Only Watch 2019 Post-Auction Thoughts: Smashing Records For A Great Cause Plus The $31 Million Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime’s Record Grab On Video
The elegant room at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues filled up very quickly even though I had arrived almost an hour in advance of the start of Only Watch 2019. As people milled in, I could feel the excitement generated by the animated chatter and palpable expectations.
These people were here to witness history in the making.
And some were there to become a part of history by acquiring one of the 50 unique timepieces donated to the 2019 charity event founded by Luc Pettavino, 99 percent of the proceeds of which go straight to research and solutions for curing Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that claimed the life of his son.
The buzz around Geneva over the entire week was nothing if not intense: the 2019 edition of Only Watch was about to set some records, and people wanted to witness it.
Record-setting Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime
The sale of a lot at auction is something that goes very, very quickly. Sometimes it is over in less than a minute, an amount of time that does not necessarily allow you to catch everything by the time it’s done, leaving you wondering just what the hell just happened at times.
The sale of the unique Grandmaster Chime in stainless steel, a variation on the seven-piece red gold limited edition highlight of Patek Philippe’s 175th anniversary offerings, however, seemed to go on for a very long time, allowing the room to revel in the unique experience. It felt almost like slow motion to me.
In fact, it took almost 12 minutes for the sale of the Grandmaster Chime to reach its final astounding result of 31 million Swiss francs, not only setting a record by surpassing the sale of Paul Newman’s Paul Newman Rolex Daytona in 2017 by almost double, but also – remarkably – doing so for a brand-new watch and not one previously owned by some luminary.
The bidding for this once-in-a-lifetime timepiece opened at 5 million francs from somewhere in the front row of seats and immediately jumped to 10 million from the row of phone bidders. From there on out, it pretty much increased in increments of one million or 500,000 francs every few seconds.
I couldn’t help but whoop and cheer along with the crowd at this astounding turn of events. But as the bidding jumped past 20 million, I found it difficult to breathe, involuntarily holding my breath at the sheer enormity of the moment.
And, still, the bidding continued into the stratosphere, the crowd now holding its collective breath between new number announcements from Christie’s experienced auctioneer Rahul Kadakia.
A new bidder entered the fray at the 22.5-million point, and the bidding continued to creep up . . . 29 . . . the display board couldn’t keep up with the large numbers . . . 30 million (“YES!”) . . . and finally “31” from the phone bank.
When the hammer finally came down on that astounding 31 million CHF result, the audience honored it with a standing ovation and the European-style rhythmic clapping that denotes extreme appreciation. I have never seen this kind of thing happen at an auction before.
Other surprising results: 5 revered independent watchmakers
While the sale of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime may have been what most people came to the auction see – as evidenced by the exit of about one-third of the room after lot 28 hammered – a few other results are very much worth mentioning.
Of the top ten results, five were achieved by independent watchmakers: F.P. Journe (1.8 million CHF), Akrivia/Rexhep Rexhepi (360,000 CHF), Richard Mille (320,000 CHF), Urwerk/De Bethune (300,000 CHF), and Bovet (280,000 CHF).
The latter, a ladies’ watch, also immediately followed the gigantic sale of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime as lot 29; this sum was a magnificent and rather unexpected result.
While the result for the F.P. Journe Astronomic Blue wasn’t that shocking based on the brand’s 2017 Only Watch performance – where the Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante, featuring a tantalum case and blue chrome dial, realized an astounding result of CHF 1,150,000 – the opening bid of CHF 1.5 million perhaps was.
I think that this continuation of the “guerilla bidding” first experienced at the 2017 sale of Paul Newman’s own Paul Newman Rolex Daytona might not be the last example we see of it at the high-profile auctions.
The tactic seems to be working, though it does take some of the anticipatory fun out of the way that auctions generally work in my view.
And while I also predicted that the Urwerk/De Bethune collaboratory Moon Satellite and the unique version of the Akrivia/Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain would be two lots to watch, I was still in awe (and overjoyed to see) that both watches more than lived up to their respective potentials.
Rexhepi’s excellently finished and insanely beautiful Chronomètre Contemporain, winner of the Men’s category at the 2018 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, was destined to show its greatness at this auction despite its conservative high estimate of only CHF 60,000. Earlier in the week I predicted a result of around 250,000.
I was overjoyed to see it sell for an amazing CHF 360,000, making it the fourth-highest earner of the auction, just ahead of Tudor’s unique Black Bay Ceramic (CHF 350,000 hammer price).
This result says a lot more than just the generosity of the winning bidder or the desirability of this watch: this result also solidifies Rexhepi’s now-premium position among the top independent watchmakers – though our GaryG was already sure of this two years ago (see A Collector’s View: Is Akrivia Bound For Glory?).
Let’s talk about Hermès, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton’s Only Watch lots
These three houses from the world of haute couture have been steadily rising in esteem and quality among the ranks of haute horlogerie brands. While 10 or 15 years ago, a watch enthusiast might have grimaced at the thought of purchasing a serious watch from any of these brands, today it is a much different story.
And kudos to these companies for working so hard to bring their horological products to the same level as their other product categories.
First and foremost among them Hermés, who began in earnest just prior to 2011 to collaborate with inventive watchmakers to create joyful, playful timepieces like the Temps Suspendu of 2011 and the Arceau L’Heure de la Lune of 2019, which has left a serious impression on everyone.
Not only was this a watch constantly and consistently talked about at its introduction at the 2019 SIHH, but two days prior to the Only Watch auction it had just won the Calendar and Astronomy category of the 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
I wouldn’t be too sure that that win didn’t influence the pace of the bidding on this watch to drive it up to a magnificent result of 210,000 Swiss francs, almost ten times the normal retail price of this watch limited to 100 pieces.
Chanel is another brand who likely profited from winning its category at the the 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, where it took home the prize for best Ladies watch.
At Only Watch, the brand offered a set of his-and-hers J12 pieces powered by brand-new Caliber 12.1, but their movements have been blackened, which is the unique element about them. Bidding was surprisingly brisk here, and at one point I even saw Audemars Piguet CEO François Bennahmias putting up his hand.
The “Inséparables” pair ended up going for 130,000 Swiss francs, in my opinion a stunning result.
But it was the 280,000 Swiss franc result of the Louis Vuitton Escale Spin Time that really surprised me, as this sixth donation to Only Watch by the world-famous brand experienced quite a bit of spirited bidding.
I shouldn’t have been too surprised, though: both the watch dial and the box crafted like a Louis Vuitton trunk are decorated with examples of tattoo art using a rose motif (I heard this particular pattern had something to do with Pettavino’s son, though that was never officially announced).
The dial is crafted in champlevé enamel and miniature painting by Anita Porchet, the foremost master of the enameling craft in the watch industry.
Though I could not see the front row from my location in the room, I was told by someone who could see it that Jean-Claude Biver was the winning bidder of this watch.
What it all means, aka the branding of Only Watch
Apart from the fact that 99 percent of the proceeds of this charity go straight to its intended and announced function – the remaining one percent is for the administrative costs of running it – Only Watch has also become important to the industry as something of a high-profile barometer when it comes to the tastes of very wealthy people (these makers’ consumer segment) and testing out where timepieces like this could be headed.
Let’s take Richard Mille’s result as an example. At Only Watch 2015 (Richard Mille did not donate a watch to the 2017 auction), the brand’s entry, the prototype of the RM 27-02 worn by Rafael Nadal during the 2015 French Open, hammered for CHF 650,000, an astounding sum of money for a prototype watch four years ago.
The concept was new, the partnership with Rafael Nadal was newish, and there weren’t that many pieces of this reference out there as it was only offered in a limited edition of 50. The winning bidder very likely knew he or she was buying an absolute piece of history.
While the RM 11-03 McLaren prototype Richard Mille donated to Only Watch 2019 was no less engaging from a visual standpoint, I believe it didn’t go quite as far into the stratosphere with its result because it was the prototype of a limited edition of 500 pieces, a number set by the amount of McLaren automobiles in the series it was originally introduced with. That is a very, very large number of watches for such an edition, and I believe that slight oversaturation took its toll on this auction result – though who could really complain about it hammering for CHF 320,000?
Perhaps it also had to do with the fact that the RM 11-03 is a watch that has been on the market for many years in a variety of iterations. The RM 27-02 Nadal was new both as a reference and as a concept at the time it came out.
On the flip side, the Breguet Type 20 brought in much more than expected, which almost certainly reflects the current interest in vintage-style watches as well as the continued interest in Breguet’s mid-century Type XX aviation-style timepieces.
Combined with the historic Breguet name and the current high status of the brand, the CHF 210,000 result very likely was a perfect reflection of the validity of this watch’s concept and rarity.
Congratulations to the wonderful Luc Pettavino for both this stunning result and for the Special Jury Prize awarded to him by the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève’s jury two days prior.
This auction went to show one more time what a lovely and fruitful event he has invented.
Quick Overview: Only Watch 2019 total result and top 12 watches
Total auction intake: CHF 38,593,000
1. Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, CHF 31,000,000
2. F.P. Journe Astronomic Blue, CHF 1,800,000
3. Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Openworked Tourbillon, CHF 1,000,000
4. Akrivia/Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain, CHF 360,000
5. Tudor Black Bay Ceramic, CHF 350,000
6. Richard Mille RM 11-03 McLaren prototype, CHF 320,000
7. Urwerk x De Bethune Moon Satellite, CHF 300,0000
8. Bovet Récital 23 Hope, CHF 280,000
9. Louis Vuitton Escale Spin Time, CHF 280,000
10. Hublot Classic Fusion Tourbillon Sapphire Orlinski, CHF 240,000
11. Breguet Type 20, CHF 210,000
12. Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune, CHF 210,000
For more information, please visit www.onlywatch.com.