The word “record” hardly does justice: on November 12th in Geneva, after a mere thirteen minutes of bidding, the hammer came down on a Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 in stainless steel from 1943 for the modest sum of CHF 11 million (lot 38, est. CHF 3 million). Doing the honours, the inimitable Aurel Bacs, star of the Phillips saleroom. With a selection of timepieces made between 1908 and 2011 – the majority dating from the 1940s and 1960s – Bacs sailed from one extraordinary result to another with evident delight. His introduction to the catalogue even noted that “since our inaugural sale in May 2015, no other auction house has sold as many wristwatches above this magic threshold as Phillips. Furthermore, with considerably less auctions and watches offered during the first six months of 2016 than any other firm, we are proud to state that Phillips has achieved the highest combined sales totals.”
The collector's grail watch
Once again this November 12th, 177 watches achieved a total of CHF 27.5 million against a pre-sale estimate between CHF 12.5 and CHF 23.8 million. 93% of lots were sold, including of course lot 38. It alone accounted for almost a third of the final result. Granted, this perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phase is one of just four known examples; granted, it can’t even be seen in the collections of the Patek Philippe Museum; granted, it has become the ultimate grail watch for major-league collectors. But such an extraordinary price sets a dangerous precedent. It far exceeds the previous record for a wristwatch at auction, also held by a Patek Philippe, namely a one-off Ref. 5016 in stainless steel which in 2015 reached CHF 7.3 million at the Only Watch charity auction.
Rare and expensive
A second lot topped the one million mark: the same Patek Philippe Ref. 1518, this time in pink gold. It went for CHF 1.47 million (lot 196, est. CHF 600,000-1,200,000). A third example, in yellow gold, changed hands for CHF 598,000 (lot 100, est. CHF 250,000-500,000). The difference in price between the two comes down to their relative scarcity: of the 281 made between 1941 and the early 1950s, the majority were in yellow gold. Only a fifth of production was in pink gold. As for the stainless steel version, only four are known to exist. Together, this trio of Ref. 1518 proposed by Phillips realised more than CHF 13 million; that’s almost half the entire sale result.
Also worth noting, the top ten lots – five by Patek Philippe and five by Rolex – accounted for two-thirds (CHF 17.63 million) of the end result. Most went for well above estimate, such as the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “Paul Newman” “Panda” (lot 30, est. CHF 250,000-500,000) which sold for CHF 874,000. It certainly ticked all the boxes: firstly, this is a “Paul Newman”, so-named by collectors after the actor who wore one in the late 1960s. The “Panda” nickname refers to the black and white dial, introduced in the United States in 1966 as an exotic or tropical dial. This was, according to Phillips, the only non-modified example with this dial. It was retailed by Tiffany & Co, whose name appears underneath that of the brand.