You Are There: 2018 November Geneva Watch Auctions And Grand Prix d’Horlogerie De Genève
As our regular readers know by now, some of my watch pals and I have made it a regular practice to trek to Geneva for each year’s November watch auction weekend, do some bidding, and perhaps return home with a treasure or two.
For me, this year’s trip was even more special than on past occasions as I was deeply honored to serve along with Quill & Pad editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr on the jury of the “Oscars of watchmaking,” the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (or more simply, GPHG).
The result was an eight-day stretch filled with watches, friends, and fun; and you’re hereby invited to tag along virtually for a retrospective on the events of the week.
Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2018: voting day
After a Sunday arrival and dinner with friends, Monday was the day on which the GPHG jury met to deliberate on the 12 categories of nominated watches and to select the winners of several special awards (see Complete List Of Prize Winners In The 2018 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève).
It helped quite a bit that I already knew many of the members of this year’s jury, and I quickly felt comfortable with the other participants and found myself impressed by the jury members’ level of preparation. The conversations at the tables as we considered the groups of watches were lively but civil, and I changed my going-in view of how to rank the watches in a category more than once during the day based on the inputs of my colleagues.
One element of the fun for me was that at the Geneva Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, where we met and at which the finalist watches were on display, there were two other exhibits in which I was directly involved.
The first was a room in which my Carpe Diem clock from the 2017 Only Watch auction was on display along with all of the proposals that the students from Geneva’s HEAD design school had submitted during the contest that selected the clock design actually executed by Agenhor.
The second was a set of montages of the monthly finalists in the 2018 Watch Photo Awards; I was pleased to have had two of my submissions selected, including the image of my Patek Philippe Reference 5170P seen at the left edge of the photo below.
As the long day came to a close, I felt confident that we’d hashed things out quite thoroughly and hoped that the results of the secret balloting justified my confidence!
Into the Swiss countryside and back again
Tuesday provided an opportunity to drive out to the Val-de-Travers, about 90 minutes from Geneva, for a visit with an old friend.
There’s not much that I can reveal right now about my visit with Kari Voutilainen other than to ask you to stay tuned for a few months for the results of one small project that his team is taking on to tweak a watch you’ve seen here before.
And, of course, you can never tell when some initial musings about fantasy watches shared with a gifted independent watchmaker like Voutilainen will result in a future “Why I Bought It,” but time will tell.
Back in Geneva for Wednesday, I met up with the first of my California watch pals to arrive and we headed over to Patek Philippe’s Geneva salon to pick up a long-awaited piece: a Reference 3940P with an ultra-rare blue dial and 2018 origin date, made as part of Patek Philippe’s Vintage Collection program specialized in manufacturing tiny numbers of watches from discontinued references using new-old-stock cases and movements and never-seen dial and hand combinations.
I’d committed to buying this piece fully a year ago but had put off taking delivery until I worked up the nerve to sell another favorite watch to raise the needed funds.
We also began our series of visits to the auction previews, checking out fascinating watches like the Patek Philippe split-seconds chronograph Reference 1436 from 1947 at Phillips that ultimately sold at CHF 372,500 including buyer’s premium.
A real highlight of Thursday was a visit with Christian Selmoni, style and heritage director at Vacheron Constantin. While there, we had the opportunity to enjoy treasures including pocket watches made for American industrialist James Ward Packard and King Fouad I of Egypt (see Give Me Five! Vacheron Constantin’s 5 Most Complicated Pocket Watches Ever).
We were also treated to a peek at a brilliant new watch packed with astronomical complications, Vacheron Constantin’s unique Les Cabinotiers Grand Complication Phoenix.
Show day: GPHG 2018 and a bit of a detour
Friday night was the big one: the awards presentation for this year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
Along the way to the show, though, there were more auction previews to attend and a quick meeting with two of my very favorite characters in the watch world, Tim and Bart Grönefeld. You can expect a “Why I Bought It” in early January 2019 on the Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire they brought for me that day, but for now here’s the happy scene right after the formal handoff.
I’ve previously opined here on my views of the jury’s well-received selections for the 2018 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève; what will really stay with me from the evening are the interactions I had with the nominees and winners and the human scenes that played out throughout the evening.
It was an honor to accompany legendary watch educator Antoine Simonin (who taught, among many others, the Grönefeld brothers at WOSTEP) in presenting the Chronometry award to Pierre Jacques of De Bethune for the beautiful (and chronometrically accurate) DB25 Starry Varius Tourbillon.
It’s always fun to see our Elizabeth Doerr up on stage at the GPHG ceremony, and this year she and our friend William Rohr were in fine form as they presented the Innovation award to Krayon for the Everywhere.
Each year, the first-year student at l’Ecole d’Horlogerie de Genève who has achieved the best grades receives an award during the GPHG ceremony. And the very special touch for the 2018 edition was that the award was co-presented by 97-year-old Georges Dubois, my neighbor in the audience who received the same distinction 75 years ago.
Dubois charmed the crowd with his remarks, and at the conclusion gave winner Christopher Lanz a wonderful gift by assuring him (as heard through the simultaneous translation), “Your choice of this profession will bring you great happiness!”
If you were in the room, you’ll likely never forget Aurel Bacs’ revival-style introduction of the Special Jury Prize to Jean-Claude Biver: an almost rambling beginning that led to a staccato, accelerating cadence of words (Omega . . . Blancpain . . . Bang . . . Big . . . Big Bang . . . ) that built upon itself with increasing intensity until Bacs called Biver to the stage amidst an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd.
Just as remarkable was the deeply emotional acceptance speech by Biver himself, in which he spoke of the doubts that have driven him throughout his career and expressed deep gratitude to his wife and his team.
On to the auctions
As the weekend approached, my pals and I turned our attention in earnest to the various auctions, checking out dozens of additional watches in person and scribbling notes in preparation for select bids.
A favorite of mine at Christie’s was a “pre-reference” Model 10 from Patek Philippe made in 1909 with dial and case back inscriptions in English rather than French and a real presence on the wrist. It eventually sold well above its estimated range at CHF 81,250.
At Phillips, I admired stellar watches including a gorgeous Patek Philippe Reference 3974 minute repeating perpetual calendar in platinum that became the top lot of that auction at just over one million Swiss francs.
And while condition, rarity, and the names Patek Philippe and Rolex on the dial continue to drive extraordinary prices at auction, some of the lesser known references and less pristine examples from those two makers performed near or at the bottoms of their ranges while some independent watches shone.
For example, a minty Vianney Halter Classic went for 50 percent over its high estimate at a very strong CHF 37,500; and a very good but not perfect (in my view) F.P. Journe Souscription Tourbillon Souverain more than doubled its high estimate to come in at CHF 468,500, much to the delight of the close friend seated to my right that evening who was wearing his own mint-condition Souscription piece (see 8 Rare Timepieces By Independent Watchmakers Featuring In The Phillips November 2018 Geneva Auction for more on these two).
I bid on, but did not win, the gorgeous Vacheron Constantin Reference 4240L at Phillips shown in the first photo in this article but stayed the course in my pursuit of a triple calendar from the brand and was rewarded with a win via absentee bid for a Reference 4560 on a matching gold bracelet at Tuesday’s Sotheby’s event.
For some this sort of week-long immersion might seem like watch overload, but I’ll confess that I’m already thinking ahead to next year. Please feel free to share your own auction triumphs and tragedies in the comments below. And until next time, happy hunting!