Pandemic Buying: A Plethora Of Auction Watches Hammering For More Than A Million In 2020 And 2021 – And, Yes, Most Were By Patek Philippe
Earlier this year, WatchPro pointed out that Patek Philippe and Rolex had the highest value auction results in 2020.
Examining auctions by Phillips, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s held in 2020, there were 22 timepieces that hammered for more than one million Swiss francs during the first year of the pandemic.
Phillips’ November Geneva Watch Auction: XII boasts the highest price hammered for a watch in 2020 when a pink gold worldtime Patek Philippe Reference 2523/1 with two crowns and guilloche dial hammered for CHF 4,991,000.
In total, 13 of the 22 watches going for more than one million Swiss francs (including buyer’s premium) in 2020 were made by Patek Philippe. Three of these 13 million-plus Patek Philippes were auctioned at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: XI in June 2020 and came from the personal collection of Jean-Claude Biver.
Four more came from Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: XII in November 2020, including the top-earning lot of 2020 mentioned above.
These 13 Patek Philippe watches in order of hammer price are as follows:
Reference 2523/1 (CHF 4,991,000 hammer price, November, Phillips)
Reference 1518 belonging to Jean-Claude Biver (CHF 3,380,000 hammer price, June, Phillips)
Reference 2499 belonging to Jean-Claude Biver (2,600,000 hammer price, June, Phillips)
Reference 1579 belonging to Jean-Claude Biver (1,940,000 hammer price, June, Phillips)
Reference 5033 (1,850,377 hammer price, July, Christie’s)
Reference 3974 (CHF 1,421,000 hammer price, November, Phillips)
Reference 2499 (CHF 1,288,400 hammer price, November, Phillips)
Reference 5531/1R (CHF 1,191,600 hammer price, November, Phillips)
Reference 5002 Sky Moon Tourbillon (CHF 1,182,406 hammer price, July, Christie’s)
Reference 605HU (CHF 1,160,000 hammer price, June, Phillips)
Reference 3448 (CHF 1,079,679 hammer price, November, Christie’s)
Reference 5103 (CHF 1,037,659 hammer price, November, Christie’s)
Reference 1518 (CHF 1,009, 645 hammer price, November, Christie’s)
Rolex came in behind Patek Philippe with four watches, each of which happened to be Daytona models – and of those, three were vintage “Paul Newman” variations.
We know that steel Rolexes are among the most sought-after watches in the world right now, but what strikes me is that all four of the highest-auctioned Rolexes are Daytona models (and not all of them are steel).
Rolex almost tied for first place on this list with a 1980 Rolex Daytona Reference 6263. It was a gift to Paul Newman himself (an avid racing driver) from his famous wife, Joanne Woodward, which the engraving on the back – “Drive slowly Joanne” – reflects. According to Phillips, it was the watch Newman was most photographed wearing. Woodward had given it to Newman in 1983 for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. At the 2020 Phillips New York December auction, it sold for $5,475,000.
The four million-plus Rolex Daytona models are as follows:
Reference 6263 Paul Newman-owned Big Red (CHF 4,819,571 hammer price, December, Phillips)
Reference 16516, appx. 1999 (CHF 2,975,904 hammer price, July, Sotheby’s)
Reference 6264 Paul Newman John Player Special (CHF 1,440,809 hammer price, July, Sotheby’s)
Reference 6241 Paul Newman John Player Special (CHF 1,040,000 hammer price, June, Phillips)
Four other brands made this list with one watch each and two for F.P. Journe – the next auction “hype brand” in my opinion. These are as follows in order of hammer price.
Heuer Reference 1133 Monaco owned by Steve McQueen (CHF 1,943,674 hammer price, December, Phillips)
Breguet No. 1297 from 1808 (CHF 1,867,715 hammer price, July, Sotheby’s)
F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain Souscription (CHF 1,400,000 hammer price, June, Phillips)
Philippe Dufour Simplicity, brand new (CHF 1,361,000 hammer price, November, Phillips)
F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Resonance Souscription (CHF 1,040,000 hammer price, June, Phillips)
Pandemic buying continuing in 2021
What occurred to me as I perused this list is that these high-roller watches all came in the second half of the year, at the time when “pandemic spending” was really ramping up, a fact noticed by practically all the independent watchmakers with their own e-boutiques and online sales outlets.
When the pandemic hit Europe in March and everything began closing down, there was a distinct lull in business worldwide for about three months as manufacturers and consumers alike figured out how to live life in a pandemic era. The situation was new, and people were trying to understand what was what and how to continue: shopping was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.
But in the summer of 2020 – a moment in time when things briefly opened again and people had gotten used to the new situation – things changed. MB&F founder and owner Maximilian Büsser told me then that he had expected the year to be minus 50 percent for his company.
“. . . But then something happened that nobody expected,” he continued. “Our retailers were selling even though they were closed. And then May and June were incredible.” This was aided by MB&F’s own e-shop, and 2020 ended up being a surprisingly great year for MB&F.
The uptick in sales also translated to the auction world, which has long worked just as well in the digital age as in person owing to the ability to phone in bids.
Thirteen million-plus watches so far in 2021
So far in 2021, there have been (by my count) 13 watches selling at more than one million Swiss francs among the offerings of the three major auction houses, all by Patek Philippe. These are as follows.
Christie’s held an online sale from the Dubai branch in April 2021 at which a Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon Reference 5002P-001 hammered for $1,590,000, setting two new records: one as the most expensive watch sold at auction in the Middle East and a new auction record for any watch sold online at Christie’s (the previous record for this, tellingly, was $600,000 in December 2020 for a Patek Philippe Reference 1462).
This was a different watch than the Sky Moon Tourbillon offered by Christie’s in the July 2020 Hong Kong sale, which I gleaned by comparing the case numbers.
At Christie’s Hong Kong auction in May, a unique gold Patek Philippe automatic perpetual calendar wristwatch Reference 3448 “Alan Banbery” (manufactured in 1970, modified in 1975) reached $3,759,755 (HK$29,050,000), setting a new auction record for the reference.
At the same auction, a two-crown worldtime Patek Philippe Reference 2523/1 hammered for $2,051,364 (HK$15,850,000); a Patek Philippe Reference 1415 with enamel dial went for $2,284,326 (HK$17,650,000); and a Patek Philippe Reference 2481 (HK$7,810,000), also with enamel dial, achieved $1,010,798 setting a new auction record for that reference as well. And a Patek Philippe grande complication pocket watch made in 1890 for Jean de Gradowski hammered for $1,818,401 (HK$14,050,000).
And at Christie’s Geneva in May 2021, there were two more: a Patek Philippe perpetual calendar Reference 1518 in pink gold manufactured in 1951 and retailed by Serpico y Laino achieved CHF 1,350,000 while a Patek Philippe worldtime pocket watch Reference 605 with a cloisonné enamel dial hammered for CHF 1,170,000.
Geneva’s second round of pandemic-era May auctions in 2021 also brought three watches hammering for more than a million Swiss francs at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: XII.
The top lot here was a Patek Philippe Reference 2523 with Eurasia dial, which brought in a whopping CHF 7,048,000. 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.
Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 570 sold for CHF 3,297,000, 16 times its pre-sale low estimate.
And a 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. I’m going to count this for my list.
Phillips’ Hong Kong Watch Auction: XII held in June 2021 gifted the watch world with two more watches hammering for more than a million Swiss francs.
The first is a Patek Philippe Reference 2499 perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with an Italian calendar in yellow gold from approximately 1953. It went for HK$15,375,000 ($1,981,838).
And finally Patek Philippe Reference 3974R, a pink gold minute repeating perpetual calendar wristwatch from about 1992. This watch’s sale achieved the world record for the reference in pink gold at HK$9,325,000 ($1,201,993).
With Only Watch scheduled to take place again in November 2021, the second half of this year could gift us with yet another stellar auction year.
And, clearly, Patek Philippe continues to be the king of the auctions, but prices are up across the board.