Recent years have seen the general public’s interest in watch auctions piqued by the sky-high prices that certain exceptional timepieces are able to command. A recent example is the Sky Moon Tourbillon with 12 complications by Patek Philippe, made in 2006 and which sold for over CHF 1 million at the 2015 spring session. Six months earlier, the gavel came down on the Graves, a 1930s model also by Patek Philippe, for CHF 23.2 million. There is, however, more to watch auctions than the handful of lots for which millionaires and museums will bid fortunes. The auctioneer’s list also includes watches to which Joe Collector can reasonably aspire. Provided, that is, he knows where he’s treading. The vintage watch market is a world in itself that requires patience, knowledge and perseverance. It also has the wind in its sails, hence the tendency towards inflated prices in this segment too. But all hope is not lost, as shown by HH Journal’s pick of “reasonably priced” watches among the selection proposed by the four auction houses that are holding sales this May.
At its sale on May 14th, Phillips is offering 88 vintage chronographs in steel, including a Heuer Autavia Viceroy-Design from 1973 (lot 38, est. CHF 2,000 – 4,000) and a Jaeger-LeCoultre Shark Deep Sea from 1969 (lot 1, est. CHF 5,000- 10,000), both worthy of interest. The following day, the auction house is holding its Geneva Watch Auction: Three, during which 138 lots will come under the hammer. A newcomer to watch sales, Phillips positions itself in terms of quality, rare pieces, hence the opportunities for a “bargain” will be rare. Here are some of the potential good deals:
Lot 181 – Rolex Explorer, stainless steel, 1959
(est. CHF 7,000 – 9,000)
This reference 1016 is one of the earliest Explorers. The original black lacquer dial, with a minimalist layout of baton and 3-6-9 hour markers, is unrestored and in excellent condition. Note the luminous dot under the 6 o’clock marker, used by Rolex to signify that tritium was used as a luminous material instead of radium, which had been prohibited.
Lot 216 – Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, yellow gold, 1967
(est. CHF 6,000 – 8,000)
This automatic winding Memovox Worldtimer, with centre seconds, date, alarm, and the simultaneous indication of time in 24 time zones, is housed in an 18k yellow gold case with black dial. This is a rare version, suggesting it was made as a special order for a client. In excellent condition, it is equipped with the JLC 825 calibre, known as a “bumper” movement, in which the rotor bounces between two buffer springs.
Lot 217 – Vacheron Constantin, yellow gold, 1951
(est. CHF 5,000 – 10,000)
Unusually for the 1950s, the dial of this watch measures a non-negligible 37.5 mm in diameter, and is black, a rare choice for this model. The lugs that reach all the way to the bezel lend a touch of dramatic style to the otherwise no-frills design. The “VXN” stamp on the movement denotes that the watch was sold on the US market.
On May 14th, Sotheby’s will be putting a selection of 269 timepieces on the block, almost 200 of which are by Rolex and Patek Philippe. These saleroom stalwarts are joined by table clocks, pocket watches, and a number of contemporary and vintage watches including these gems:
Lot 2 – Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Chronograph, white gold, 2010
(est. CHF 6,000 – 8,000)
This is a fine Jules Audemars Chronograph, a collection that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves from collectors yet can still turn up some highly attractive pieces such as this white gold version with a contemporary 41-mm diameter, which should sell at a competitive price.
Lot 30 – Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Perpetual Calendar, pink gold, 2009 (est. CHF 10,000 – 15,000)
A tempting price for this Jaeger-LeCoultre Perpetual Calendar in pink gold with moon phases, eight-day power reserve and day/night indication. In excellent condition, this is an interesting opportunity for a collector taking their first steps in the complication mechanisms for which Jaeger-LeCoultre is renowned.
Lot 140 – Longines Chronograph, stainless steel, 1955
(est. CHF 6,000 – 9,000)
Driven by the famous manual-winding 30CH calibre, this stainless steel flyback chronograph is dated circa 1955. Its 38-mm case is distinguished by a remarkably pure design. The pre-sale estimate indicates the fast-growing popularity of Longines watches among collectors.
Lot 160 – Heuer Military “Bund” Chronograph, stainless steel, 1970
(est. CHF 5,000 – 7,000)
This flyback chronograph military “Bund” wristwatch, made for the German army circa 1970, is an excellent example of a pilot watch of that period. Housing a manual-winding Valjoux 230 flyback calibre in a 43-mm case, it is presented in very good condition and is certainly worthy of consideration.
Christie’s is proposing no fewer than 273 lots at its May 16th sale. One of the most noteworthy is an exceptional Breguet pocket watch having belonged to Charles-Louis Havas, founder of Agence France Presse. The sale includes three important private collections.
Lot 10 – Jardur Aviator’s Chronograph, 1945
(est. CHF 3,000- 5,000)
This watch by Jardur is a rare example of an aviator’s watch with a “wearable” 37-mm diameter. Made circa 1945, it is water-resistant, incabloc and anti-magnetic with a Valjoux movement. Preserved in excellent condition, this is probably one of the standouts of the sale.
Lot 17 – Girard-Perregaux Chronograph made for Ferrari, gold, 1997
(est. CHF 2,000 – 3,000)
Produced as a limited edition in 1997 for the Swiss Ferrari Club, this watch testifies to the brief partnership between the Swiss watchmaker and the prestigious car manufacturer. Equipped with a GP 2280 chronograph movement inside an 18k gold case, this lot comes on the block at an extremely competitive price and should retain collectors’ attention.
Lot 30 – Blancpain Villeret Perpetual Calendar, platinum, 2011
(est. CHF 10,000 – 15,000)
This limited-edition Villeret Perpetual Calendar automatic wristwatch from Blancpain, presented in a 38-mm platinum case, is a contemporary piece but no less typical of the classic aesthetic that Blancpain instils in its complication watches, and at a reasonable price.
Lot 139 – Breitling Chronograph for the Canadian Air Force, 1973
(est. CHF 3,000 – 6,000)
It’s a little-known fact that Breitling made chronographs for the Canadian Air Force, which gives this single button model from 1973 novelty appeal. The 35.5-mm cases houses a Valjoux 236 calibre.
Collectors are in for the long haul at the Antiquorum sale, with 478 pieces crossing the block during the two sessions on May 15th. There will be something for everyone, and particularly bidders who lean more towards vintage. With them in mind, the auction house has lined up some stunning watches at more than attractive pre-sale estimates. Here are just a few.
Lot 5 – Breitling Chrono-Matic Yachting, stainless steel, 1970s
(est. CHF 2,000 – 4,000)
This Breitling Chrono-Matic Yachting falls squarely into the “pizza” watch category, as generously dimensioned watches are affectionately known, with its 49-mm diameter. Presented in excellent condition, this regatta chronograph still has the price sticker from when it was made in the 1970s on the caseback. It has never been polished or serviced.
Lot – 27 Universal Tri-Compax, yellow gold, 1950s
(est. CHF 2,000 – 4,000)
Given its pre-sale estimate, this Universal Genève Tri-Compax, a 1950s model in 18k yellow gold, is well worth a closer look, despite its rather small 34-mm diameter.
Lot 270 – Franck Muller Chronograph, stainless steel, 1990s
(est. CHF 2,000-4,000)
This Reference 7000 is a stainless steel chronograph from the 1990s. Its classic style marks a contrast with the curvilinear Cintrée Curvex case which the brand generally chooses for its emblematic watches.
Lot 276 – Zenith Chronomaster El Primero, stainless steel, 2000
(est. CHF 2,000 – 4,000)
Another attractive price for this Zenith Chronomaster El Primero in stainless steel, which displays moon phases, date, day and month. Made circa 2000, it offers all Zenith’s expertise in the ever popular classic version.
Lot 330 – Durowe LACO B-Uhr Luftwaffe, stainless steel, 1942
(est. CHF 3,000 – 5,000)
Those who regret the demise of observation watches will have their eye on this Durowe B-Uhr, made in Pforzheim for the German Luftwaffe at the height of the second world war. Its 55-mm diameter “grips” the wrist like no other watch can.
Important Watches, sale on May 14th, Hôtel Beau-Rivage, Geneva
- The Geneva Watch Auction: Three, sale on May 15th, Hôtel la Réserve, Geneva
- Antiquorum Important Modern & Vintage Timepieces, sale on May 15th, 3 rue du Montblanc, Geneva
- Christie’s Rare Watches including important private collections, sale on May 16th, Four Seasons, Hotel des Bergues, Geneva