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The autumn sales in Geneva: Christie’s
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The autumn sales in Geneva: Christie’s

Wednesday, 21 November 2012
By Danièle Chambas
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Danièle Chambas

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4 min read

Fans of Aurel Bacs had been saving the date of Monday November 12th for some considerable time. When the auctioneer stepped up to his podium at 9.30am, in the refurbished Grand Salon of the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, extra seats had to be hastily added to an already packed room.

A total 315 lots were about to come under the hammer; less than the 400 that were dispersed in May but including three exceptional platinum Patek Philippe watches, and a collection of enamelled pocket watches made for the Chinese market and appearing at auction for the first time. Aurel Bacs was also to sell Part One of A Gentleman’s Pursuit for Excellence, a stunning collection of complicated timepieces by Patek Philippe. All the lots were presented in a superb catalogue. Note that eight of the top ten for the day were by Patek. The sale achieved a total CHF 27 million, with 301 lots sold and 4% unsold.

A new world record for a watch without complications.
The J.B. Champion fetches CHF 3.7 million

The room held its breath at the announcement of lot 88, a platinum Patek Philippe chronometer wristwatch, Ref. 2458, with a large Guillaume balance and originally manufactured to compete in the Geneva Observatory precision competition. The prominent Texan collector J.B. Champion purchased the movement in 1952, and had it fitted inside a platinum case with his name engraved on the dial. The battle for this unique timepiece began at CHF 2 million and climbed to CHF 3.7 million (USD 3.9 million / EUR 3.3 million) after a pre-sale estimate of CHF 2-4 million. This would be the highest-selling item for the session and a new world record for a watch without complications.

Also by Patek Philippe, lot 151 was the spectacular perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phases in platinum, the renowned Ref. 2499/100. Made in 1987, it came from the collection of the legendary musician Eric Clapton and is one of only two examples ever cased in this metal, the other belonging to the Patek Philippe museum in Geneva. It sold in four minutes for CHF 3.4 million (USD 3.6 million / EUR 3 million), after an estimate of CHF 2.5-4 million, to an Asian bidder, setting a world record for this reference. The third Patek Philippe, Ref.1579 (lot 188), is the only available example of the three known to have been cased in platinum. Made in 1946, it achieved its high estimate of CHF 1.5 million (USD 1.6 million / EUR 1.3 million) and will remain in Europe.

Delicately executed, superbly crafted and in a remarkable state of preservation, the collection of antique watches made for the Chinese market (lots 35 to 42 then 189 to 195), assembled by a couple between the late 1950s and the 1970s, was a wonder to behold. All fifteen sold for a total CHF 2.3 million (USD 2.4 million / EUR 1.9 million), exceeding the pre-sale estimate five times. Of particular interest, lot 194 comprised a beautifully enamelled pocket watch with centre seconds, circa 1815, by William Ilbery and Jean-François-Victor Dupont. It exceeded its high estimate almost sevenfold, selling for CHF 651,000 (USD 687,456 / EUR 570,589), and will be a splendid addition to the Patek Philippe museum. Earlier that day, the museum had acquired lot 41 from the same collection, a fine quarter-repeating pocket watch, circa 1820, in yellow gold, enamel and edged with pearls. Signed Piguet & Meylan with an enamel miniature attributed to Lissignol, it went for CHF 459,000 (USD 484,704 / EUR 402,304).

A bidding battle for Rieussec's chronograph

The seven Patek Philippe watches presented as A Gentleman’s Pursuit for Excellence (lots 86, 266, 277, 279, 314, 315, 316) sold for a total CHF 1.3 million (USD 1.4 million / EUR 1.1 million). This was Part One of the sale of twenty wristwatches and pocket watches, assembled over a decade by an anonymous collector who, fascinated by the perfection of highly complicated mechanisms, systematically sought out the rarest examples of the most coveted references, in perfect condition. Part Two will be dispersed in May 2013.

While Christie’s may be reputed as the specialist auction house for Patek Philippe, a number of pieces by other esteemed brands were warmly welcomed by collectors, including two particularly noteworthy Rolex wristwatches. The Day-Date Ref. 18206 in platinum with an attractive turquoise lacquered dial, manufactured in 1999 (lot 265), found a taker in the room at CHF 86,700 (USD 91,702 / EUR 72,017). Ref. 6543 in stainless steel, from 1955, the earliest and rarest of the Milgauss references, of which very few remain, sold to a telephone bidder for CHF 168,000 (USD 177,692 / EUR 139,549) after a pre-sale estimate of CHF 40,000-60,000.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Milgauss, ref. 6543, manufactured in 1955 © Christie's

The imposing inking chronograph by Nicolas Rieussec, a unique piece dated 1821/22, went to the Patek Philippe museum for CHF 228,000 (USD 241,154 / EUR 189,357) after some highly competitive bidding between the museum and Montblanc.

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