Watch auctions have, for too long, been at the final frontier of contemporary buying and selling, but in the past couple of years, Phillips has led the charge to boldly go where no traditional sales house has gone before. Since his appointment as International Specialist and Director of Watches in June 2018, James Marks has already become the talk of London – as well as Instagram – thanks to his ingenious bringing together of three overlapping groups of collectors at the post-Goodwood Phillips/Singer party. Art, car and watch enthusiasts united at Phillips Berkeley Square showroom to pay respect to the new Singer Vehicle Design DLS as well as a selection of Singer Reimagined Track 1 models and other watches consigned to Phillips, all displayed among the artwork of Carlos Cruz-Diez.

Last week saw Marks’s latest initiative: a week-long Private Treaty Sale, again held in the London showroom. A first of its kind for Phillips, the private sale was born from Marks’s belief that to succeed in the current climate, an auction house can no longer simply deliver a catalogue to clients and expect to impress. “You need to have a dialogue going 12 months of the year,” he says. “Through events such as our Independent Watchmakers exhibition and the Singer party, we are engaging with our existing clients and opening up to our potential customers. Traditional previews can feel a little staid but the private sale was a nice way to say ‘Hi’, to talk in a relaxed atmosphere and to nerd over some amazing watches. Going into the fall auction season this is particularly important as it is only through talking to clients that we can find out what they are looking for – and, of course, it is a great way to start conversations about further consignments.”

Phillips International Specialist and Director of Watches, James Marks
Phillips International Specialist and Director of Watches, James Marks

The set-up on Phillips’ third floor was akin to a New York loft with the large windows allowing plenty of light, as well as affording bird’s-eye views across Berkeley Square. The welcoming drop-in environment complete with coffee bar, art, flowers and music, plus the almost constant presence of Marks himself, proved an irresistible draw for enthusiasts, collectors and buyers alike and, according to the organisers, private sales are likely to become a regular feature at Phillips – with hints of future editions possibly going on tour. As Marks says: “Auction houses have to think outside the box – London certainly calls for it. We need to engage with people and we need to find new collector bases.”

The Big Guns

But, no matter how good the environment, a sale can only be as successful as the pieces available to buy, and here, Phillips certainly didn’t disappoint. With a goal to source the watches most on people’s radar, Marks was very aware of the importance of trends – not least the ultimate trend of Rolex Daytonas. “I think we found some of the best and most interesting Daytonas out there,” he says. “We had an early example, black-dial 6265 with box and papers, plus the nicest 18ct 6263 I have seen. And then a real coup with two 6240s – this was the first Oyster Daytona and only 1,700 were made in total so, historically, it is one of the most important models. We had both the non-exotic dial with MK 0 pushers and MK 1 bezel and its Paul Newman equivalent. Phillips has only ever handled five 6240 Paul Newmans. We believe there are fewer than 100 in the world and I don’t think London has ever had the pair together in the same display case before.”

Rolex, Daytona reference 6263 in 18K yellow gold
Rolex Daytona reference 6263 in 18K yellow gold

Perhaps the hottest of all Daytonas right now are the models with Zenith movements. “Both 16520s were full sets and are hardly worn,” says Marks. “We had one white dial and one black. Both had fantastic dials, lovely cases and tight bracelets. When we put them on social media, both sold super quickly.”

Rolex, Daytona reference 16520
Rolex Daytona reference 16520

Still riding a wave, thanks in no small part to the 2015 Phillips Glamorous Day-Date sale, Day-Dates were well-represented at the sale by a rare platinum Rolex Masterpiece, a Stella-dial with “bark” bracelet, a classic 1803, as well as an 1803 with Khanjar dial, box and Asprey papers bearing witness to the whole history of the watch.

Beyond The Crown

In addition to the Rolexes on sale, there was also an astonishing selection of Patek Philippes, including a 3970 in yellow gold with black diamond dial, a full-set classic 5004P in platinum, a 3940G-029 London Edition – one of only five salmon-dial examples made for the 2015 Watch Art Grand Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and a 5101 10-day Tourbillon with blue dial.

Patek Philippe, reference 5004P
Patek Philippe reference 5004P

Silent heroes and true value propositions were represented by an unworn A. Lange & Sohne Saxonia Annual Calendar in white gold and a bi-metal Audemars Piguet Perpetual Calendar with full bracelet and in just-serviced condition. A Universal Geneve “Nina Rindt” Compax with Valjoux 72 movement, complete with box and papers was in hard competition for coolest watch in the sale, but was just pipped to the post by a 1980s Heuer made for VW UK. Worn by rally drivers to hurtle around forests in Wales, around 400 were made with about 100 thought to have survived.

A. Lange & Söhne, Saxonia Annual Calendar in white gold
A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Annual Calendar in white gold
Universal Genève, “Nina Rindt” Compax
Universal Genève “Nina Rindt” Compax

If the Phillips sale is a taste of things to come at Geneva Watch Auction Eight in November then we are primed and ready, bidding paddles in hand.