Sotheby’s May 9 Geneva sale saw international collectors out in force, staking their claim both for big brands and, even more noticeably, for rare and historic timepieces. In total, the sale realized $6,338,588, well within pre-sale expectations. 53% of the lots sold achieved prices in excess of high estimate, with sell through rates of 78.4% by lot and 81.8% by value.
The evening’s top seller was lot 90, an exceptional three color gold, enamel and split pearl shield form automaton, c.1805-10. Estimated at $360,000-450,000, this small and complex automaton, featuring a shepherdess tending two sheep near a waterfall, excited interest across the globe. Ultimately 5 bidders battled to secure the piece. Together, they drove the final price $690,281. Their enthusiasm was sparked by the fact the automaton ranks among the most impressive pieces ever made by legendary watchmakers Isaac Daniel Piguet and Henri Capt. Like so many of the most accomplished pieces of the period, this extraordinary example was made for the Chinese market. As a forthcoming exhibition at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva will illustrate, the pieces made for this market were superlative: made to seduce Chinese Emperors and dignitaries at a single stroke. The craftsmanship of this piece was matched by its exceptional provenance: it once belonged to the notoriously extravagant King Farouk – last King of Egypt – whose legendary collection was sold at Sotheby’s in 1954.
Of course modern and vintage collector wristwatches also yielded strong results. A group of 24 Rolex watches (lots 130-154) sold well with all but 3 finding buyers and 57% at prices above the high pre-sale estimates. Among these was lot 136, a 1985 ref. 6265/6263 Oyster Cosmograph “Paul Newman” which made CHF110,500 or about $100,000 including buyer’s premium.
Among the modern limited edition timepieces in the sale was an IWC Big Pilot Edition Antoine de Saint Exupéry (lot 45). This is the sole platinum piece in the edition. IWC will donate the sale proceeds, about $50,000, to the French organization Enfants du Monde – Droits de l’Homme (EMDH) which campaigns throughout the world for the protection and the rights of children.
Other modern limited edition watches included a rare set of platinum watches by Breguet from the Souscription limited edition (lot 59), which made $135,467 and an oversize alacrite and titanium tourbillon wristwatch by Audemars Piguet (lot 58), which made $113,275, both of which exceeded the high estimates.
Finally, Patek Philippe’s craftsmanship was widely represented in the sale, As an example, lot 222, a fine and rare 1982 18K yellow gold perpetual calendar wristwatch with moon-phases and red dot Arabic leap year indication (ref 3450J, MVT 1119616, case 2788640), made $263,074, well above the presale estimate.
About the sale, Geoffroy Ader, European Head of Watches at Sotheby’s, said: “Historic timepieces and pocket watches stole the show this evening, highlighting a pattern we have seen evolving for some time now. While there is no doubt that the market for the big brands remains as strong as ever, there is, simultaneous with that, a new and exciting groundswell of interest in antique pieces with historical resonance and decorative allure. Tonight’s sale was carefully put together with this in mind, and we were thrilled, therefore, that so many of the pieces offered were so enthusiastically received.”
Daryn Schnipper, Worldwide Head of Watches at Sotheby’s, said: “In many ways the watch market is like a microcosm of the art market – both are currently characterized by a fascinating interplay between established and new buyers, all looking for blue-chip, rare and iconic pieces. That same unfettered desire for quality, which has been evident in our recent sales in Hong Kong and New York, was demonstrated further here tonight.”
“In addition to that, the results of the sale further emphasized another trend that we have been witnessing in our watch sales around the world. Underlying the headline-grabbing prices for modern, complicated watches, there is a strong, insistent and ever-increasing demand for watches of particular historic and decorative interest. This demand is fueled largely by buyers from the Middle East and Asia, many of whom were remarkably active in the saleroom tonight.”