An Insider’s look at happening on the auction circuit
By now most
Plaza Watch readers will have been informed 'ad nauseam' that the Patek Philippe Henry Graves 'Supercomplication' pocket watch offered by Sotheby's Geneva in November established a world record for any timepiece – $24 million/€19.3 million in case you weren't paying attention. But we're fully aware that there are plenty of serious, less well-heeled collectors who might be more interested in hearing about watches that they can potentially afford – and, equally importantly, would actually want to wear on a regular basis.
So here's our pick of six real world pieces that you could have bought during 2014’s final run of watch auctions. But don't feel too bad if you missed them – the sale season kicks off again in the spring and you might get another chance...
1. Longines 'Big Indian.' Sold for CHF31,250 (€25,950) at Christie's, Geneva, November 10.
We've all seen the values of military watches by firms such as Panerai and Rolex head towards the stratosphere, yet Longines (which has an equally rich history in the area) has seemingly been left behind. That seems to be steadily changing now, with undervalued rarities – such as the superb, 1950 Reference 6111-2 'Big Indian' offered here.
The watch is so called because of its exceptionally large, 44mm case and, because it was one of a small batch thought to have been sent as military issue to the Avadi air force base near Madras (now Chennai). Fewer than 10 of these are known to have appeared for sale in recent years – which means this one might well have been a bargain.
2. Omega Speedmaster 'Blue Grey.' Sold for £19,456 (€24,688) at Watches of Knightsbridge, London, November 22.
Watch collecting is about a combination of desirability, history, condition and rarity. Chronographs don't come much more historic than Omega's Speedmaster, the most desirable versions of which are the hand-wound, 'pre-moon shot' models. Add to that a dial in an exceptionally rare colour and values can rise substantially – as in the case of this superb 'blue-grey' Speedy which fetched almost four times the low estimate.
Rather than being a conventional black-dialled example that had faded to a delectable slate colour, the watch was one of a very small batch of 'special project' blue-grey pieces created in the factory. There's one in the Omega museum – but this example was in better condition.
3. Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic. Sold for CHF52,500 (€43,725) at Antiquorum, Geneva, November 8.
Only a few die-hard collectors knew much about Jaeger-LeCoultre's delectable '50s Geophysic before its recent revival in modern, limited edition format – since when values of original examples have rocketed. For those who don't know the story, The International Geophysical Year of 1958 saw 67 nations pledge to undertake a series of scientific experiments in and around the more hostile parts of the planet in order to further research in the geophysiological fields of seismology, electromagnetism, glaciology, radioactivity and solar activity.
The year also marked JaegerLeCoultre's 125th anniversary, so the Swiss watchmaker commemorated the two events with the creation of the 'Geophysic' watch which was designed – despite its elegant looks – to be one of the toughest and most durable timepieces on the market, in order that it could be used for the various Geophysical Year projects. This example was expected to fetch no more than CHF8,000.
4. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept 'CW 1.' Sold for HK$1.7 million (€180,272) at Christie's, Hong Kong, November 26
Back in 2002 Audemars Piguet's 'Concept Piece CW1', created to mark the Royal Oak's 30th anniversary, was something truly radical – and now it has become established as a true, blue chip collectable among a sea of far more mediocre modern-day watches. Even 13 years down the line, the CW1 still seems very special with its 44mm, 602 alacrite case, titanium bezel and titanium and arcap bridges.
The 'dynamographe' mainspring torque indicator and linear power reserve gauge also look funkier than ever – and the triangular plate containing the small seconds hand is marked with the letters 'R', 'N' and 'H' to indicate whether the winding crown was positioned for 'rewind,' 'hand set' or 'neutral'. Even the leather-backed, fibre strap was ahead of its time. At almost $223,000, this wasn't exactly an auction bargain – but let's see what it's worth in another 13 years.
5. Cartier Monopusher Chronograph.
Sold for CHF22,500 (€18,700) at Sotheby's, Geneva, November 11.
Much is made of Cartier's in-house watch making prowess these days, and quite rightly so. But before it established its own manufacture in 2007, Cartier traditionally used mechanisms from the best makers around, including JaegerLeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet and Ebel. And before it developed the range of high-end pieces on offer today, it would tempt true horophiles with limited edition numbers from its so called 'Collection Privée.
At the SIHH show back in 2006, I remember being highly covetous of one particular Collection Privée watch – a pink gold, square cased, single pusher chronograph being made in an edition of 100 examples. I still love these watches, but they very rarely appear on the pre-owned market and, when they do, prices tend to be high. So it was hardly surprising to see this mint condition one exceed its high estimate by almost 25 per cent. Discreet and elegant dress watches just don't come much better.
6. Panerai Luminor Daylight 'Sly Tech.' Sold for € 23 400 at Artcuriel, Paris, December 8.
As many Plaza Watch readers will be aware, Panerai had more or less faded in to oblivion before being bought in 1997 by the Vendome Group (now Richemont), having come to the attention of the luxury goods giant via the recommendation of – perhaps surprisingly – Sylvester Stallone. The story goes that Stallone was in Italy in 1995 during filming of the action movie Daylight when he came across a jewellery store selling Panerai watches.
He subsequently wore one in the film and then commissioned an edition of 200 'Sly Tech' pieces engraved with his signature, which he is said to have dished out to members of the cast and crew. Once word of Panerai reached Hollywood, the brand exploded and garnered a cult following. Nowadays, all 1990s 'pre-Vendome' Panerais are highly collectable – but few more than the Sly Tech, hence the hefty sum achieved for this one.
7. Rolex, Reference 6101. Sold for $425,000 (€342,000) at Christie’s, New York, December 9.
The final sale of the auction season was, rather suitably, a chin-stoking eyebrow raiser, as a possible one-of-a kind Rolex achieved more than the auction estimate of $400,000, finally going under the hammer for $425,000 at Christie’s in New York. This brought the final day’s total to €5,149,626 / $6,357,563.
The Rolex Reference 6101 is thought to be a unique 18K gold and cloisonné automatic wristwatch with Map of the Americas from 1953. Doug Escribano, Head of Sale, Watches, commented: “Christie's final watch auction of 2014 continued to emphasize the global appeal of fine, rare, and unique timepieces. We were thrilled to see the variety in today's top lots including a Rolex, Reference 6101 with cloisonné dial of the Map of the Americas, a unique enamel pocket watch by Patek Philippe, and a limited edition Opus 3 wristwatch by Harry Winston & Vianney Halter. Once again, Christie's closes 2014 as a dominant figure in the world of auction, private sales, and eCommerce for fine and rare timepieces.”