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In New York, Sotheby’s reveals a well-kept secret from...
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In New York, Sotheby’s reveals a well-kept secret from Patek Philippe

Friday, 06 June 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

Between 2000 and 2004, at the behest of a private collector, the Manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates made a number of wristwatches in titanium whose reference numbers were never revealed outside a small inner circle. This extraordinary collection will now appear in public for the first time when it comes under the hammer at Sotheby’s.

New York gets set to reprise its role as the centre of the watch auction world when Sotheby’s and Christie’s put on the show this June 10th and 11th, prior to a two-month summer break. Both sessions are expected to attract a considerable crowd of international collectors, drawn by some exceptional, not to say groundbreaking, lots. Indeed, Sotheby’s has achieved the masterstroke of proposing a group of ten Patek Philippe wristwatches from a private collection, including five references which were purely and simply unknown to the market! As for Antiquorum, after scheduling a sale on June 7th in Hong Kong and another on June 25th in New York, it has finally settled for a single session to be held June 28th in Hong Kong.

Bespoke models

The ten specially-commissioned Patek Philippe watches alone are expected to glean three million dollars when they come under the gavel. They are the highlight of the 175 lots in the Sotheby’s sale. More than this, five of them rewrite horological history. Made in titanium or platinum with personalised features, they were assigned reference numbers known only to a handful of staff at the Manufacture, and which were never publicly documented. They are the Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref. 5001T (normally 5002), Celestial Ref. 5102T (5102), Minute Repeating Annual Calendar Ref. 5033T (5033), Time Only Ref. 3928T, with an incredible 4.99-carat diamond set in the case back, and Minute Repeating Perpetual Calendar Ref. 5103P (5104).

No fewer than twelve complications.

The first, the Sky Moon Tourbillon, is a version in titanium of the double-dialled wristwatch with no fewer than twelve complications. It is estimated between USD 1,000,000 and USD 1,500,000 (lot 30). This unique model, which is usually made in yellow, red or white gold, or in platinum, is further distinguished by the basketweave pattern on the case middle and dial instead of the usual Calatrava crosses. A further distinctive feature, the bezel is engraved in the metal with Roman numerals. Also in titanium, Ref. 3928T-001 (lot 141, est. USD 300,000-500,000) takes customisation to a new level. At first glance, this 33-mm hours and minutes watch with Breguet numerals and hands on its silvered dial appears to be nothing out of the ordinary. Turn it over, and all is revealed. Rather than the usual sapphire crystal, Patek Philippe has set into the case back a polished, flat, octagonal diamond weighing 4.99 carats. Graded D for colour, its perfect transparency affords a clear view of the movement.

A million-dollar Officer's watch

Another unique piece whose reference number only now comes to light is the Grand Complication Ref. 5103P. Rather than the usual combination of pink gold and platinum, this semi-skeletonised wristwatch with minute repeater, perpetual calendar, retrograde date, moon phases and leap year indication is here crafted entirely from platinum. A band around the case is engraved with a unique teardrop pattern. The movement plate and oscillating weight are also embellished with delicate engraving while the leaf-shaped hands are inset with translucent blue enamel (lot 81, est. USD 500,000-700,000). The one vintage piece in the collection, an Officer’s-style wristwatch known as the 1923 Officier, could fly off the block for two million dollars and more (lot 175, est. USD 800,000-1,200,000). It is the first ever monopusher split-seconds chronograph by Patek Philippe, and the only one of its kind to feature a white enamel dial. It fetched USD 2.97 million when last sold at auction, in 1999 by Antiquorum. Collectors consider this watch to be one of the most important ever by Patek Philippe.

A tonneau-shaped Patek Philippe Ref. 5033 (lot 366 at Christie’s, est. USD 340,000-380,000).

Among the older pieces on the block at Sotheby’s, which has clearly struck gold with this selection, a Cartier desk clock made in 1928 is also expected to draw intense bidding among collectors (lot 45, est. USD 300,000-500,000). The Art Deco clock takes the shape of a tortoise, a symbol of long life for the Chinese, and is made from mother-of-pearl, lapis lazuli, onyx and gold. It is a fine example of the highly imaginative nature of Cartier’s production of that period. “This clock is worth far more than its estimate,” comments Arnaud Tellier, founder of Tellier Fine Art.

Christie’s, with its 360 lots, offers a more prolific selection but has been less fortunate in its finds. In addition to a tonneau-shaped Patek Philippe Ref. 5033 (lot 366, est. USD 340,000-380,000) and a noteworthy Rolex steel chronograph from 1970 (lot 352, est. USD 150,000-250,000), the auction house has one or two fine period pocket watches in its bag. These include a gold pocket watch from the early nineteenth century featuring a painted enamel scene by English watchmaker William Ilbery. Ilbery (1760-1839) worked in Fleurier, Switzerland, where his production included a small number of form watches in moss agate for the Chinese market. Estimated USD 80,000-120,000, it could well trigger some fierce bidding (lot 121).

Antiquorum pulls out

The one name missing from this June line-up is Antiquorum. The sale which the auction house had originally scheduled for June 25th has been moved to Hong Kong on June 28th. “The Asian market is more buoyant,” explained managing director Julien Schaerer, who confirmed information published by businessmontres.com: “Izzi Trip [Antiquorum SA until February 6th 2013 but in reality an empty shell following an asset transfer to Antiquorum Genève SA dated 22.06.2011] has been declared insolvent. But this has nothing to do with Antiquorum Genève!”. As a reminder, on May 7th the auction house announced the arrival of a new investment partner, FIDES Business Partner, a Zurich-based institutional investment firm.

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