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World records at Sotheby’s in New York
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World records at Sotheby’s in New York

Wednesday, 18 June 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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4 min read

The “Titanium Collection”, a groundbreaking private collection including a number of titanium wristwatches whose reference numbers had never been revealed to the public, flew off the block at Sotheby’s which garnered widespread publicity at the same time.

Excitement ran high in New York when the ten watches in this very special private collection came under the hammer at Sotheby’s on June 10th (see ). Slated to achieve some USD 3 million, they raised USD 7.1 million! The Patek Philippe 1923 Officier split-seconds monopusher chronograph alone achieved USD 2,965,000, more than doubling its high estimate. It was purchased by the Patek Philippe Museum, where it will go on view. The Patek Philippe Ref. 3928T-001 also went through the roof when it fetched USD 737,000, making it the best result ever for a time-only wristwatch sold by Sotheby’s. The sale realised a total USD 11.7 million, selling 83.6% by lot. Christie’s, meanwhile, ended its New York sale, held June 11th, with a more than respectable USD 8.77 million, selling 85% by lot. A Patek Philippe Ref. 5033 in platinum claimed the top result, and the sale’s highest estimate, with a hammer price of USD 401,000.

The 1923 Officier, now a museum piece

It took some intense bidding but the final word went to the Patek Philippe Museum… and could it honestly have been otherwise? Bidders battled it out in the room, online and by phone to take home the aptly-named 1923 Officier in yellow gold, until the Geneva museum finally placed the winning bid of USD 2,965,000 (lot 175, est. USD 800,000-1,200,000), coming within a whisker of the highest price ever paid at Sotheby’s for a wristwatch, a record held by a Patek Philippe minute repeater in yellow gold from the collection of Henry Graves Jr., which fetched USD 2,994,000 in 2012.

It is considered to be the first monopusher split-seconds chronograph ever in modern watchmaking.

This Officer’s-style watch is of historical significance on more than one count. It is considered to be the first monopusher split-seconds chronograph ever in modern watchmaking. Sold on October 13th 1923, work actually began on the watch much earlier, in 1903. It is also a bespoke piece, commissioned by an important collector and unique in being the only one to have a Grand Feu white enamel dial. Lastly, it took its place in the history books in 1999 when at Antiquorum it pulverised all existing records in all categories for a wristwatch when it fetched an incredible CHF 2,974,000 (USD 3,308,000), largely contributing to the Patek Philippe legend and the passions the firm unleashes at auctions today.

Three world records

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the Titanium Collection – the name Sotheby’s gave to the selection – had no trouble finding takers. Made to the specific requirements of their owner and unknown to the general public, these Patek Philippe watches are, for the most part, totally unique. The Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref. 5001T in titanium went for USD 1,325,000 (lot 30, est. USD 1-1.5 million); the Minute Repeating Perpetual Calendar Ref. 5103P in platinum fetched USD 773,000 (lot 81, est. USD 500,000-700,000). Taking fifth place in the sale was Ref. 3928T-001 in titanium, with a fabulous 4.99-carat diamond as an impressive stand-in for the transparent display back. It realised USD 737,000 (lot 141, est. USD 300,000-500,000), setting a world record for a modern time-only wristwatch. Next came the Celestial Ref. 5102T, selling for USD 545,000 (lot 31, est. USD 200,000-300,000), a world record for this reference, and the Gondolo Minute Repeating Annual Calendar Ref. 5033T which at USD 509,000 (lot 80, est. USD 400,000-600,000) set a world record of its own.

The Patek Philippe Gondolo Minute Repeating Annual Calendar Ref. 5033T flew off the block for USD 509,000 (lot 80, est. USD 400,000-600,000), a world record for this reference.

Another exceptional lot underscored the importance of the sale, namely a Cartier Art Deco desk clock from 1928, which claimed third place among the highest-selling pieces. Made in the shape of a tortoise, in mother-of-pearl, lapis lazuli, onyx and gold, it drew some fierce bidding. The clock finally went for USD 875,000, well in excess of Sotheby’s conservative estimate (lot 45, est. USD 300,000-500,000). A symbol of longevity and an allegory for the world in China, as its shell supports the heavens, the tortoise has long been a part of Cartier’s menagerie of fabulous creatures. In 1911, Louis Cartier designed a form watch for ladies that would take the name of Tortue. Now an icon among watches, it caused a sensation at a time when a timepiece was expected to be round.

Over at Christie’s, which put some 360 lots on the block the following day, June 11th, at the Rockefeller Plaza, the highest seller was, as expected, a Patek Philippe Ref. 5033, a minute repeating annual calendar in platinum, which reached USD 401,000 (lot 366, est. USD 340,000-380,000). As for the pocket watch signed William Ilbery from the early nineteenth century (lot 121, est. USD 80,000-120,000), it went for USD 106,250.

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