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A record for Sotheby’s, regrets for Antiquorum
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A record for Sotheby’s, regrets for Antiquorum

Wednesday, 16 April 2014
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Fabrice Eschmann
Freelance journalist

“Don't believe all the quotes you read online!”

“In life as in watchmaking, it takes many encounters to make a story.”

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4 min read

Sotheby’s and Antiquorum held sessions in Hong Kong for one, New York for the other, with mixed fortunes. While the former realised a more than satisfactory total, the latter can rank this among its least memorable sales… some might even say flops, given the numerous lots that went unsold.

A world record for a Patek Philippe in Hong Kong and a debacle in New York: such was the outcome of the two sales held April 8th and 9th by Sotheby’s and Antiquorum respectively. For its first watch sale of the year, Sotheby’s realised a tidy USD 16.7 million, with 12% unsold lots out of the 473 proposed. By way of comparison, at the same session a year earlier, the auction house returned a record result for Asia of USD 58.8 million. Antiquorum, meanwhile, was left with a third of lots on its hands. The firm, which officiated in its US headquarters on Madison Avenue, managed to sell just 200 of the 302 items on the block (33% unsold) for a tiny USD 2.7 million.

Sotheby’s lot 2296: Patek Philippe reference 5207P-001 sold for USD 871,703 (est. USD 670,540-799,490)
Old favourites

It was raining Patek Philippes on the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on April 8th. Asian buyers are huge admirers of the brand, and Sotheby’s obliged with a selection of no fewer than one hundred watches by the Geneva Manufacture. Unsurprisingly in these conditions, the brand swept the board of top-selling lots, even setting a new world record for Reference 5207P-001, the third most complicated wristwatch by Patek Philippe. It fetched USD 871,703 (lot 2296, est. USD 670,540-799,490), the highest price ever achieved for this model. First shown in Baselworld in 2008 and extremely rare, this was only the third appearance at auction of this minute repeater, tourbillon and instantaneous perpetual calendar in platinum.

Despite falling short of its high estimate, second place went to a perpetual calendar monopusher split-seconds chronograph in platinum, Reference 5951P. It found a buyer at USD 546,748 (lot 2186, est. USD 451,326-580,275). In third place, a minute repeater annual calendar Reference 5033/100P-001 went for USD 531,274 (lot 2046, est. USD 438,431-580,275). Worth noting is the fourth place taken by a Richard Mille, the RM 012 in platinum with tubular struts, manufactured as a limited edition of 30. It went for USD 500,327 (lot 2180, est. USD 309,480-412,640). Still a good deal for its buyer, given that this model retails new in the region of USD 525,000.

A profusion of modern watches.
Fresh from retail

Which brings us to possibly the most striking aspect of this Hong Kong sale, namely the vast proportion of recent and even very recent watches (some can still be seen in retailers’ windows). The three top-selling Patek Philippes were all manufactured in 2013. However, only a handful exceeded their price when new, such as a Panerai PAM00507, also made in 2013, in bronze and titanium with hours, minutes, small seconds, date and power-reserve indicator. This Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days, driven by Panerai’s own self-winding Calibre P9002, fetched USD 30,626 (lot 2442, est. USD 15,475-23,211), over twice the price it would cost new.

The flipside of such a profusion of modern watches was the virtual absence of older lots, particularly any interesting pocket watches. The one noteworthy exception was a minute repeater perpetual calendar with moon phases in yellow gold (lot 2318, est. USD 30,949-51,580). Very probably the work of a watchmaker from the Neuchâtel mountains and made circa 1880-1900 for the Indian market, this half-hunter clock watch was presented by Mir Osman Ali Khan (1886-1967), the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, to a loyal subject. The Nizams were the ruling family of the state of Hyderabad in central India. The family began its reign in 1719, and amassed vast wealth over the centuries. The seventh Nizam, whose fortune was estimated at some USD 2 billion in 1940, was an avid collector: more than two hundred Rolls Royces and an endless list of diamonds, including the world-famous Jacob Diamond weighing 184.5 carats, were among his treasures. Sold once already by Sotheby’s in New York in April 2011, when it fetched USD 43,750, this unique watch featuring an engraved inscription on the back this time went for “just” USD 38,685.

Antiquorum lot 289: Rolex Paul Newman reference 6263 sold for USD 231'750 (est. USD 50,000-70,000)
Many lots unsold

Over in New York, Antiquorum was less successful. Of the 302 lots proposed, a good hundred failed to find a taker. On a side note, the Paul Newman mini themed sale, given prominent billing by the auction house, wasn’t the big event it had hoped. The actor’s racing suit and helmet only crept above their pre-sale low estimate at USD 56,250 (lot 288, est. USD 50,000-70,000). Continuing the racing theme, a set of two Heuer dashboard timers which featured in Le Mans, the 1970 Steve McQueen movie, went unsold.

Still, the spirit of Paul Newman was felt over Madison Avenue on April 9th, but not as expected! What had been billed as the star lot of the main sale, a Patek Philippe Reference 5102 Celestial, was nudged off the top spot by a Rolex Paul Newman. Manufactured in 1970, this steel chronograph Reference 6263 flew off the block for USD 231,750, more than tripling its high estimate (lot 289, est. USD 50,000-70,000). The Patek Philippe, an unusual astronomical watch showing a map of the stars in the northern hemisphere, the time of the meridian passage of Sirius and the moon, and moon phases, sold for USD 207,750 (lot 162, est. USD 150,000-200,000). Coming in third was another Patek Philippe, a yellow gold chronograph Reference 1463 from 1948 which climbed to USD 147,750 (lot 302, est. USD 120,000-180,000).

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