Sotheby’s Removes A. Lange & Söhne No. 41000 ‘Jahrhunderttourbillon’ From November 2019 Masterworks Of Time Auction – And You Won’t Believe Why
The A. Lange & Söhne No. 41000 Jahrhundertourbillon was set to be the headliner for the second auction of Erivan Haub’s stupendous collection after the George Daniels Space Traveller II took center stage at the first auction in London, setting an auction record for an independent watchmaker when it hammered for $4,561,407/£3,615,000 (including buyer’s premium).
Sotheby’s Masterworks of Time auction is an astounding collection of clocks, pocket watches, and watches. The catalog contains masterpieces rarely, if ever, seen in the public eye, and while Sotheby’s only ever refers to the late owner of this collection as “the collector” due to client confidentiality, SJX revealed him to have been German billionaire Erivan Haub, heir to and managing director of the Tengelmann Group, one of the largest retail entities in German-speaking Europe with close to 4,000 doors in grocery, clothing, DIY, miscellaneous retail, and more.
Haub, who passed away in March 2018 at the age of 85, was a collector in the truest sense of the word: his stamp collection worth millions is going under the hammer in a series of 30 different auctions over five years in cities as diverse as Wiesbaden, New York, Zurich, Stockholm, London, and Essen. Haub also collected art, which he kept in a dedicated museum in Washington state.
Haub spent 50 years amassing his collection of timepieces, which in its entirety artistically tells the story of timekeeping from the Renaissance period until today.
“Assembled with a keen eye and tremendous knowledge, this is a truly unique collection, shaped by years of searching for the best examples of their kind,” said Daryn Schnipper, chairperson of Sotheby’s international watch division.
“It is a collection put together by someone who wanted to tell the story of time through watches; someone who knew his subject, trusted his eye, and had a real sense of what was groundbreaking, both in terms of technology and of artistry. If you take the scope, the variety, the depth, the innovation, the early watches, the enamels, he covered all the bases, he left no stone unturned. It’s a collection that’s unrivalled in its scope and breadth. For me, Masterworks of Time, as we’ve called it, is absolutely one of the best private collections ever formed.”
The collection contains examples of historically and technically significant pieces spanning 500 years of horology, ranging from early watches with German stackfreeds (spring-loaded cam mechanisms) to double-dialed astronomical timepieces, superb enamels, shaped watches, musical and automata pieces, tourbillons, and complicated timepieces.
The watchmakers represented read like a Who’s Who of international horological giants: A. Lange & Söhne, Abraham-Louis Breguet, Dent, Ferdinand Berthoud, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Frères Rochat, and of course the legendary Dr. George Daniels.
The extraordinary collection of more than 800 long-unseen pieces are set to be offered in four dedicated sales at four locations – London, Geneva, New York, and Hong Kong – between July 2019 and October 2020. The London auction in July 2019 brought in a combined total of £6,300,814 (including buyer’s premium) – more half of which came from the sale of the Daniels piece alone.
Sotheby’s estimates that the collection in its four-auction entirety will realize $15-$27 million.
But before we get into why Sotheby’s removed the Jahrhunderttourbillon from the next auction set to take place in Geneva on November 11, let’s first look at what this piece is and why, despite being a pocket watch, it would have been this auction’s headliner.
The A. Lange & Söhne pocket watch tourbillon no. 41000 ‘Jahrhunderttourbillon’
Before Germany was divided by the outcome of World War II, A. Lange & Söhne was the most prestigious timepiece maker in the country (as it once again is today). As such, the German watchmaker had a number of high complication pocket watches in its collection.
Martin Huber’s 1977 reference book Die Uhren von A. Lange & Söhne Glashütte Sachsen shows a tourbillon pocket watch with chain and fusée that Emil Lange – who had been appointed to the exhibition’s jury – showed at the Paris Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) in 1900, where it was outside competition due to his official status.
The Jahrhunderttourbillon made specifically in honor of the Paris World’s Fair was the first internationally shown tourbillon by A. Lange & Söhne. It was shown by the younger of Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s two sons as the founder had passed away 25 years before the event.
The Jahrhunderttourbillon’s decorously engraved 59 mm platinum-plated yellow gold hunter case was decorated in a neo-renaissance style. The front cover features an allegorical enamel painting of Roman goddess Minerva holding a laurel wreath in her right hand as it rests on a globe while her left hand holds an olive branch. Paris and the Seine river are in the background (though Huber erroneously described the scene as including Germania, Dresden, and the Elbe).
These symbolize wisdom, the arts, and science as a way to keep world peace. An Aesculapian staff, an hourglass, an anvil, a painter’s palette, a gearwheel, and wheat at her feet depict the excitement of a new era dawning that combines technology, nature, and time – and the idea that peace and progress make fortuitous partners. A telescope behind her references A. Lange & Söhne and other Saxon institutions’ parts played in the furthering of astronomy and precision timekeeping.
The banks of the Seine in the background reference the event: the 1900 World’s Fair. Here country pavilions line up along the Quai des Nations alongside Parisian buildings, some of which no longer exist.
The Jahrhunderttourbillon’s movement includes a pivoted detent escapement and a power reserve of 30 hours, which is shown by a typical Lange “up and down” (power reserve) indication.
Sotheby’s justifiably described it as the most important watch made by A. Lange & Söhne.
The A. Lange & Söhne tourbillon pocket watch No. 41000 – nicknamed the Jahrhunderttourbillon (“tourbillon of the century” or “centennial tourbillon” – translate as you prefer, both fit!) – was delivered to Saxon court jeweler Paul Thimig in 1900 after the World’s Fair had ended.
Thimig sold it on February 28, 1900 for the princely sum of 1,500 German marks to printing merchant and Royal Commerce Councilor Carl Ernst Otto Weigang, whose large company, ironically at that time, printed A. Lange & Söhne’s catalogs.
The post-war whereabouts of the A. Lange & Söhne pocket watch tourbillon no. 41000 Jahrhunderttourbillon
After the death of Weigang in 1914, the Jahrhunderttourbillon became part of the Museum Bautzen’s collection along with other works of art and timepieces from Weigang’s extensive collection. Museum Bautzen, located in the Saxon city of the same name, was established in 1869. Weigang was a patron of the museum and largely financed its new building in 1912, just two years before his passing.
After World War II the watch appeared in public three times as far as anyone is aware. The first was in 1976 at a now-legendary Munich exhibition of A. Lange & Söhne masterpieces under the patronage of Walter Lange put on by the aforementioned Martin Huber, a prominent third-generation Munich jeweler and owner of Uhren Huber (whose three stores were sold to Bucherer in 2002).
In 1981 the Jahrhunderttourbillon was sold at a Habsburg auction in Zurich for 905,000 German marks (600,000 Swiss francs). Nine years later in 1990 it changed hands again, this time going in Düsseldorf for 1.1 million German marks – that was Haub’s acquisition.
It had not been seen since 1990 until it showed up at Sotheby’s after Haub’s death.
Why Sotheby’s removed the Jahrhunderttourbillon from the Masterworks Of Time auction
The short answer for the removal is Museum Bautzen. In 1937 the museum (which at the time was still home to the Jahrhunderttourbillon) was struck by the “degenerate art” movement, a Nazi Party description of modern art deemed “un-German.” It was during this era that many internationally renowned works of art were removed from state-owned museums and banned in Nazi Germany.
Valuable pieces from Museum Bautzen were lost at this time, and many more during the Battle of Bautzen in 1945 as the museum building was damaged. But having survived all of that, the Jahrhunderttourbillon’s fate was to fall prey to the extensive plundering that took place in Leisnig, where the museum had stored a variety of its exhibits since 1944.
Unbeknownst to most of the watch world, and more likely than not unbeknownst to both Haub and Sotheby’s, this piece of ticking cultural heritage has been on Germany’s list of lost art all this time.
The museum probably became aware of the resurfacing of the Jahrhunderttourbillon when Sotheby’s announced the Masterworks of Time auctions and got in contact with the auction house. Hopefully the two institutes have come to a good conclusion about what to do with the “tourbillon of the century.”
While I am a bit sad to miss what could have been an astronomical result for one of the most interesting timepieces in the world, I couldn’t be happier to know that someday soon it just might be back on display at Museum Bautzen, which would give me the chance to see it with my very own eyes.
I look forward to that day.
Quick Facts A. Lange & Söhne Pocket Watch Tourbillon No. 41000 Jahrhunderttourbillon
Case: 59 mm, hunter style in platinum-plated yellow gold, enamel miniature painting, crown winding
Dial: enamel with Arabic numerals, Louis XVI gold hands
Movement: manually wound caliber with one-minute tourbillon with steel cage, chain-and-fusée transmission, German silver plates and bridges, three-quarter plate, pivoted detent escapement, gold escape wheel, compensation balance with gold screws, Breguet overcoil balance spring, 3 screw-mounted gold chatons, 30-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds; power reserve (“up/down”)
Limitation: one unique piece