In Focus

Time to start bidding: a busy month for watch lovers

A number of rare and valuable timepieces are up for grabs in November

November is going to be a busy month for watch collectors. Auction house Phillips, in association with Bacs & Russo, a watch consultancy, is holding two high-profile sales in Switzerland. The first, “The Geneva Watch Auction: XIV”, on 5 and 7 November, promises to be a showstopper. Top billing goes to an “astonishingly well preserved” Patek Philippe wristwatch reference 2499 from 1952 (pictured). This first series example in yellow gold bears the stamp of its Venezuelan retailer, Serpico y Laino, on the bracelet and comes with a CHF4m (£3.2m) high pre-sale estimate. 

Given its “unparalleled” rarity, according to Phillips, it may come as a surprise to watch aficionados, who previously had no idea this particular watch existed, that there is also a second previously unknown 2499 for sale. Both are perpetual calendar chronographs (meaning a watch that displays calendar information while also having the ability to record time); the second 2499 is a second series with a “superb dial”. It is expected to sell for at least CHF800,000 (£630,000). Rare pairs of watches appears to be a theme. Phillips is also offering a fascinating and highly desirable Rolex “Deep Sea Special” (see below); as is Christie’s in Geneva on 8 November. 

The Michelangelo of watches

Four Grande & Petite Sonnerie watches by Swiss watchmaker Philippe Dufour, which chime the hour and quarter hour depending on whether they are set to “grande” or “petite sonnerie” mode, are among the other highlights of the Phillips auction. “To us and a huge community around the world, Philippe Dufour is the horological equivalent of Michelangelo,” say senior consultant Aurel Bacs and Phillips watch specialist Alexandre Ghotbi. “The importance of his work cannot be overstated.” Dufour began making his Grande Sonnerie pocket watches in the early 1980s, before miniaturising the movement to be able to fit on a wristwatch, of which five with white enamel dials were made. The yellow gold version of the wristwatch is the most valuable of the quartet up for sale, valued by the auction house at up to CHF2m (£1.6m). 

A sale of incredibly rare pieces

Collectors will also be keeping their eyes on a complete set of five “incredibly rare” and “historically relevant” F.P. Journe “Souscription” N°1 watches. New to the market, these watches were sold to existing clients and friends of watchmaker François-Paul Journe under subscription, in order to finance the creation of his own brand in 1999. “[He] is certainly one of the most talented watchmakers of his generation… [whose] creations have gained incredible traction,” say Bacs and Ghotbi.

Collectors would appear to agree. Sotheby’s in Hong Kong held its “Important Watches” sale last week, at which a F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain “Souscription” wristwatch sold for almost HK$16m (£1.5m). A yellow gold Patek Philippe 2499 first series of the kind mentioned above, that had been restored in the early 1990s, also made its market debut at the Sotheby’s auction. It fetched HK$9.9m (£930,000).

Rolex Deep Sea Special © Phillips

© Phillips

The Holy Grail for Rolex collectors

The Deep Sea Special, two of which are appearing at auctions with Phillips and Christie’s in Geneva next month (see above), is “something of a Holy Grail among Rolex collectors”, says James Stacey for Hodinkee. It is famous for being able to survive a trip to the bottom of the ocean. In 1953, Rolex set out to design a watch that could reach depths in excess of 35,000 feet below the waves without being crushed.

That’s easier said than done, says Stacey. “Humans can’t simply dive that deep, or really anywhere close.” It’s the height of a commercial airliner at cruising altitude, but inverted. After many years of test dives, on 23 January 1960 Rolex finally strapped the Deep Sea Special to the side of the Bathyscaphe Trieste, a submarine crewed by US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, and waited as their watch descended to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific, the deepest place on Earth. 

The Deep Sea Special reached a depth of 35,787 feet – and survived. That particular watch is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. But Rolex made 35 commemorative versions in 1965, says Bryan Hood in the Robb Report. The integrated bracelet combines stainless steel and gold, while housed beneath a gigantic domed crystal is a black dial with gold markers.

On the back of the case, the date of the dive and its water-resistance rating is etched. Examples of the commemorative Deep Sea Specials have only appeared at public sale five times – on the last occasion one sold for HK$3.4m with Christie’s in Hong Kong (£262,000 at 2009 rates). This time both examples should sell for more. Phillips has placed a CHF2.4m (£1.9m) high estimate on theirs. 

This article was originally published in MoneyWeek

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