Yesterday, May 12th, 2014, Christie's Important Watches Sale in Geneva brought in a total of $27,230,528 USD Inclusive of Buyer's Premiums. Once again and surpassing all expectations, this sale surpassed last year's Christie's Rolex Daytona "Lesson One" Auction —a prestigious single-themed evening auction featuring 50 exceptional examples of the world's most celebrated chronograph wristwatch, that totaled $13,248,167 USD while selling 100% by lot and by value. While this auction wasn't a 100% by lot and many of the lots where withdrawn or passed, we were able to see that the frenzy of watch collectors continues to push the needle to historical levels and unseen prices.
While the highlights of last year's Christie's auctions included an all original Rolex Cosmograph Oyster Paul Newman ref. 6263/6239 manufactured in 1969 with box and papers selling for $1,089,186 USD and a Patek Philippe ref. 2499 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph with Moon Phases fetching over $2 million USD, this time it was somewhat of a different story. As it is common with auctions, some of the lesser sought-after timepieces brought in very large sums of money while some of the watches that were expected to exceed their estimates ended up falling short or barely meeting their lower estimates. Such was the case for two very important timepieces from Patek Philippe. The first one, the extremely rare, historically important and legendary Patek Philippe Henry Graves Jr. platinum cushion-shaped minute repeater with Breguet numerals with movement No. 198,095 manufactured in 1927 —Lot 101— with his coat of arms on the case back, fetched only $1,372,970 when its low estimate was set at $1.4 million USD.
The second surprise, was the amount fetched by the Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon ref. 5002 with double dial with 12 complications including minute repeater with cathedral gongs, tourbillon, perpetual calendar, retrograde date, moon age, sidereal time, sky chart and moon orbit display. This watch manufactured in 2001 fetched only $1,044,824 USD when the estimate was set between $840,000-$1,300,000 USD.
The highlight of the auction without a doubt was lot 207, an extremely rare and unique 18K gold Rolex automatic wristwatch ref. 5029/5028 from 1949 featuring star numerals and cloisonné enamel dial depicting a whale and a frigate in full sail cruising through stormy seas, applied baton numerals, applied gold Rolex logo to 6 o'clock and a tonneau-shaped case. This rare watch fetched $1,249,915 USD, slightly above its estimate between $569,697 - $1,139,394 USD.
The next star of this memorable sale was the Breguet No. 1176 "Montre garde-temps à tourbillon" —Lot 294. An exceptional and historically important 18K gold openface pocket chronometer with four minute tourbillon, échappement naturel, double subsidiary seconds, power reserve, stop-seconds feature and gold regulator dial. This very special pocket watch was sold to Comte Potocki through Monsieur Moreau in St. Petersburg on 12 February 1809 for the sum of 4,600 Francs. Yesterday, this watch fetched the extraordinary amount of $935,442 USD when the estimate was set between $683,636 and $1,139,394 USD.
Another big highlight of the sale was the ultra rare double reference yellow gold Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref. 6270/6263 —Lot 206—, circa 1985 with manual wound calibre 727, pavé diamond-set dial, sapphire-set numerals, gold baton hands and baguette-cut diamond-set bezel. Literally, a one of a kind Daytona that exceeded its estimates and sold for $1,031,151 USD.
Just as expected by many, Rolex and Patek Philippe timepieces took the center stage. However, it really came to rare Rolex references —including some property of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said— to deliver the surprises in the room and in the watch collecting world. We are talking about three very special watches including two Rolex Daytonas ref. 6265 with champagne dials —Lot 204 circa 1980 with the emblem of the Sultanate of Oman sold for $415,879 and Lot 205 circa 1973 with Sultan's signature printed in red sold for $552,606— and one Day-Date in platinum and diamond-set circa 1974 that was sold by Asprey and made for the Sultanate of Oman that sold for $354,352 USD exceeding its original estimates almost five times.
Additionally, for those that are hardcore vintage Rolex lovers, the best is yet to be discussed. Among the usual suspects, there were ten fascinating timepieces that sold for record-breaking amounts. An exceptional MilSub ref. 5513 —Lot 174— fetched $197,115, a rare double reference Submariner ref. 5514/5513 Comex —Lot 160— sold for $217,624, a yellow gold Submariner ref. 1680 circa 1970 —Lot 200— with the emblem of the Sultanate of Oman sold for $210,789, a Double Red Sea-Dweller Patent Pending case back —Lot 156— sold for $183,442, a GMT Master ref. 6542 with bakelite bezel —Lot 168— fetched $190,279, a yellow gold Paul Newman Daytona ref. 6241 circa 1969 —Lot 148— sold for $251,806, a Milgauss with black honeycomb dial —Lot 422— sold for $142,424, a Comex Sea-Dweller ref. 16660 —Lot 338— with box, papers and additional depth rating instrument sold for $156,097, a platinum Day-Date ref. 18206 with Coral Dial —Lot 347— sold for $169,770 and one of our favorite timepieces from this auction and definitely a highlight, was the ultra rare Sea-Dweller ref. 16600 'Polizia di Stato Sommozzatori' —Lot 353— that fetched and incredible amount of $142,424 USD. In all, very similar prices were seen at this auction when compared to last year's record breaking sales in Geneva when it comes to GMT Masters and Submariners, not so much for Milgausses or Daytonas. However, one thing was very different this time and it was the fact that Aurel Bacs' was not in the room. He was truly missed in this auction and maybe his contagious energy and expertise would've brought the hammer prices even further up.
Lastly, perhaps one of the biggest stars in this auction, not only because it almost doubled its high estimate but also because of what it represents from an horological standpoint, is the unique white gold one minute tourbillon with chain fusée A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon 'Pour le Mérite' —Lot 392. The Tourbillon 'Pour le Mérite', pays tribute to Ferdinand A. Lange, the founder of the dynasty and its name alludes to the most prestigious order of merit inspired by Alexander von Humboldt and sponsored by King Frederick William IV in 1842, for outstanding scientific accomplishments. This fascinating timepiece manufactured in 1998 fetched close to half of a million dollars —$497,915 USD.
Once again, Christie's leaves the watch collecting world astonished with the selection of timepieces that were carefully curated for this sale. Now, let's ask ourselves three important questions: Will the frenzy of collectors continue to rise or will it stop and settle for a little while? Will the upcoming Christie's auction in Hong Kong at the end of the month fetch higher prices? While the lots are not nearly as impressive, what will happen tomorrow at the Sotheby's Important Watches Auction in Geneva?
I guess, we'll have to wait and see what happens tomorrow and on May 28th, 2014.
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