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Christie’s dominates the Geneva sales

Christie’s dominates the Geneva sales

Monday, 23 May 2011
By Danièle Chambas
Danièle Chambas

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7 min read

Over a thousand timepieces changed hands in two days, realising CHF 39 million (US$ 44.2 million / € 31.5 million) for the three auction houses, including CHF 23.4 million (US$ 26.3 million / € 18.6 million) for Christie’s. A 1928 Patek Philippe sold for CHF 3.235 million (US$ 3.63 million / € 2.57 million).

With five spectacular world records in one sale, Monday May 16th was a red-letter day for Aurel Bacs, International Co-Head of Watches for Christie’s, who had the audience that packed out Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues on tenterhooks. They were joined by many online and telephone bidders. Three world records were broken in the morning session and a further two in the afternoon.

  1. Billed as the top lot in the sale, the possibly unique Patek Philippe single button chronograph from 1928 (lot 81) in white gold with silvered dial and cushion-shaped case went to an Italian collector for CHF 3.235 million (US$ 3.636 million / €2.575 million) after a pre-sale estimate of CHF 1.5 to 2.5 million. Six collectors vied for five minutes, only to be outdone by the lucky winner’s one and only bid!
  2. The Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 perpetual calendar chronograph with moon phases, manufactured in 1948 in pink gold with pink dial (lot 184), sold for CHF 1.143 million (US$ 1.284 million / €0.909 million) after an estimate of CHF 700,000 – 1.5 million.
  3. Offered for the first time at auction, a stainless steel and gold Patek Philippe chronograph Ref. 1579/1 with champagne dial from 1943 (lot 80) went to a private museum in Switzerland for CHF 1.107 million (US$ 1.244 million / €0.881 million).
  4. A Rolex stainless steel split seconds chronograph Ref. 4113, manufactured in 1942 (lot 129), sold for CHF 1.035 million (US$ 1.163 million / €0.823 million). All eyes were on this lot, which had a pre-sale estimate of CHF 660,000 to 1 million. Never before had a Rolex gone through the CHF 1 million mark at auction. A record which Christie’s obviously hopes to surpass at a forthcoming session!
  5. The Patek Philippe perpetual calendar with moon phases Ref. 2438/1 in pink gold, dated 1955 (lot 366), sold to a European collector for CHF 747,000 (US$ 839,628 / €594,612) following a pre-sale estimate of CHF 400,000 – 600,000.

Other highlights of the sale included a Patek Philippe gold and platinum cushion-shaped single button chronograph (lot 259), the smallest known single button chronograph ever made by Patek Philippe, in 1936. Three bidders, including two Italians, pursued this watch which had been estimated at CHF 350,000 – 550,000. The winning bid was made by the Patek Philippe Museum at CHF 723,000 (US$ 812,652 / €575,508). The Breguet Museum carried off lot 427, the unique tonneau-shaped “Dollfus” watch No 2516 in white gold from 1934, described by Aurel Bacs as “one of the 20th century’s most important watches.” It achieved CHF 437,500 (US$ 495,717 / €353,225) after an estimate of CHF 200,000 – 300,000.

Pocket watches are increasingly present at Christie’s. Notable among those offered in this sale was the 1820 Ducommun enamelled quarter repeater with automaton (lot 71) depicting Moses in the desert. It was acquired by a European collector for CHF 459,000 (US$ 515,916 / €365,364). The two historically significant Longines watches having belonged to Italo Balbo, including an aviator wristwatch presented to him by his friend Charles Lindbergh (lot 270), sold for CHF 68,500 (US$ 77,615 / € 55,305) after an estimate of CHF 30,000 – 60,000. Part IV of the outstanding collection of Patek Philippe watches, “A Connoisseur’s Vision,” was dispersed at the sale, bringing the total for this collection to some CHF 19.5 million (US$ 22 million / €15.5 million).

With 98% of the 428 lots sold, the May 16th sale confirmed the supremacy of Patek Philippe – with Rolex coming up as an outsider – and of Christie’s. Eight of the top ten timepieces in the sale were Patek Philippe and three went for more than a million Swiss francs. These results are further proof that the Geneva auctions are in fine form, and confirm the financial health of a few privileged collectors who are willing to pay the price to secure the watch of their dreams.

Presided by Geoffroy Ader, European Head of Watches at Sotheby’s, the Evening Sale on Sunday May 15th upheld the reputation of this coveted event, although attendance was thin on the ground by the time the last lot came under the gavel at midnight.

280 lots representing five centuries of watchmaking history were put on the block, including a hundred or so pocket watches, which are Geoffroy Ader’s speciality. These extremely fine antique watches, including many enamelled pieces, were manufactured for the Chinese, Indian and Turkish markets. For the first time, the catalogue also included some sixty Rolex watches, including 23 Cosmograph Daytona.

They performed well, in particular the rare Daytona “Paul Newman” models. One of the highlights of the sale, the Daytona 13 Ref. 16528 in yellow gold from 1989 (lot 108), whose dial indicates 13 instead of 15, was sold with a letter of apology written by the Chairman of Rolex. It went to a European collector for CHF 122,500 (US$ 138,291 / €98,903) following a pre-sale estimate of CHF 80,000 – 120,000. The final lot of the evening (lot 280), a Daytona “Paul Newman” with inverted lines, manufactured in 1967, exceeded its estimate but nonetheless sold for less than expected at CHF 206,500 (US$ 273,761 / €166,722). The star of the sale, an extremely rare Patek Philippe yellow gold chronograph from 1960 (lot 185), sold to a bidder in the United States for CHF 722,500 (US$ 815,637 / €583,326) following a pre-sale estimate of CHF 600,000 – 1 million.


Sotheby’s: an extremely rare Patek Philippe chronograph from 1960 (lot 185), sold to a bidder in the United States for CHF 722,500 © Sotheby’s
Sotheby’s: an extremely rare Patek Philippe chronograph from 1960 (lot 185), sold to a bidder in the United States for CHF 722,500 © Sotheby’s

Pocket watches secured strong bids, with some Asian buyers outbidding low estimates by four, five and even six times. Lot 124, a delicately enamelled scent flacon made by Piguet & Capt Genève in 1807, returned to Asia after selling for CHF 242,500 (US$ 273,761 / €195,787). The Swiss watch portraying the Maharajah of Patiala, dated 1920, went for CHF 122,500 (US$ 138,291 / €98,903) after an estimate of CHF 20,000 – 30,000.

The sale achieved a total CHF 7.754 million (US$ 8.753 million / €6.260 million) with 194 of the 280 lots (69.3%) being sold.

Antiquorum’s auctioneers, including Julien Schaerer, brought the gavel down on no fewer than 579 lots in one day on Sunday May 15th. The sale produced a slightly disappointing result with many lots falling short of their pre-sale low estimate.

Some good surprises nonetheless kept the audience on its toes, not least lot 579, a unique Vacheron Constantin Art Deco clock from 1933 with a thirty-day power reserve and constant-force escapement. At CHF 242,500 (US$ 273,729 / €193,503) it more than doubled its pre-sale high estimate of CHF 120,000. Among the historic timepieces on offer, the humpback carriage clock (lot 549) with ten complications, the most complicated to have been made by Breguet, sold for CHF 200,500 (US$ 226,320 / €159,989). The Cartier rock crystal desk clock went for CHF 100,900 (US$ 113,894 / €80,513).


Antiquorum: lot 579, a unique Vacheron Constantin Art Deco clock from 1933 went for CHF 242,500 © Antiquorum
Antiquorum: lot 579, a unique Vacheron Constantin Art Deco clock from 1933 went for CHF 242,500 © Antiquorum

The watches in the special Reverso Chapter to mark the timepiece’s 80th anniversary drew significant interest. All 35 found buyers for a total CHF 618,875 (US$ 698,575 / €493,832). Two in particular stood out: lot 225 Ref. 201 with a red lacquer dial went for six times its low estimate of CHF 35,000 (US$ 39,507 / €27,928); the four Mucha’s Four Seasons Reverso from 1996 (lot 255) sold for CHF 134,500 (US$ 151,821 / €107,324) after a pre-sale estimate of CHF 60,000 – 80,000.

Equally noteworthy, the Rolex Comex Oyster Perpetual Ref. 5514 (lot 384) significantly outperformed its high estimate of CHF 120,000 when it sold for CHF 170,500 (US$ 192,457 / €136,050). The Louis Audemars Russe II (lot 451), one of the most complicated watches of the late 19th century, fetched CHF 200,500 (US$ 226,320 / €159,989). The steel Patek Philippe Ref.130 manufactured in 1941 (lot 567) was acquired for CHF 170,500 (US$ 192,457 / €136,050). The sale realised a total CHF 7,675,999 (US$ 8,664,535 / €6,125,081) with 463 of the 579 lots (80%) being sold.

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