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Spring auctions offer some notable lots
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Spring auctions offer some notable lots

Wednesday, 07 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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5 min read

A museum quality marine chronometer, a Patek Philippe minute repeater from 1927, commissioned by Henry Graves, and two Rolex equipped with a Beta 21 quartz movement are expected to be the highlights of the four auctions, beginning May 10th.

No fewer than 1,700 watches and horologically inspired objects will come under the auctioneer’s gavel this weekend and early next week, at sales in Geneva and Frankfurt. As is traditional in May, all the major auction houses will be in the starting-blocks. Antiquorum will set the ball rolling in Geneva on Sunday May 11th with 293 lots; next up will be Christie’s, on the Monday, with 440 lots awaiting the highest bidder; then on May 14th, Sotheby’s will be putting 342 lots on the block. Getting festivities under way on May 10th will be German auction house Auctioneers Dr. Crott in Frankfurt, where it will propose an impressive 625 lots.

Crott in the frontline

Admirers of antique timepieces would do well to make a detour via Frankfurt this Saturday, on their way to Geneva. Auctioneers Dr. Crott will be holding its 89th sale which includes a particularly impressive series of historical pocket watches and pendant-watches. One such item is a quarter-repeating pocket watch with musical movement, made in the 1820s and attributed to Piguet & Meylan. The back of the rose gold case is decorated with an enamel miniature of a woman watching over a sleeping infant. The case is further embellished with translucent red enamel over engine-turning, champlevé enamel and half-pearls. Such delicate crafting is typical of watches produced in the Geneva region for China. Philippe-Samuel Meylan was the first to equip his watches with a pinned disc and tuned vibrating blades, as here (lot 175, est. EUR 150,000-200,000). After opening his own workshop in Le Brassus in 1811, he returned to Geneva, where he had served his apprenticeship, and went into business with Isaac Piguet. Until 1828, Piguet & Meylan was one of watchmaking’s most prominent names, and a specialist in automata and musical watches.

Auctioneers Dr. Crott: museum quality marine chronometer, signed Paul Philip Barraud, London, circa 1802. Constant-force movement built to designs by Thomas Mudge (1715-1794). Lot 317, est. EUR 200,000-250,000.

The highlight of the sale, however, is an exceptional, museum quality marine chronometer by Paul Philip Barraud of London. Made circa 1802, the sides of the brass case are covered with green shagreen. The dial, beneath a convex crystal, displays four white enamel subdials: hours at 2 o’clock, small seconds at 6 o’clock, minutes at 10 o’clock and a 50-hour power-reserve indicator at 12 o’clock. All these indications are driven by an astonishing constant-force movement with fusee-and-chain transmission, built to designs by Thomas Mudge (1715-1794). The Z-balance is poised by two weights and two screws (lot 317, est. EUR 200,000-250,000). Not content with being the inventor of the detached lever escapement and the minute repeater, in 1774 Thomas Mudge devised a constant-force chronometer with which he hoped to win the prize put forward by the British Parliament whose Longitude Act promised £20,000 to whomever could propose a simple and reliable method with which to determine the longitude of a ship at sea. Mudge went on to make two similar chronometers, though none would win the coveted reward.

Antiquorum plays safe

At the opposite end of the scale to Auctioneers Dr. Crott, the majority of lots under the hammer at Antiquorum are just a few years old. The three highest estimates go to two Patek Philippes and a Greubel Forsey. The latter, Invention Piece No. 3 made in 2007 as a limited edition of 11, is estimated between CHF 200,000 and CHF 300,000 (lot 264). The two Pateks are Reference 5959 in platinum, a split-seconds chronograph sold in 2009 (lot 289, est. CHF 180,000-250,000) and the famous Reference 2499, a perpetual calendar moon phase chronograph in yellow gold, made in 1967 and with an unusually conservative estimate of CHF 150,000 to CHF 250,000 (lot 293). Last November, two of the same reference, one in rose gold from 1957 and one in yellow gold, co-signed Cartier, sold at Christie’s for CHF 1,985,000 and CHF 941,000 respectively.

A unique piece and unknown to the market until a few years ago.

On the subject of Christie’s, the auction house has put together an impressive trio of two Patek Philippes and one Rolex to headline its sale on May 12th. The first Patek, a cushion-shaped minute repeating wristwatch in platinum, is very possibly a unique piece and unknown to the market until a few years ago. It was made in 1927 at the behest of Henry Graves Jr. The American financier and renowned collector purchased more than thirty watches from the Geneva manufacturer, almost all of which were one-offs. They include the famous Graves of 1933, the most complicated watch of its day. In 1927, watchmakers were still more comfortable with pocket watches, and therefore reluctant to fit a wristwatch with a complicated movement. This minute repeater is all the more rare as it is engraved with Graves’ motto – Esse Quam Videri (to be rather than to seem) – and signed “Patek Philippe & Co, Geneva, Switzerland”, a rarely seen variation intended for English-speaking countries of the more usual “Patek Philippe & Co, Genève” (lot 101, est. CHF 1,200,000-1,800,000).

Taking second place in the high estimates at Christie’s is another Patek Philippe, the renowned Sky Moon Tourbillon Reference 5002. Made in 2001 and sold in 2002, this is the most complicated wristwatch ever by Patek Philippe, with a movement composed of 686 parts and twelve complications: hours, minutes, seconds, perpetual calendar with retrograde date, day, month, leap year, age of the moon, minute repeater, tourbillon, sky chart, sidereal time, moon orbit and moon phases (lot 48, est. CHF 750,000-1,200,000). A rare opportunity for collectors.

Coming third is a rarely seen Rolex Oyster Perpetual Reference 5029/5028 from 1949. This is, according to Christie’s, the earliest known Rolex cloisonné enamel dial, and also the only known dial to have the sought-after star-set numerals. Everything about this watch is exceptionally rare, from its 36mm diameter to the Rolex crown at 6 o’clock. With barley contained enthusiasm, Christie’s insists that “the spectacular quality of this wristwatch is difficult to express in words.” (lot 207, est. CHF 500,000-1,000,000).

Sotheby's: Rolex Reference 5100 in white gold with a quartz Beta 21 calibre, made in 1978. Lot 220, est. CHF 30,000-50,000.

Sotheby’s will wait until Wednesday 14th to propose its 342 lots. One of the most noteworthy is a gold and enamel snuffbox, circa 1801-1804, with a concealed timepiece and automaton, signed Piguet & Capt à Genève (lot 334, est. CHF 600,000-800,000). However, the two lots that are most likely to send bids climbing are the two References 5100 by Rolex, made in 1976 and 1978, respectively in yellow gold (lot 219, est. CHF 20,000-30,000) and white gold (lot 220, est. CHF 30,000-50,000). Unremarkable on the outside, they are in fact fitted with a Beta 21 quartz movement, the first industrially-manufactured, Swiss electronic calibre. This was a hugely successful watch and a piece of avant-garde technology for its day.

Auctioneers Dr. Crott
Sheraton Hotel – Frankfurt Airport
Saturday May 10th 2014

Antiquorum
Mandarin Oriental Hotel – Geneva
Sunday May 11th 2014

Christie’s
Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues – Geneva
Monday May 12th 2014

Sotheby’s
Beau-Rivage Hotel – Geneva
Wednesday May 14th 2014

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