Some 1,340 watches, vintage timepieces and clocks will, provided all the lots find buyers, change hands between November 10th and 12th in Geneva, when Antiquorum, Christie’s and Sotheby’s – by order of appearance – take the stage for one of the most important sessions in the watch auction calendar. Events will be marked by the sale, at Sotheby’s, of an astronomical pocket watch by Breguet which a few years ago put the Paris auction world in a spin, and the surprise announcement that Aurel Bacs is leaving his position as Christie’s international head of watches (see “It’s like an extreme sport. You have to know when to stop!”). The same Christie’s is holding a themed auction for the fiftieth anniversary of the Rolex Daytona, in addition to its main sale.
Many recent pieces
Antiquorum will set the ball rolling at the Mandarin Oriental on Sunday 10th November. No fewer than 600 lots, the autumn session’s largest selection, will come on the block. The majority are modern and vintage pieces, prompting some sharp-tongued observers to comment that the Geneva auctions have become “the second-hand watch supermarket.” Among the bargains to be had, on the understanding that recent watches often go for half and sometimes even a third of their value when new, are a Vacheron Constantin Quai de l’Ile automatic date in titanium (lot 143, est. CHF 15,000-20,000), and a TAG Heuer Monaco V4, a headline-grabber when it was launched in 2009, as certain movement wheels are replaced by drive belts (lot 467, est. CHF 25,000-35,000).
Among the more unusual lots coming under the hammer at Antiquorum are a 1970s prototype, and therefore unique piece, for the Omega Seamaster Ploprof (lot 238, est. CHF 25,000-35,000), and the recycling – the only way to describe it! – of the Corum Golden Bridge for Only Watch (2011). Estimated two years ago between EUR 55,000 and EUR 70,000, it went for EUR 50,000. It returns to the same auction house, this time with an estimate of CHF 10,000-15,000. However, the lot that will be focusing all eyes and expectations is once again a Patek Philippe. Reference 5016 Tourbillon Minute Repeater Perpetual Calendar in pink gold is a rarity in the salesroom because of its black dial (lot 603, est. CHF 450,000-650,000).
Patek Philippe is also on the agenda at Christie’s. For its main sale on Monday 11th November at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, the auction house proposes 355 timepieces, roughly a third of which are by the Genevan watchmaker. The highlights of the sale are References 1563, a yellow gold split-seconds chronograph (lot 193, est. CHF 800,000-1,400,000), and 2499, a perpetual calendar chronograph with moon phases manufactured in 1957 (lot 152, est. CHF 1,000,000-1,500,000). “The latter was sold at auction in 2005,” comments Arnaud Tellier, former curator of the Patek Philippe Museum and founder of Tellier Fine Arts consultancy. “Indeed, many of the watches in these autumn sales already came on the block five or ten years ago.” Lot 108 of this sale is another Patek Philippe, Reference 2499, but co-branded Cartier at the bottom of the dial (est. CHF 500,000-800,000). It found a buyer in 2006 for CHF 626,500 at Antiquorum. How will it fare second time around?
Breguet in the spotlight
Among the historic timepieces on offer, Abraham-Louis Breguet will be very much the centre of attention over these three days of sales. Christie’s is proposing two important pieces by the master watchmaker. Firstly a “hunter case cylinder watch with excentric hour and minute dials” n° 4420, sold on October 3rd 1825 to King George IV of Great Britain (lot 233, est. CHF 80,000-120,000). “This watch should achieve a high price,” comments Arnaud Tellier, adding that “a regulator-type display on two dials is quite rare and I imagine will generate a lot of interest among collectors. The historical provenance is important too.” The second is a “quarter repeating watch with free escapement with natural lift” n° 1135, sold in 1806 to the Spanish Duke of Infantado (lot 236, est. CHF 300,000-500,000). Breguet was one of the first to consider the problem of lubricant, whose animal or vegetable origin made it unstable. His “échappement naturel” has two escape wheels for maximum amplitude of the balance and minimum friction, and runs without oil.
Third in line, Sotheby’s will take up residence at Hotel Beau-Rivage on Tuesday 12th November for a sale that places even greater emphasis on the Swiss-born French watchmaker. Commemorating the 190th anniversary of his death, an entire section will be devoted to him, opening with a portrait of the master. An anonymous oil on canvas of the French school, painted circa 1800, the notice tells us that this portrait was, until recently, the property of Breguet’s descendants (lot 325, est. CHF 20,000-40,000). Leading this part of the sale, however, is a gold pair case astronomical pocket watch n°4691 with barleycorn guillochage. Unknown to the public until a few years ago, it is one of Breguet’s most complex realisations in such a small space. In addition to its half quarter repeating mechanism, this extra-flat watch incorporates an equation of time, a power-reserve indication, day, date and month, and moon phases (lot 330, est. CHF 600,000-1,000,000). It was sold on 13th October 1831 to Lord Henry Seymour Conway, known in his day to be a man about town, and later worn by Sir Richard Wallace, heir to the Seymour fortune and a renowned British collector.
Off the record
This is an extraordinary watch on more than one count. Indeed, Sotheby’s omits from its catalogue a dramatic chapter in its history. On 10th April 2008, Bailly-Pommery & Voutier Associés organised an important sale of jewellery, watches and objects of virtue at the Drouot salesrooms in Paris. One of the lots to come under the hammer was this very pocket watch. Estimated at EUR 100,000, bidding reached an astounding EUR 3,469,760 including commission (EUR 2,800,000 excluding commission), a record for a watch at auction in France. As Arnaud Tellier recalls, “Emmanuel Breguet, director of Breguet France and of the brand’s heritage, was in the room, with Nicolas Hayek on the telephone. The watch was intended for the Breguet Museum in Paris, but Hayek Senior was outbid. The twist in the tale being that the buyer never paid. He committed suicide a week later. Everyone was talking about it. Rumour had it that the buyer, an Egyptian, had also bought a château before killing himself.”
The watch was returned to the owning family where it sparked a dispute between the heirs, hence why more than five years have passed since its last public appearance. Experts are waiting with bated breath to see how much this highly anticipated piece will fetch, whether its recent history will influence the result, and will the watch finally join the Breguet Museum collection.