Christie’s has put together an impressive catalogue for their May auction this year. There has been a lot of discussion over the past year, from both dealers and collectors, about the lack of quality watches available on the market. Each season, however, the big auction houses manage to unearth some real gems and Christie’s have some good watches in their sale. I briefly caught up with Sabine Kegal, Head of Department at Chritie’s Watches in Geneva. She is confident that the May sale will be well received by collectors and dealers alike. “The broad selection of vintage and modern watches, the majority of which have come from private collections, we are hoping will attract seasoned and new collectors alike to this exciting sale,” she told me. It will come as no surprise that Patek and Rolex dominate; the two brands even have their own reference index within the full sale index at the back of the catalogue. My picks for this sale focus predominantly on chronographs and complications from these two horological behemoths; so let’s take a closer look.
There is something about the chronograph that lends itself to being gem-set. Bling is no longer the preserve of rappers and drug lords, but is now almost de rigueur in a serious watch collection. Trust me, I’ve seen the world’s most pre-eminent vintage Rolex collectors (think owners of multiple Big Crowns, MilSubs, Comex and Paul Newmans) enjoying an iced Day Date or sapphire-encrusted Sub. Lot 85 is a watch that I admit to being completely smitten by. If I could own only one Rolex watch it would be this. The Perpetual Daytona is an important watch in Rolex’s catalog, especially when driven by Rolex’s in-house caliber 4130 movement. Lot 85 is a reference 116589 SACI and in this example it has a sodalite dial with brilliant-cut diamond hour markers. In my mind, the blue sodalite dial framed by the sky blue baguette-cut sapphire bezel is the most beautiful combination and my ultimate Daytona. I’m really not hiding my love for this watch, I’m proudly wearing it on my sleeve. In fact, I’d dearly love to actually wear it under my sleeve and maybe I will at the preview… if only for a minute or two!
In a similar but altogether different vein, Lot 84 is the perfect illustration of when the art of haute watchmaking and precision jewelry collide in sweet harmony. The Patek Philippe reference 5271/12P-001 was a very special iteration of reference 5271 that was offered to only the very best Patek clients. Launched in 2014, the 5721 features a chronograph, perpetual calendar with leap year, moon phases and a day and night indicator – this is the full monty. What sets this example apart from the ‘regular’ version is the stunningly-set rubies on the bezel, lug and dial. Across the watch there are 89 rubies, a total of 5.3 carats. Even the deployment clasp has a circle of baguette-cut rubies around its circumference; that’s real attention to detail, isn’t it?
Lot 193 was the former property of the legendary artist Andy Warhol. The Rolex Oyster chronograph reference 3525 demonstrates that not only was Warhol a master artist but also a connoisseur of fine wristwatches. The steel watch with pink gold bezel and winding crown is in beautiful unrestored condition. The dial’s patina is graceful as are the proportions of the watch. The watch is featured in John Goldberger’s book 100 Superlative Watches and I remember seeing the watch in the book many years ago and being captivated not only by its beauty but also the fascinating provenance. The combination of the watch’s stunning and original condition coupled with its celebrity history will possibly widen the market to art collectors, who seem to have unfathomably deep pockets. I expect this watch will do very well.
Another well-known collector and watch aficionado is Jasem Al Zeraei, maybe better known as Instagram celebrity @Patekaholic. He has consigned three Patek Philippe pocket watches in this sale, with a portion of the sales proceeds being donated to Medecins Sans Frontieres, to support their humanitarian and medical assistance work across the globe. The first pocket watch is a yellow gold reference 636, one of only four examples known to the market. The second is a reference 721 in pink gold with a pink dial that is thought to be one of only three known. The final of @Patekaholic’s trio of Patek pockets, and my personal favorite, is another ‘pink on pink’ example with stunning Breguet numerals. Again, this reference 600/2 is one of only a very few known in this configuration (six pieces) and is accompanied by an extract from the archive. And here’s the thing – these watches have very accessible estimates. Were these wristwatches, we would see astronomical prices for such rare and small-run watches, but these pocket watches are estimated to sell for between 5,000 to 8,000 CHF at the top of the estimates. I’m sure that they will sell for higher and I sincerely hope so, to support such a worthy cause.
It is impossible to decisively say which watches are the ‘top of the tree’ for a watch brand. There are far too many deciding factors in making such a choice. However, there are some references that are maybe even more important that the brand itself. Lot 255 has the headliner slot and is an example of a third-series Patek Philippe chronograph reference 2499. These watches have always been record-breakers and we have seen a number of well known double-signed examples over the past couple of years. The example that Christie’s are offering is fresh-to-market and has resided in a private collection for many years. Made in 1977 and sold in 1978 (as confirmed in the Patek archive extract), it features an aged silvered dial that has recently been cleaned. The 2499 was produced for 35 years in only 349 examples; that’s around nine pieces per year. It’s at the end of the catalog, which is fitting for such an end-game wristwatch.
The equivalent 2499 for Rolex is, again arguably, the reference 6062. Rolex made only two moon phase watches in its history (not including the recent Cellini piece), the reference 8171 ‘Padellone’ and the Oyster-cased 6062. The Padellone is a stunning watch, but suffers from not being made in the iconic Oyster case. The 6062 is a triple calendar watch with moon phase indicator housed in the company’s signature hermetically sealed case. Launched in 1950 it was actually the first watch from Rolex to be marketed as the Cosmograph. This name makes sense as it was used in advertisements for 6062s that were fitted with so-called star dials, or Stelline as Italian scholars refer to it. As we all know, the name Cosmograph was eventually used on the Daytona, but logically it makes a lot more sense when pertaining to the Stelline 6062.
Lot 203 is a pink gold cased example dating to 1952 and is one of only 50 examples made. These watches are all about the details and there are six known versions of the dial. This watch is fitted with a “Type 453” dial, which is derived from the original Stern Freres catalog. “Type 453” dials have the very high placement of the ‘OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED’ below the month and day windows and also have a blue date track and plain pink gold stars with luminous dots on the outside edge of the dial. It was this exact dial version that was used in the Cosmograph advert of the time. The condition and the quality are high and I have every expectation that the final price will reach the stars!