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No special treatment for museums at watch auctions

No special treatment for museums at watch auctions

Monday, 26 May 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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3 min read

Auctions are an opportunity for clock and watch museums to add to their collections with pieces that rarely become available elsewhere. Yet despite these noble intentions, a museum is a bidder like any other, and must be prepared to pay the price for the lots it wishes to acquire.

Swiss law does not provide a “right of first refusal” for museums wishing to acquire pieces at auction. As a consequence, these museums, most of which are private, must battle it out with other bidders to become the new owners of the rare items of great significance to the history and heritage of the companies which made them. At the recent sales in Geneva and Frankfurt, Breguet and Patek Philippe together paid out more than CHF 1.352 million, with Breguet bidding CHF 821,000 for one lot.

The Breguet Museum also acquired n°1176, the third ever tourbillon to have been made by Abraham-Louis Breguet, for CHF 821,000.
Breguet brings home its heritage

Bidding by telephone, Marc A. Hayek, President and CEO of Montres Breguet, had his sights set on two Breguet watches that came under the hammer on May 12th at Christie’s: the Breguet n°4039 extra-thin half-quarter repeater with date and off-centre hour dial and, more importantly, the n°1176, the third tourbillon to have been made by Abraham-Louis Breguet himself. The 4039, which went for CHF 87,500 including buyer’s premium, was originally sold on September 30th 1825 to Edouard Fitz-James, 6th Duke of Berwick (lot 292, est. CHF 70,000-140,000). Equipped with a lever escapement “on the principle of chronometers”, it proposes a date indication at 6 o’clock and an advance/retard slide at 5 o’clock. The silver dial is engine-turned and fitted with Breguet hands.

The second, exceptionally rare lot, the Tourbillon Breguet n°1176, is the work of the master himself. Made for the Polish Count Potocki, one of the most emblematic figures of the Enlightenment, this pocket chronometer is Breguet’s first ever four-minute tourbillon. It is fitted with a “natural escapement”, a mechanism with two escape wheels, invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1789. Only a dozen or so of the master’s watches were equipped with this type of escapement. Selling for a hammer price of CHF 680,000 (lot 294. est. CHF 600,000-1,000,000), it has a regulator dial, double subsidiary seconds and a power-reserve indicator calibrated for 35 hours.

A gold pocket watch made for the Ottoman market. A polychrome enamel by Chenevard on the back of the case shows the political map of the eastern Mediterranean. Sold to the Patek Philippe Museum for EUR 96,800.
Patek Philippe Museum in the running

The Patek Philippe Museum, a private institution based in Geneva, also made two important acquisitions, this time in Frankfurt at Auctioneers Dr. Crott. The museum came away with the session’s most impressive lot, a marine chronometer signed Paul Philip Barraud, made circa 1802. Its brass case, covered with shagreen and in an excellent state of preservation, together with its constant-force movement with fusee-and-chain transmission, built to designs by Thomas Mudge, make this a very rare piece (see Spring auctions offer some notable lots). It sold for EUR 273,000 (lot 317, est. EUR 200,000-250,000).

The museum’s second purchase was a gold pocket watch, produced for the Ottoman market. The back of the case is embellished with a polychrome enamel by Chenevard depicting the political map of the eastern Mediterranean. Only 35 timepieces with this type of enamel map decoration are known to date. Manufactured for the most part in Switzerland, they were presented as gifts to Ottoman rulers. This watch, which sold for EUR 96,800, is further distinguished by the apocryphal signature “Abraham Louis Breguet” (lot 177, est. EUR 80,000-100,000).

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