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November auctions: 1,275 timepieces come under the hammer...
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November auctions: 1,275 timepieces come under the hammer in Geneva

Wednesday, 03 November 2010
By Danièle Chambas
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Danièle Chambas

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9 min read

Three auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Antiquorum – are in the starting blocks for three days of sales which, twice a year, maintain Geneva at the forefront of fine watch auctions. Will the May 2010 record of a total CHF 42 million be broken? Answer on November 15th.

In what is now a tradition, each May and November, three of Geneva’s most prestigious hotels provide the luxurious setting for sales by three world-class auction houses. On November 13th, 14th and 15th, collectors, dealers and bidders will travel from all five continents to Geneva, where they will pit against online and telephone bidding. They like to experience in person the unique atmosphere of a sale, with its mix of cosy intimacy and good-humoured excitement as bidders burst into applause when, after a hard-fought battle, a lot goes to the most determined or most affluent individual. Urging them on is the auctioneer whose role it is to have each lot reach the highest price before letting the hammer fall.

Patrizzi & Co suspends its activity in Europe and the United States

Note that the latest arrival and fourth auction house, Osvaldo Patrizzi, has suspended its activity in Europe and the United States as it works towards a clean bill of financial health, to concentrate on the Chinese market. Whereas the vast majority of buyers used to be European, American and Middle Eastern, Asia and specifically China are the new eldorado for Fine Watches. Growing numbers of increasingly affluent Chinese collectors are prepared to pay a fortune for exceptional, sometimes unique, timepieces of irreproachable quality. Europeans and Americans, who are still present in number, lean towards grand complications and “historic” timepieces that were once owned by illustrious personalities, perhaps royalty, legendary athletes, captains of industry, musicians, actors or singers. The cherry on the cake: if the watch has remained in the same family, or better still has been sleeping in a safe with its original presentation box and certificate of authenticity, its value skyrockets.

To include such a treasure in their catalogue is the dream, sometimes come true, of any auctioneer who will spend the year scouring the world for the exceptional watches that will bring the house down. Theirs is a fascinating profession which, in addition to expert knowledge, requires flair, a well-filled address book and an actor’s talent to preside over a sale. With respect to brands, for more than a decade Patek Philippe has dominated the list of record-breakers, followed by Rolex and others including Breguet, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, Audemars Piguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC and Longines. After a distinct slowdown in spring 2009, when collectors were hesitating to sell and therefore buy, autumn brought the first signs of recovery. The Geneva auctions in May 2010 realised CHF 42 million, of which 45% were made by Christie’s alone. Proof that confidence has been restored in this very particular sector.

Aurel Bacs, International Co-Head of Watches who in May 2010 presided over sales totalling CHF 23 million with 95.9% of lots sold, proposes a fine selection of 388 lots. With an extremely reasonable global estimate of CHF 13.2 to 17 million, all these lots have been duly controlled and will come under the hammer on the same day. The sale will be dominated by wristwatches including sixty Patek Philippes (Christie’s “speciality”), thirty-three Rolexes and twelve Cartiers. They will be joined by some sixty pocket watches, with examples of fine enamel watches that were made in Europe in the nineteenth century for the Chinese and Ottoman markets.

The highlight of the sale will be the exceptionally rare and eagerly awaited Patek Philippe Ref. 2523 World Time in pink gold, manufactured in 1953, with an enamel disc in the centre of the dial signed “Gobbi Milano” (lot 114). This is the first time in fifty years that this watch comes to auction. Estimated at CHF 1.5 to 2.5 million, it could well break a record, although not that of the 1940 Patek Philippe Ref. 1527 which was sold in May for CHF 6.2 million. Part III of the Milanese collection, A Connoisseur’s Vision, proposes ten magnificent Patek Philippe watches including Ref. 1563, a split-seconds chronograph in yellow gold, manufactured in 1943, with a pulsation scale (lot 328, est. CHF 600,000-1,000,000). This is the first time this piece has come to auction in twenty years. Only two other examples exist, one of which belonged to Duke Ellington.

 

Christie’s lot 328: Patek Philippe Ref. 1563, split-seconds chronograph in yellow gold, manufactured in 1943, with a pulsation scale. (Est. 600.000 - 1'000.000) © Christie’s
Christie’s lot 328: Patek Philippe Ref. 1563, split-seconds chronograph in yellow gold, manufactured in 1943, with a pulsation scale. (Est. 600.000 - 1'000.000) © Christie’s

In the same collection is Ref. 591, a chronograph wristwatch with telemetre scale (lot 232), manufactured in 1941 in pink gold. This unique piece has an estimate of CHF 150,000 to 250,000. Ref. 2499, manufactured in 1954, features a superb black lacquer dial and Breguet numerals (lot 355) and is estimated at CHF 500,000 to 800,000. Equally outstanding are a surprising Rolex Chimera, Ref. 8651, manufactured in 1952, with a polychrome cloisonné enamel dial (lot 380), estimated at CHF 60,000 to 80,000, and a unique octagonal wristwatch by Cartier (lot 275, est. CHF 50,000 to 70,000) with a skeleton movement and 18 rubies set in the bezel.

Sale: Monday November 15th, 9.30am and 2.30pm, Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues.
Pre-sale exhibition: Friday November 12th, 2pm to 7pm; Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th November, 10am to 7pm.
Exhibition in Shanghai: Four Seasons, October 27th and 28th.
Exhibition in Hong Kong at Christie’s: October 30th to November 2nd.

At the now traditional Sunday evening sale, Geoffroy Ader, European Head of Watches, will be auctioning 244 lots, estimated in excess of CHF 5.5 million. A specialist in historic timepieces and enamel pocket watches in particular, he describes his selection as “exotic” as it charters every facet of watchmaking. The sale will be spearheaded by timepieces made in Europe for the Chinese and Turkish markets.

The highlight of the sale (lot 138) is an exceptional automaton, the likes of which Geoffroy Ader says he has never seen before. Manufactured circa 1800 for the Chinese market and attributed to Henri Maillardet, inventor of the spring-activated automaton, this articulated caterpillar is in gold and enamel, set with jewels and pearls. It is estimated at CHF 350,000 to 450,000. Preceding it in the sale, and also made for the Chinese market, are lots 136 and 137, a gold, enamel, diamond and pearl-set musical lorgnette watch, made circa 1800, probably by Piguet and Meylan in Geneva and which is expected to sell for CHF 150,000 to 200,000, and a gold, enamel and pearl-set musical knife, estimated at CHF 125,000 to 175,000. Also one to look out for is lot 135, a pair of gold, enamel and hard stone centre seconds watches, made by William Ilbery in London, 1800, and estimated at CHF 80,000 to 120,000.

The sale also proposes some twenty elegantly decorated enamel pocket watches, made for the Turkish market. One, lot 140 by Auguste Courvoisier (La Chaux-de-Fonds), depicts the Cemetery of Eyüp in Istanbul (est. CHF 15,000 to 20,000). Equally original is a silver coach clockwatch with alarm, made by Gautrin. It portrays Chronos, the god of time (lot 145, est. CHF 60,000 to 80,000).
Of the hundred or so wristwatches that will come under the hammer, two Patek Philippe chronographs with calendar and moon phases are certain to generate excitement among bidders. They are lot 243, a white gold cushion wristwatch, Ref. 5020, made in 1994 (est. CHF 120,000 to 150,000), and lot 228, Ref. 2499, made in 1973, which is expected to fetch CHF 200,000 to 250,000.

Sale: Sunday November 14th, 8pm, Hotel Beau-Rivage.
Pre-sale exhibition: Friday November 12th, 3pm to 6pm; Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th November, 10am to 6pm.

Following the 350 lots that came under the hammer in September, Antiquorum has almost doubled its offer and, as the catalogue prepared to go to press in October, reached 643 lots. They will be sold over two afternoons and include, as well as wristwatches, around fifty clocks, some sixty pocket watches, and watchmaker’s tools including workbenches. Virtually every brand will be represented and, in the vast majority of cases, at highly affordable estimates. First in terms of number is Rolex with 80 lots, followed by Omega (68 lots), Patek Philippe (44 lots), Vacheron Constantin (27 lots), Cartier (15 lots), IWC (11 lots) and Panerai (8 lots). The sale has something for all tastes and every price range, with even a limited-edition Swatch, lot 572, estimated at CHF 750 to 1,200. Whetting bidders’ appetite will be the 53 Omega timepieces that will open the sale.

The highlight of the auction, and last to come under the hammer, will be lot 643: an extremely rare Patek Philippe Ref. 2499, Third Series in pink gold, made in 1971, with perpetual calendar and moon phases. It has an estimate of CHF 800,000 to 1,200,000. The sale will also strike a historic note by presenting five Rolex Oyster Perpetual models (lots 616-620), each of which belonged to Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Everest, and consigned for sale by his widow. The model dating from 1953, the year of the expedition, was presented to Sir Edmund by Rolex Bosecks, Calcutta, shortly after he reached the summit (lot 620, est. CHF 10,000 to 20,000). In the same vein, the family of Alfred Gregory, the expedition’s photographer, has consigned for sale the Rolex Ref. 6098 in steel with an engraved back, which he wore to just 350 metres from the summit (lot 621, est. CHF 20,000 to 30,000). It will be sold with an ice axe used during the expedition and five original photos. Another outstanding lot is a quarter-repeating navette-shaped ring watch, one of only two known examples, that was presented as a gift to Napoleon I, made circa 1810. Equally noteworthy is a platinum pocket chronograph by Audemars Piguet (lot 623) with perpetual calendar and moon phases, estimated at CHF 250,000 to 350,000.

Antiquorum lot 620: Rolex Oyster Ref. 6084 dating from 1953. This watch was presented to Sir Edmund Hillary by Rolex Bosecks, Calcutta, India after his descent from Everest in honour of his achievement (Est. CHF 10'000-20'000) © Antiquorum
Antiquorum lot 620: Rolex Oyster Ref. 6084 dating from 1953. This watch was presented to Sir Edmund Hillary by Rolex Bosecks, Calcutta, India after his descent from Everest in honour of his achievement (Est. CHF 10'000-20'000) © Antiquorum

Sale: Saturday November 13th at 2pm and Sunday November 14th at 2pm, Mandarin Oriental Hotel du Rhône.
Pre-sale exhibition: 2, rue du Mont-Blanc, Geneva.
Wednesday 10th to Friday 12th November, 10am to 7pm, Saturday November 13th, 10am to 6pm, and Sunday November 14th, 10am to 12pm.
Exhibitions in Shanghai, November 2nd, Hong Kong, November 4th, and Zhuhai, November 6th.

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