Slightly more than CHF 7 million and 277 lots sold: this was the final tally for the Sotheby’s sale, held in Geneva on November 15th. Bringing the four-day autumn session to a close, the auction house wisely offered a selection of recent, and in some cases very recent watches, after the resounding flop of the spring sale. Of the 313 items in the catalogue, 110 went no further back than 2005. Of these, three were made in 2015 and one in 2016. This is a good indication of the state of the market, where brands no longer have control over their prices.
Richard Mille in the front running
The top-selling lot was a Patek Philippe Ref. 2438-1 perpetual calendar in yellow gold from 1954, with a hand-made bracelet by Gay Frères which only a very few examples have. Presented as the first water-resistant perpetual calendar wristwatch produced in series by any company, it sold for CHF 336,500 (lot 317, est. CHF 200,000-400,000). This was within estimate and came as no great surprise, a description that could be applied to the entire sale. There was little to set pulses racing, with the possible exception of a Richard Mille from 2001. This RM 001 tourbillon in white gold fetched CHF 281,250, almost triple its high estimate (lot 55, est. CHF 60,000-100,000) to come second in the day’s ranking. Richard Mille watches are relatively rare at auction and regularly exceed expectations. A second model in the catalogue, an RM 004 made in 2009, was withdrawn from the sale, no doubt sold in a private transaction.
The first watch to be made by Richard Mille in 2001, the RM 001 retailed at around €200,000. A hammer price of CHF 281,250 makes it a sound buy, even an investment. The same cannot be said of all the brands. Two Harry Winston Midnight Big Date from 2015 changed hands for CHF 10,625 (lot 91, est. CHF 5,000-8,000) and CHF 8,750 (lot 92, est. CHF 5,000-8,000). This is half the retail price of around €20,000 depending on the version. Another bargain to be had, for whoever has the means, a Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Incliné from 2016 went for CHF 212,000 including buyer’s premium (lot 171, est. CHF 150,000-250,000). The same model can currently be purchased over the counter for €280,000.
A rare trilogy
Another lot to come under the “recent” heading, but relatively rare, were the Trilogy of Time astronomical watches that put Ulysse Nardin back into orbit in 1985. Imagined and developed by watchmaker Ludwig Oechslin, Astrolabium Galileo Galilei – which entered the Guinness Book of Records as the wristwatch with the most functions –, Planetarium Copernicus – the first watch to represent the entire solar system –, and Tellurium Johannes Kepler – which depicts the Earth as seen from above the North Pole – found a buyer for CHF 68,750 (lot 43, est. CHF 50,000-70,000). Again, a set of these three watches can be found online for €240,000.
The Sotheby’s sale also included the IWC Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince”. This unique piece with blue movement raised CHF 48,750 for the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation. The Foundation, which was set up in 2008 by the descendants of French pilot and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is active worldwide in managing literacy and educational programmes for children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. This was the fourth time IWC Schaffhausen had teamed up with Sotheby’s Geneva.