There is only really food that can tear me away from watches and also, contradictorily, often only watches that can keep me at arm’s length from a hearty repas. It was, therefore, an absolute pleasure to be invited to a lunch at Bonhams to preview some highlights from the upcoming Fine Wristwatches sale at their New Bond Street saleroom. Joining a select few were the Bonhams London Watch team headed up by Global Head of Watches, Jonathan Darracott. We were fed and watered by the new Bonhams-based restaurant Emilia, with stunning Italian food inspired by the Emilia-Romagna region. Scattered amongst the wine glasses on the table were the highlights from the sale, which has some great watches across a number of important brands, of course including some special pieces from Patek Philippe and Rolex. These Fine Wristwatches sales are now firmly on the annual watch calendar and have very much become a stop-off for the nomadic watch collector/dealer/enthusiast clan who move from time zone to time zone attending auctions and fairs. So, I’ll excuse myself from the table and show you my picks from the auction.
Lot 108 – Cartier Baignoire Maxi
Early Cartier watches have become some of the most sought-after pieces in recent years. This has been helped, in no small part, by the appearance of rare and interesting examples gracing the wrists of horological tastemakers such as Auro Montanari (or John Goldberger as he is more widely known) and Eric Ku. The most eagerly chased? Probably the Cartier London pieces made between 1966 and the mid-70s, such as Lot 108 in this Bonhams sale. The large size Baignoire is made from 18k yellow gold and I was smitten with the watch when on my wrist… the curve of the case literally hugs your arm. These all-handmade watches are seriously lovely things and this one has its original folding clasp. These Cartier London pieces were made under the leadership of Jacques Cartier and his initials appear on the London hallmarked watch cases as they do on the present lot. The ‘exploding’ Roman numerals and blued-steel hands are timeless. It’s a fitting setting for this London watch.
Lot 51 – Heuer Skipper
The Heuer Skipper is becoming a summer staple for Bonhams. After last year’s £81k result for the same model, it’ll be interesting to see how this one performs. It oozes pure summer class, with its ocean-blue dial with mint and faded-orange accents; it’s very much a watch to wear and enjoy. Taking its color scheme cue from the 1967 America’s Cup winner Intrepid, these watches are rare with only around 20 examples are known to exist. And it’s a good size too, at 36mm. It’s maybe not as good, condition wise, as last year’s offering but I’m sure this salty old girl will hammer strong next week.
Lot 43 – Patek Philippe 5101P
The first time I ever tried on a Patek 5101P was over a particularly good lunch at Wiltons with my dear friend David Duggan. Of course, it wasn’t just any 5101P, but was a piece unique commissioned by none other than Eric Clapton (or Eric Patrick Clapton as the initials “EPC” on the caseback stood for). In a similar vein to the aforementioned Cartier Baignoire, the way the 5101 sits on the wrist is like a familiar old friend with the stepped sides adding to the watch’s impressive presence on the wrist. Lot 43 has one of my all-time favorite dial combinations: salmon with applied Breguet numerals. The manual wind movement, featuring a tourbillon, has a ten-day power reserve, with an indicator just below 12 o’clock. It’s an understated piece, considering it’s packing quite a punch with two such significant features. It is accompanied by all the original documentation and boxes too. Any would-be bidders shouldn’t be too SLOW with their HAND when bidding… sorry, I’ll get my coat.
Lots 68 and 69 – Vintage Rolex Subs
A perennial favourite of vintage watch collectors, the Rolex Submariner has more versions and variations than the UK Government’s plan for Brexit. Two successive lots, 68 and 69, are very rare and collectible versions of the Rolex no-date Sub; a 5512 and 5513. Neither is of the common-or-garden variety though. Lot 68 has three attributes that make it a particularly desirable 5512 – square crown guards, a red-triangle bezel insert and a two-line dial with a silver depth rating. And what I will say is that the photos don’t do the watch justice. Bonhams have actually gone too far in making the pictures honest, in my opinion, because on the wrist the watch is much ‘nicer’ than the catalogue shot might lead you to believe. A square guard with its red triangle insert is a serious proposition to a Sub lover and so I have high hopes for this watch.
Lot 69 is a MilSub and it’s fresh-to-market and remains in complete military specification (‘full spec’ in collectors’ speak). The military version of the 5513 had some modifications made to it, to make it fit-for-purpose for the British military’s exacting standards. This included a full 60-minute bezel insert, sword hands (instead of the Mercedes-pattern hands normally seen), fixed lug bars, a small encircled ‘T’ on the dial to signify the use of tritium and issue and stores numbers engraved on the caseback. It really is the full-house and no doubt there will be a battle to win it.
Lot 107 – Patek Philippe 1518
The headline lot of the sale is Lot 107, which is an original owner, fresh-to-market Patek perpetual calendar chrono with moon phase. As our founder Mr Wei Koh talks about in the latest issue of the magazine, the Patek reference 1518 was the world’s first serially produced perpetual calendar chronograph and was a game changer and legend in the history of watchmaking. The 1518 offered by Bonhams has been in the same family since it was sold in 1948 and the watch has led a charmed life, having seemingily only been worn for high days and holidays. One of only 281 examples, the watch is a second series piece that features the so-called long signature on the dial and the whole piece remains in outstanding condition. This serous piece of watchmaking history is sure to achieve a serious result. I’ll be there watching!