, the lovely musical automaton snuff box with enamel decoration by Piguet & Capt, selling to a private collector for CHF 749,000, and the historical “Comte Potocki” Breguet 1-minute Tourbillon – understood to be the first ever made – for CHF 821,000. Who said that “old is outdated”?

 

Musical automaton snuff box with enamel decoration by Piguet & Capt.


In terms of number of lots and value, vintage wristwatches and pocket watches dominated this spring season. Besides the two all-time stars – Patek Philippe and Rolex, still the only two on the “Top-Ten” list with selling prices above 1 million Swiss francs - there is an exceptional array of distinguished brands chasing this magic barrier.

Personally, I have particularly fond memories of the two extraordinarily elegant dress watches by Vacheron Constantin, sold at Sotheby’s, selling for CHF 305,000 and 173,000 respectively. Whereas the first was a very early world-time dress watch in an elegant two-tone gold case from 1933, the second was an unbelievably smart triple-calendar watch with moon-phases and power-reserve indication. I congratulate the new owner(s?) having had the vision to write a cheque for them equal to 10 times their respective pre-sale estimates and believe that he did very cleverly. I cannot recall having seen anything comparable on the market in ages and don’t think, despite the strong results, that he (or she?) overpaid. Not to forget a new auction record achieved for a Panerai wristwatch, originally owned by the celebrated Admiral Birindelli, selling for CHF 425,000.

Personally I was very pleased to see vintage Cartier watches and timepieces enjoy ever growing popularity. Standing out here were the lovely Tortue Chronographe Monopoussoir from 1929 at Christie’s, selling for CHF 100,000, a well deserved result some two and a half times above the presale estimate and the diamond-set Art Deco ring watch at Sotheby’s, selling for CHF 149,000, nearly five times the appealing pre-sale estimate.

The last words are dedicated to the main protagonists – Patek Philippe and Rolex. They did certainly not disappoint their most loyal followers thanks to a rich offering. The highlights were in my view the unique Cushion-Shaped Minute Repeater by Patek Philippe, a special order by the firm’s most prominent patron. This watch was bought by a private collector for CHF 1,205,000, whereas the probably unique Rolex Oyster with cloisonné enamel dial fetched a record result of CHF 1,097,000, just some CHF 10,000 below the all time world record for any Rolex wristwatch ever sold at auction!

 

Patek-Philippe montre-bracelet répétition-minutes en platine

 

What do all these protagonists have in common? They share as a common denominator the word “quality”. Be it the quality of design, technical ingeniousness, original condition or rarity.

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