Much of the world’s economy may still be in the doldrums, but the secondary market for fine timepieces appears to be in good health. Christie’s, the world’s leading auction house, recently reported a boost in global sales for fine, rare and unique watches. Pointing to rare timepieces as a sound investment, Christie’s posted a five percent increase in revenue from watch sales alone, topping off the first half of 2012 at $62.9 million.
Of its top 10 watch sales of the first half of 2012, Christie’s reports that half shattered major auction records to date. Several of these milestone timepieces were from Patek Philippe, including two pieces — one a wristwatch and the other a pocketwatch — that depict a map of the North American continent on their cloisonné enamel dials.
The pocketwatch (Lot 1388_87, Patek Philippe Reference 605) is an 18k gold keyless watch, 44 mm in diameter, containing mechanical Caliber 17”’170, with 18 jewels. It has applied gold baton and dot numerals, stylized gold hands, an outer ring with black enamel names of 40 world locations, and a rotating black and silvered ring, calibrated for the Arabic diurnal and nocturnal 24 hours, in the center. The watch has a coin-edge bezel and a snap-on caseback. Manufactured in 1950, the watch is signed on the case, dial, and movement. At a final sale price of $741,960 (estimated at $220-$440,000), it set a world record price for this reference at auction.
The similarly designed 18k gold wristwatch (Lot 1388_88, Patek Philippe Reference 2523) was made in 1955, features two crowns (the one at 9 o’clock is used to adjust the world time function), and contains Caliber Cal. 12-400 HU, which is stamped twice with the Geneva Seal. The outer silvered ring of the cloisonné enamel dial displays the names of 42 world cities. The case is 35.5 mm in diameter and has faceted lugs and a snap-on back. The case, dial, and movement are signed. This watch also set a world record price for the reference: $2,992,680 after an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,800,000.
Another record-setting Patek Philippe world-time wristwatch with two crowns, an 18k gold, 36-mm-diameter Ref. 2523/1, fetched not only the highest price ever for that reference, but also the highest for any wristwatch ever sold at Christie’s New York. The watch (Lot 2568-97), manufactured in 1963, contains the Caliber 12-400 mechanical movement, with 18 jewels and double-stamped with the Geneva Seal. Its silvered matte dial has a central time zone with applied baton numerals; a rotating, central two-tone, day-night 24-hour dial; and an outer rotating silver dial engraved with 41 cities adjusted by the crown at 9 o’clock. Estimated at $700,000-1,200,000, it fetched a final sale price of $1,022,500.
Christie’s also set records with a unique Patek Philippe pocketwatch that boasts not only a closionné enamel caseback cover (in this case depicting a miniature illustration of a mosque by artist Suzanne Rohr) but a minute repeater, perpetual calendar, and split-seconds chronograph. Reference 804 (Christie’s Lot 1388_186), in a 50-mm gold case, contains Cal. 16”’, with 40 jewels and a minute repeating system with two hammers striking two gongs. It has a silvered matte dial with applied gold baton numerals and four subdials for the date, 30-minute chronograph counter, month, day, moon-phase, and running seconds. The snap-on back features the painted polychrome enamel miniature, “The Mosque,” signed and dated by the artist “S. Rohr 1974.” The repeater is operated by a slide in the caseband, and the split-seconds chronograph mechanism by one button in the band and one in the crown.
The other standout of Christie’s first half of 2012 is a rare, early nineteenth-century Breguet & Fils 18K gold pocketwatch (Lot 1388_230) with two movements. Sold in Geneva, it set a world-record price for a Breguet watch sold at auction — $4,686,120 after an estimate of $880,000 to $1,500,000. This Breguet timepiece, sold in August 1814 to a Mr. Garcias of London for the sum of 5,000 francs, is 63.7 mm in diameter and has a 26”’gilded brass movement with two complete mechanisms contained within the area of a single plate, both with going barrels. The movement is fully jewelled with straight-line calibrated lever escapements with divided lift and straight pallets; banking against the escape wheels arbor; draw, bimetallic steel/platinum compensation balances; gold and platinum screws; pare-chute suspension on both pivots; and blued-steel Breguet free-sprung balance springs.
The watch has a glazed cuvette, an engine-turned silver dial, two small subdials for the mean time. The left subdial has Arabic suspended numerals, an outer minute track and yellow-gold Breguet hands; at 12 o’clock in this subdial is a smaller subdial for the seconds. The right subdial has Roman numerals, an outer minute track and blued steel Breguet hands. The central seconds hand is of blued steel. The round “forme quatre baguettes” case has a chiseled caseband, a ball-shaped pendant and a round bow. The dial is signed and the case is numbered 2667.
The news on increased watch revenues came as part of Christie’s announcement of its worldwide sales for the first half of 2012, which totaled $3.5 billion, an increase of 11 percent over the same period last year.
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