Sotheby’s Masterworks Of Time Part Three Is Dedicated To Treasures From Breguet’s Workshop And Other Historical Delicacies (Updated With Results)
Sotheby’s Masterworks of Time auction is an astounding collection of more than 800 long-unseen 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 passionate collector: 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.
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 the legendary Dr. George Daniels.
The extraordinary collection will 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 premiums) – more than half of which came from the sale of the Daniels Space Traveller II alone, which set an auction record for an independent watchmaker when it hammered for $4,561,407/£3,615,000 (including buyer’s premium).
The Geneva auction featuring A. Lange & Söhne in November 2019 brought in a combined total of CHF 4,604,875 – with Lot 38, a Frères Rochat & Rémond, Lamy, Mercier & Co. double singing bird cage clock, hammering for CHF 1,010,000 as the top lot.
Sotheby’s estimates that the collection in its four-auction entirety will realize $15-$27 million. And it is already well on its way there.
Following part one and two of this series of auctions, which took place respectively in April 2019 in London and November 2019 in Geneva, the third auction in this four-part series is set to begin on June 3, 2020 at 4:00 pm CET – online!
This remarkable event, precipitated by the travel and social restrictions applied due to the outbreak of COVID-19, marks the very first online auction dedicated to pocket watches in history. And it comprises one of the most comprehensive offerings of Breguet timepieces appearing at auction: 18 pocket watches, many of which were made during Breguet’s most active period, 1790 until his death in 1823, are found among the 126 lots.
Let’s have a look at some of the highlights.
The top lot for this auction is Lot 27, a Breguet masterpiece made in 1816 for Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane Bart (1773-1860), Scottish general, astronomer, and the patron of Australian city Brisbane. A supporter of scientific research, he built observatories in Scotland and Australia and worked toward improving more accurately measuring longitude and latitude; many of his measures were adopted around the world.
Brisbane served as the governor of New South Wales from 1821 through 1825 and created the settlement that came to be known as Brisbane, now Australia’s third most populous city.
Breguet’s workshop began work on this pocket watch in 1810 and sold it to Brisbane on February 23, 1816 for 2,000 francs. The silver watch contains a six-minute tourbillon and a detent chronometer escapement. The dial is regulator style.
No. 2574 has not been seen on the auction market for 34 years, when it last sold at Sotheby’s 1986 New York sale of the Seth Atwood Collection for $210,000 – a sale that also included the Henry Graves Supercomplication and reached a total of $58 million. Atwood was the founder of the Time Museum in Rockford, Illinois.
Auction estimate: CHF 300,000–500,000; sold for CHF 560,000
As Breguet expert and independent watchmaker George Daniels wisely wrote in his book The Art of Breguet, “Breguet did not invent the perpétuelle, but he certainly did perfect it.”
And this is wonderfully illustrated by one of Haub’s precious Breguet pieces, which had originally been sold to a Monsieur Cn. W. Johnston in 1796 for 3,120 francs.
No. 60 is a gold-encased quarter repeater with moon phases, weekday (in French), and the very typical Breguet power reserve display between 10 and 11 o’clock. And it is powered by an automatic winding movement.
The silver dial, which was replaced by Breguet in 1905, and the gold case are both – obviously – decorated with guilloche.
This watch last appeared at auction 42 years ago in 1978, at that time setting a world record for a watch for Sotheby’s when it sold for £57,000 within watch collector Edward Hornby’s sale of 80 lots, becoming the top lot. Johnston and Hornby were the only two owners of this piece before Haub.
Auction estimate: CHF 200,000–300,000; lot withdrawn
Switching gears, lot 34 is an ultra-complication piece made by Dent with the help of Capt & Cie. and watchmaker Leon Aubert, both of the Vallée de Joux, in approximately 1904.
Including a total of 19 complications, this is a very early example of what Patek Philippe will achieve a quarter century later with the Henry Graves Supercomplication. The complications found here include astronomical indications such as the times of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset, moon phases, and current signs of the zodiac.
Auction estimate: CHF 300,000–500,000; sold for CHF 800,000
And speaking of Patek Philippe, what auction would be complete without a watch by that storied maker? Not this one. In fact, this auction includes an ensemble of eight watches made for the South and North American markets, all from the turn of the twentieth century except this pink gold open-faced keyless lever watch from 1948: Reference 605 HU.
This is an original example of the Patek Philippe Heures Universelles: the world time complication developed by Louis Cottier and famously decorated with an enameled depiction of a map – in this case a cloisonné enamel map of North America.
Production of Patek Philippe’s Reference 605 began in 1937 and continued for approximately 30 years, a period of time in which less than 100 pieces were made. Sotheby’s research indicates that about three-quarters of those pieces were housed in yellow gold and only about one-quarter in pink gold. The enamel dials were added only from the late 1940s. This example is one of only seven known Reference 605 HUs with a map of North America.
Today, of course, Patek Philippe makes these in wristwatch form, the most recent example being Reference 5231J.
Auction estimate: CHF 250,000–350,000; sold for 680,000
Other lots of special note include a Breguet Montre à Tact (lot 29), a possibly unique sweep chronograph by A. Lange & Söhne (lot 43), and a Girard-Perregaux tourbillon with three bridges and pivoted detent escapement (lot 92).
For more information please visit www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2020/masterworks-of-time-abraham-louis-breguet-horologist-extraordinaire.