Geneva’s Auction Week May 2021: Record Results And High Notes, Especially For Independent Brands
Geneva’s second round of pandemic-era May auctions brought some fascinating offerings out of the woodwork. And despite what might seem logical at this juncture, people are buying watches at auction like there was no tomorrow – who knows, maybe they think there will not be a tomorrow.
While timepieces by Rolex and Patek Philippe brought in most of the high-roller results, the three main houses with auctions running over the second weekend in May 2021 – Phillips, Christie’s, and Antiquorum – generated fantastic results for watches by many other brands, including the independents.
Phillips Geneva Watch Auction XII: Patek Philippe and the independents
Phillips reported record attendance of more than 2,500 online bidders from 83 different countries and total sales of CHF 38 million during its two-day sale, which was simultaneously held in person at La Réserve in Geneva. The top lot – a Patek Philippe Reference 2523 with Eurasia dial – alone brought in CHF 7,048,000, doubling its pre-sale estimate. It also achieved two new world records: the highest price ever for a Patek Philippe wristwatch with enamel cloisonné dial and the highest price for any yellow gold wristwatch ever sold at auction.
Other Patek Philippe models also brought in high prices: the Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 570 (lot 160) sold for CHF 3,297,000, 16 times its pre-sale low estimate. And a well-preserved set of four Patek Philippe Reference 2499 models (first, second, third, and fourth series examples) sold for a combined total of CHF 5.7 million.
The independents also did very well at this auction. Notably, the Roger Smith Series 1 “Onely Theo Fennell” (lot 145) set the world record for any Roger Smith watch sold at auction, coming in at CHF 541,800. This price represented 14 times the watch’s pre-sale low estimate and now boasts the highest auction price ever achieved for a wristwatch by a British watchmaker.
Other interesting results include a Harry Winston/F.P. Journe Opus 1 “Turquoise Tourbillon” (lot 142) in platinum that sold for CHF 453,600 and a Richard Mille RM022 (lot 31) limited edition red quartz TPT, which sold for CHF 756,000.
See much more about Richard Mille and the red quartz TPT material in Surprising Use Of Quartz: Richard Mille RM 011 Red TPT Quartz Automatic Flyback Chronograph and learn about Harry Winston’s Opus series in Harry Winston Opus Series: A Complete Overview From Opus 1 Through Opus 14.
Phillips Geneva Watch Auction XII: Richard Habring’s personal IWC Portugieser Split-Seconds Chronograph prototype
The watch I especially had my eye on at Phillips was lot 165, one of the most important prototypes in the history of IWC: Richard Habring’s personal split-seconds chronograph prototype.
Habring, now co-founder of boutique brand Habring2 with his wife Maria, was at the time responsible for developing a practical, cost-efficient split-seconds chronograph, in the early 1990s still one of the most difficult complications to master. After putting it into an IWC Pilot’s Watch that came out in 1992, he turned to the IWC Portugieser line, which is where this prototype would belong.
As IWC itself has said, this watch kicked off “the age of modern pilot’s watches,” which “began in Schaffhausen in 1992 . . . the Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph (Reference IW3711) established IWC as an expert in creating robust, precise chronographs . . .”
Habring parted with this watch because, as he told me, he wanted to close out his personal IWC chapter. “My wife Maria and I founded Habring2 17 years ago, and since then our little Austrian manufacture has written its own successful chapter in watch history. With further chapters to follow. IWC is the past for me; Habring2 is my present and my future.”
The proceeds of this auction lot are being donated to charity, with the largest portion going to Caritas Austria, a nongovernmental organization helping the poor both locally and abroad, and the rest to support local schools and associations.
I am ecstatic to report that this lot hammered for CHF 119,700, including buyer’s premium. For more see Richard Habring’s Personal IWC Portugieser Split-Seconds Chronograph Prototype Ref. 3712 At Phillips Geneva Watch Auction XII: A Unique Piece Of Horological History.
Quick Facts Phillips Lot 165 IWC Portugieser Split-Seconds Chronograph Prototype Ref. 3712 by Richard Habring
Case: 42 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manually wound Caliber 76240 (ETA Valjoux 7750 base) with added rattrapante, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; split-seconds chronograph
Year of manufacture: approx. 1995
Estimated auction price: €7,300-€14,500/CHF 8,000-CHF 16,000
Auction price achieved: CHF 119,700, including buyer’s premium
Antiquorum: a new record for an A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 in stainless steel
Antiquorum held its Geneva auction on May 9, 2021 at the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva, but there was no audience in attendance; it was only broadcast digitally on the Antiquorum website. The auction’s more than 500 lots achieved a total of CHF 10,358,555 (including buyer’s premiums).
The auction set three new price records: one for a steel Rolex Zerographe (CHF 225,000) with white dial; one for an Omega Chronomètre à Tourbillon in yellow gold (lot 444, CHF 512,500); and – for me the most interesting tidbit – the world record for an A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 in steel sold at auction. More about that below.
On the independent front, a Daniel Roth Masters Double Face Quantième Tourbillon in white gold and set with baguette-cut diamonds and sapphires (lot 202) sold for CHF 75,000, while a second-generation F.P. Journe Tourbillon Remontoir d’Égalité Seconde Morte in pink gold (lot 427) hammered at CHF 200,000.
As I said, though, the star of this auction was the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 in stainless steel (lot 434), which is very special because A. Lange & Söhne never officially launched a stainless steel watch before the Odysseus arrived in late October 2019.
But that does not mean that that there are no stainless steel examples of the flagship Lange 1 and a select few other models in existence. There are some – a very few made for certain early Lange retailers, as you can learn about in detail here – though they are so few and far between that they have an almost mythical standing among watch collectors. We estimate there to be about 25 examples of the steel Lange 1 in existence.
The result for lot 434 on May 9 was CHF 312,500, which just edged out the price reached for the mint-condition, unworn example with silver dial that hammered at Phillips’ pre-pandemic Game Changers auction in December 2019. That particular model had never been worn and had never even had a strap attached to its lugs, making it pristine new old stock. It was delivered to Cellini jewelers in New York City in 1999 and had been in the vault there ever since. It came accompanied by the original invoice indicating purchase on November 29, 1999 for 17,271.93 German marks (or about €8,830 today). It went for a whopping $343,750.
Read the whole story of the steel Lange 1 Antiquorum offered in Ultra-Rare A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 In Stainless Steel To Be Auctioned At Antiquorum.
And speaking of the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus – it is worth noting that an example of this stainless steel watch showing the sportier side of Germany’s premier luxury watch brand was offered in this auction, which comes darn close to flipping in my book. Launched in October 2019, it is a heavily-in-demand, waitlist-only timepiece.
Shocking is that this watch retails for €28,000 new – if you can get your hands on one. This example at Antiquorum just sold for – gasp – CHF 90,000! See an owner’s thoughts on this watch at Why I Bought It: A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus (A Photofest!).
Quick Facts A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 in stainless steel
Case: 38.5 x 10 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manually wound Caliber L901.0 with two serially operating spring barrels, 72-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 53 jewels, screw-mounted gold chatons, swan-neck fine adjustment, hand-engraved balance cock, three-quarter plate
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds; large date, power reserve
Year of manufacture: approx. 1997
Auction estimate: CHF 100,000-200,000
Auction price achieved: CHF 312,500, including buyer’s premium
Christie’s: Patek Philippe, independents, and a pair of A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérites
Christie’s was also active on auction weekend in Geneva, reporting bidders from 47 countries, 800 online bidders, and a hammered total of CHF 23 million in its live May 10 auction. Christie’s also reports – and this is a very interesting statistic – that 80 percent of its buyers were private individuals rather than watch dealers.
The three top lots for Christie’s were all by Patek Philippe, but, again, I’d like to direct your attention elsewhere as those are (for me) no longer such surprising results for the Genevan maker’s output.
Watches by F.P. Journe performed well with two early platinum tourbillons (Souverain, lot 165 and Tourbillon Remontoir d’Égalité, lot 166) each achieving hammer prices of CHF 400,000 and another Tourbillon Souverain (lot 164) in platinum with a rare mother-of-pearl dial achieving CHF 575,000 – both oddly far outperforming lot 162, the F.P. Journe stainless steel Repetition Minutes Souverain (hammer price CHF 187,500). See much more about that watch at The Sonnerie Sourveraine By F.P. Journe: A Legend In Its Own Time.
A Vianney Halter Antiqua in platinum (lot 169) showed up here as well, hammering for CHF 225,000. At times this absolute classic of modern watchmaking seems under appreciated to me, but then it shows up at auction and BAM. Only five years ago, this watch was selling for a quarter of this price. It’s about time it became more appreciated in my view.
If you want to know more about this watch, see Why I Bought It: Vianney Halter Antiqua.
But for me the big story was the pair of A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite models, one in platinum (lot 177) and one in red gold (lot 178) and both on rare bracelets. There were many watches by the German maker in this auction – notably a pink gold Zeitwerk (lot 174) and a platinum Datograph (lot 27) – but these tourbillons are quite possibly the most important watches this brand has made in the modern era.
The Tourbillon Pour le Mérite is one of the models introduced at A. Lange & Söhne’s re-launch in 1994. The platinum model here is number 5 of 50. Christie’s believes this to be one of only three platinum examples that came on a bracelet. The pink gold variation is number 112 of 150.
Produced from 1994 to 1998, a total of 200 Tourbillon Pour le Mérite watches exist, comprising 19 examples in white gold, 24 in pink gold, 106 in yellow gold, and only one in stainless steel. The platinum edition of 50 was numbered 1-50.
For my reasoning behind why this is such an important watch, see Why The A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite Is One Of The Most Historically Important Modern Wristwatches.
Quick Facts A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite
Case: yellow gold (106 examples), platinum (50), pink gold (24), white gold (19), and stainless steel (1); 38.5 x 10 mm (with one smaller exception in pink gold)
Dial: silvered on yellow gold version with painted Arabic numerals
Movement: manually wound Caliber L902.0; frequency 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph; power reserve 36 hours; one-minute tourbillon; chain and fusée subassembly for constant force
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds; power reserve indication
Limitation: 106 in yellow gold; 50 in platinum; 24 in pink gold; 19 in white gold; and 1 in stainless steel
Year of manufacture: 1994-1998
Original retail prices: 125,000 German marks (yellow gold), 140,000 German marks (platinum)
Pre-pandemic auction result prices: $154,000 to $180,000 (yellow gold), $171,000 to $251,000 (pink gold), $275,000 (platinum)