After a lively start to the season, with Rolex outperforming Patek Philippe in the first half of the year, there have been more rumblings in the auction world as ladies’ watches prove they are serious challengers to men’s timepieces. Most often, women’s watches are included in jewellery sales; it’s rare for them to feature at all prominently in a watch sale. Artcurial, however, is turning the tables in Monaco with a special session titled “Le Temps est Féminin”.
The first sale, in January this year, revealed a quite different “pecking order” among the various brands, with one name in particular standing out: Piaget. While yet to achieve the record prices that are almost a given in the men’s vintage market, the rise of ladies’ vintage timepieces at auction is no less worthy of interest, particularly as recent acquisitions by Richemont show that the group is engineering a stronger position in online luxury sales and the pre-owned market. Piaget is a sizeable asset for Richemont in this respect, as latest results from Artcurial confirm.
The Gail and Robert Schwartz collection
Previously underserved by the market, the ladies’ vintage watch segment is now revealing its hidden treasures, and Artcurial’s “Le Temps est Féminin” theme is restoring women’s timepieces to their rightful place in the history of the wristwatch. Women wore wristwatches long before the early 1900s when men started to carry time on their wrist rather than in their pocket. The first complicated movements, such as minute repeaters, were more often than not adapted from women’s pendant watches – a turning-point in the history of watchmaking!
Anyone browsing the sale catalogue for “Le Temps est Féminin II” may be surprised to see the extraordinary creativity emerging from Piaget during the 1970s, a decade more often associated with troubled times for Swiss watchmakers. Through its use of coloured gems mounted in precious metals, Piaget set the example in ladies’ watchmaking. Whereas complications are the ultimate criteria for a man’s vintage watch, colour and creative designs are the sought-after features of a woman’s vintage timepiece, and it is this combination of jewellery expertise and watchmaking skill that distinguishes many vintage watches for women.
Artcurial’s second themed sale assembled what has to be one of the finest selections of vintage Piaget watches ever to cross the block. The high point of the sale was the magnificent collection of Gail and Robert Schwartz, who represent Piaget in their Johannesburg store. Their connection with the brand brought them into contact with many of the era’s most famous names. Schwartz Jewellers was very much a family affair, and the Schwartzes themselves were known not just as watch enthusiasts but as sports fans too. The company was founded by Robert’s father Ike Schwartz, a lightweight boxing champion who, as the business expanded, sponsored a number of South African athletes, earning him the nickname “the sportsman’s jeweller”. Introduced by his father to the subtleties of jewellery, watchmaking and gemmology, Robert competed in the South African swimming and water polo teams at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. It’s also thanks to him that Omega’s electronic timing system was introduced to motor racing in South Africa, shortly before he was given the Heuer franchise for the country. Then along came Piaget, and the opportunity for Schwartz to acquire some of his first atypical timepieces – including a $20 coin fitted with an extra-thin 9P movement, sparking a fascination that would remain with him throughout his life. In 1966 Robert and Gail Schwartz became Piaget’s official representatives for South Africa. Their daughter Isa Gesseau is now heir to the family business, and to a legacy defined by a love of sport and a passion for beautiful watches.
Jewels that give the time
The Gail and Robert Schwartz collection includes several outstanding pieces whose elegance is a reminder of Piaget’s talent for imagining jewels that give the time. One such piece is lot 521 (sold €62’400.-), a white gold and diamond cuff watch driven by the 9P extra-thin mechanical movement that set the seal on Robert Schwartz’s passion for Piaget watches. Lot 541 (sold €22’100.-), another cuff watch in yellow gold with a tiger’s eye dial, is an early example of the use of colour with gold that returns in several of the brand’s contemporary creations. As much artwork as timepiece, lot 547 is an original Piaget watch incorporated into a bracelet of textured yellow gold rings and a Dalí gold coin. Red coral takes pride of place on the dial of lot 561 (sold €28’600.-), set in a wrought textured yellow gold bracelet – a hallmark of Piaget throughout its history. Last but not least, the highly unusual lot 562 (sold €49’400.-) is an exceptional jewellery piece composed of a pendant watch with lapis lazuli dial on a yellow gold and turquoise necklace that does credit to Piaget’s creativity and imagination.
The Artcurial sale also featured several emblematic timepieces by other makers, such as a yellow gold secret wristwatch by Patek Philippe (lot 571 sold €9’375), a square pendant watch in platinum and diamonds, also Patek Philippe (lot 579 unsold), and a magnificent Bulgari Serpenti watch (lot 600 unsold). The serpent is entwined with the history of Bulgari, and is the perfect epitome of the brand’s ability to use highly skilled goldsmithing techniques with extraordinary creativity to produce timepieces of immense refinement specifically for women.
Beyond any doubt, women have been a spark for these brands, inspiring creations on the cusp between jewellery and horology. It’s thanks to magnificent items such as these, several of which were part of the Artcurial sale, that ladies’ timepieces are becoming so eminently collectible.