The mood in the room at the latest run of Geneva auctions, held May 11th to 14th, was unusually subdued. Numerous Asian and Western bidders stayed away or kept their paddles down, with the result that a good many lots went unsold, whether historical items or vintage Patek Philippe or Rolex. “The market has been fickle and buyers particularly attentive to the condition of the items proposed,” commented Arnaud Tellier of Tellier Fine Arts. “Doubts were also raised as to the authenticity of certain lots.” Indeed, the Rolex with cloisonné enamel dial that was one of the highlights of the Christie’s sale proved to be a bone of contention. Presented as one of the first of its kind from the brand, claims were made in certain quarters that the quality of the dial was not up to standard. Which didn’t prevent a bidder from shelling out CHF 1.097 million, a record for a Rolex in any category. And therein lies the paradox of these Geneva sales: despite an uncertain climate, no fewer than five records were set, including for a Panerai and for another cloisonné enamel dial, the Patek Philippe Reference 5077 portraying an American Indian.
Piaget works its charm
As is often the case, Christie’s dominated the session with a total result of CHF 23.8 million (91% sold by lot). Unsurprisingly, the auction’s headliner, the platinum minute repeater manufactured in 1927 by Patek Philippe for Henry Graves Jr., attracted the highest bid of the session as it climbed, though not without difficulty, to CHF 1.205 million, a new record for a watch that was unknown to the market until a few years ago (lot 101, est. CHF 1,200,000-1,800,000). Another record price was established by the Rolex in 18k gold, manufactured in 1949 and whose dial had been the centre of debate. It achieved a hammer price of CHF 910,000 (lot 207, est. CHF 500,000-1,000,000). The Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon Reference 5002 with twelve complications took bronze when it found a buyer at CHF 917,000 (lot 48, est. CHF 750,000-1,200,000).
Still, the most exciting bidding doesn’t necessarily involve the highest prices. Two watches by Piaget sold for well in excess of their high estimate: ten times more in the case of lot 124, a bracelet-watch in white gold, equipped with the legendary 2P calibre, one of the smallest ever made. Estimated CHF 5,000, it flew off the block for CHF 52,000! Repeating this performance, a sautoir watch in yellow gold (lot 125), manufactured by Piaget in 1972 and equipped with its famous 9P, an extra-thin calibre just 2mm high, sold for CHF 85,000 on a high estimate of CHF 18,000. In a similar vein, the Cartier watches in the sale prompted enthusiastic bidding, including a Santos in platinum from 1925 (lot 106). Estimated between CHF 15,000 and CHF 25,000, it went for CHF 72,000.
A rare Panerai
With a sale total of CHF 10.123 million (73% sold by lot), Sotheby’s took second place and established a record for a Panerai. The Luminor dive watch reference 6152/1, manufactured circa 1955 and with a prototype bezel, found a buyer at CHF 425,000 (lot 298, est. CHF 180,000-360,000). Formerly the property of the Italian naval commander Admiral Gino Birindelli, this was the first time this exceptionally rare reference had come to auction. “Previously, attention focused on the two names of Patek Philippe and Rolex,” commented Geoffroy Ader, European Head of Watches at Sotheby’s. “Now every brand stands a chance, provided the items are of good quality.”
The highest price at the Sotheby’s sale was ultimately achieved by a gold and enamel snuffbox with a concealed timepiece and automaton, signed Piguet & Capt and made circa 1804. It went for CHF 749,000 (lot 334, est. CHF 600,000-800,000). “Despite weak market sentiment, items of this type still find buyers from time to time,” remarked Arnaud Tellier, adding that “ten years ago, something like this would have fetched CHF 100,000 to 150,000.” The second highest price, meanwhile, was for a tonneau-shaped Patek Philippe Minute-Repeating Perpetual Calendar Reference 5013P in platinum, which reached CHF 509,000 (lot 160, est. CHF 380,000-580,000).
A mixed bag for Rolex
As always, there were a considerable number of Rolex watches under the hammer, accounting for around a third of the total lots proposed by the three auction houses. However, many failed to sell and only a handful reached a high price. Said Geoffroy Ader, “These weren’t exceptional watches and not really representative of the brand’s DNA. The Daytona is nonetheless still highly sought-after. It’s traditional watchmaking and it’s Rolex’s star model, which is precisely what bidders want.” Reference 6263, a Cosmograph Daytona Paul Newman Panda Dial achieved the respectable sum of CHF 359,000 (lot 341, est. CHF 250,000-500,000). In contrast, only half of the fifteen items from the personal collection of Jacqueline Reuge, a descendant of the founder of the music-box manufacturer, found takers.
At Antiquorum, which sold 84% by lot for a total of CHF 5.362 million, four Patek Philippe claimed the top four spots, including two records for a particular model. Reference 5016 in platinum, a minute repeater with tourbillon regulator and retrograde perpetual calendar from 2007, sold for CHF 663,750 (lot 292, est. CHF 600,000-800,000). It was followed by Reference 2499 Third Series in yellow gold, a chronograph with perpetual calendar and moon phases that flew off the block for CHF 465,750 (lot 293, est. CHF 150,000-250,000), setting a world record price. Third place went to the split-seconds chronograph Reference 5959 in platinum, after it sold for CHF 243,750 (lot 289, est. CHF 180,000-250,000). The second record of the day was established by Reference 5077 in platinum from 2010, featuring a cloisonné enamel dial depicting an American Indian on horseback. It fetched CHF 201,750 (lot 290, est. CHF 80,000-120,000). The Greubel Forsey Invention Piece No. 3, manufactured in 2007 as part of a limited edition of 11, entered the sale with the third highest estimate but failed to find a buyer (lot 264, est. CHF 200,000-300,000).