The spring auction season has come to an end and in the horological collecting world as in the world at large, the flight to quality assets and the ascendance of Asia are dominant themes. As the price of gold climbs, so too do auction prices for the best pieces: rare Patek Philippe timepieces, especially vintage models – the gold ingots of the watch world, and unique, important historical pieces. Quality and rarity never go out of style.
At Christie’s May 10 marathon sale of nearly 370 timepieces in Geneva , the first 9 of the top 10 selling lots were vintage Patek Philippes selling for between $418,000 and $5.7 million. In tenth position, the other most reliable brand at auction, a 1955 Rolex triple calendar chronograph ref. 6036 came in at $407,000, far above the pre-sale estimate of $270,000. During this sale and a prior sale in November, Christie’s offered what proved to be the most expensive private Patek Philippe collection ever sold at auction. A full 100% of the anonymous seller’s treasure trove passed to new owners, generating almost SFr. 16 million.
This Patek Philippe ref. 1527 sold for over $5.7 million at Christie’s Geneva sale.
At Antiquorum’s spring Geneva sale, a historical clock watch dating to 1900 was the top lot, bringing SFr.366,000. Second position went to a platinum Jaeger-LeCoultre Gyrotourbillon unique piece numbered 1/1 which brought SFr.342,000. Modern and vintage Patek Philippe pieces occupied 6 of the next 8 positions, with a one-owner ref. 5101P “10 Day Tourbillon” bringing SFr.342,000. The two non-Patek Top 10 pieces were an Ellicott “Springfield Tourbillon ECW1” produced this year, and a 1990s vintage Gerald Genta white-gold minute-repeating tourbillon perpetual calendar squelette.
The big story at the Patrizzi & Co. Geneva auction was a manuscript by Abraham-Louis Breguet that was purchased by the Breguet Museum for SFr.2.3 million. The other 9 of the Top 10 lots were vintage Patek Philippes and Rolexes, a modern Breguet tourbillion, and jeweled, enameled historical pocket watches. The sale was affected by both volcano-induced air travel delays and a technical glitch that prevented online bidding, yet the sale generated over SFr.5.8 million. Keep in mind that this figure reflects the actual amount bid, as Patrizzi & Co. does not charge a buyer’s commission. Sales figures for other houses include their buyer’s premium.
Sotheby’s May 9 Geneva sale generated over $6 million and the top selling lot was a historically significant pocket automaton produced circa 1805-1810. Finely decorated with enamel and pearls, five bidders drove the final price to $690,281 against a high pre-sale estimate of $450,000. The piece previously belonged to King Farouk, last King of Egypt. The rest of the top 10 lots are a rather more eclectic group. A Cartier Mystery Clock produced circa 1928 sold for SFr.338,520. At. SFr.284,500, a Patek Philippe ref. 3450J was the top-selling wristwatch. An IWC Il Destriero Scafusia brought SFr.206,200. Two lots brought SFr.146,500: a Breguet Souscription set from 1994, and a collection of 37 cloisonné and painted enamel dials dating from 1956. Other pieces in the top 10 include an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept CW1, a Breguet ref. 5447, three Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytonas, and a Patek Philippe ref. 3971EJ.
This automaton brought over $690,000 at Sotheby’s Geneva sale.
Commenting on their sales, several auction house executives mentioned the strength coming from Asia and the results generated by historically significant pieces, such as Sotheby’s “Shepherdess” automaton and Antiquorum’s grande & petite sonnerie tourbillon clock watch. That rare, vintage Patek Philippe timepieces are selling well is no surprise. Asked several years ago to predict what will sell well in the future, Osvaldo Patrizzi answered (paraphrasing) “The same things that have sold well in the past.” This is especially true during uncertain economic times when risk-averse buyers seek the safety of proven performance. The surprising trend this season is the demand for historic pieces that cannot be worn on the wrist, or, in some instances, that do not even tell time.