First Full Set Of Philippe Dufour Watches At Historical Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: XIV: Grande Et Petite Sonnerie (Wristwatch And Pocket Watch), Duality, And Simplicity
What happens when the four different timepieces made by the greatest living watchmaker come up for auction at the same time, a set of watches that fully demonstrates the entire span of his work as an independent watchmaker? You buckle up for a wild ride, that’s what.
On November 5 and 7, 2021, Phillips hosts an auction with 248 different timepieces spanning the gamut of modern and vintage horology. There are dozens of watches I’d be over the moon to own, with 40 different pieces from independent watchmakers. As to be expected, two-thirds are from only four brands with Patek Philippe and Rolex accounting for half of all lots. However, the remaining clocks and watches represent an incredible smattering of horology from the last century of watchmaking.
But for those in the know, which as of late is quite a lot of people, the pieces to keep your eye on are those by Philippe Dufour. Inarguably the greatest living watchmaker, Dufour has been active as an independent since 1989 when he debuted his first watch, a grande et petite sonnerie pocket watch. This was the first timepiece to bear his own name after creating five grande et petite sonnerie movements for Audemars Piguet during the 1980s.
Two and a half years later, in 1992, Dufour debuted his first wristwatch at Baselworld, which was the world’s first grande et petite sonnerie wristwatch. Next, he went on to create the Duality, the world’s first dual-escapement wristwatch. And, finally, he developed the Simplicity, first seen in the year 2000.
With the number of orders for these models enough to last the watchmaker for years, that is where the Dufour collection ends: four models spanning the last three decades.
And now, thanks to one incredible collector, the world has the chance to see (and possibly buy) all four Dufour watches in one place this November. And it could be the auction of the decade.
Let’s dive into each of the Philippe Dufour models to get an idea of exactly what is up for auction and why this is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime sight that is sure to leave its mark on the auction world for years to come.
This is the watch that started it all for Dufour. After working for almost a decade doing restoration of clocks, pocket watches, and wristwatches, Dufour set up his own workshop and decided to make his very own versions of the pieces he restored, many of which had also been made in the Vallée de Joux where Dufour was born and bred.
He created his first movement, an uncased 19-ligne grand sonnerie minute repeater, and showed it around to collectors and brands, landing him a contract to produce five movements for Audemars Piguet. He delivered these over most of the 1980s, with the first delivered in 1982 and the final one in 1988.
The very next year “Philippe Dufour,” the brand, was launched when Dufour released this very watch up for auction, the Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie No. 1. It was the very first watch to ever bear the Philippe Dufour name, and the sale of this watch is what repaid Dufour for his investment into himself, allowing him to continue as an independent watchmaker.
What’s more, this is the only Grande et Petite Sonnerie pocket watch that Dufour ever made with his name on it, so not only is it the No. 1 Philippe Dufour it is the No. 1 Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie pocket watch, a truly one-of-one unique piece. This single watch represents three different firsts and is the genesis of Philippe Dufour as an independent maker.
The realization of this grande et petite sonnerie is the culmination of years of previous hard work and craftsmanship and took more than 2,000 hours. This is the very first time this piece has been seen at auction as it has remained in the collection of the first owner since its completion in 1989.
That represents two more firsts: Dufour’s first client as an independent brand and his first watch being auctioned for the first time.
This is historic in at least five different ways and sets the tone as to why the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: XIV is an event for the record books. The auction estimate is 400,000 – 800,000 Swiss francs, but given that it is the very first watch bearing Dufour’s name and other “less important” Dufour watches have fetched millions, I think it’s possible this could easily sell for more than 1.5 to 2 million, and only because it is a pocket watch and not a wristwatch.
For more information, please visit www.phillips.com/detail/philippe-dufour/CH080221/145.
Quick Facts Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie Pocket Watch No. 1
Case: 60 mm, 18-karat yellow gold
Movement: manual wound handmade caliber, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency, 34 jewels
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; grande et petite sonnerie
Limitation: one of one, unique piece
Production year: 1989
Auction estimate: CHF 400,000 – 800,000
From the very first watch Philippe Dufour created, we move to the very first wristwatch Philippe Dufour created. The second historical piece in this auction is the very next watch that Dufour made after selling the Grande et Petite Sonnerie pocket watch. Knowing that if he was to be regarded as a serious watchmaker and to set himself apart, Dufour chose to make a splash with his first wristwatch.
Having completed seven grande et petite sonnerie movements over the last decade, Dufour spent two and a half years miniaturizing the movement to fit inside a wristwatch, the first time in history this had been successfully done. At Baselworld 1992, Dufour launched this exact watch, the Grande et Petite Sonnerie Wristwatch No. 1, the first wristwatch to contain the holy grail of chiming movements.
Making eight grande sonnerie wristwatches over the years, Dufour’s exquisite and unsurpassed hand-finishing became more widely recognized, leading to his rising popularity among independent watchmakers in the 1990s. The launch in 1992 coincided with Dufour joining the AHCI (Académie des Horlogers et Créatures Indépendants) and marked a turning point in both the industry and Dufour’s career.
Before 1992, Dufour was indeed among a select group of extremely talented watchmakers, but after the launch of the Grande et Petite Sonnerie Wristwatch, Dufour stood apart as one of the greatest. This is the watch to mark that. It has been in the same collection as his previous No. 1 and is seen here for the first time at auction.
The auction estimate for this piece is very conservative at one to two million Swiss francs. This is a lot of money, but earlier in 2021 the No. 3 version of this watch fetched a whopping $7.63 million, so the No. 1 could justifiably fetch even more, possibly reaching eight digits.
For more information, please visit www.phillips.com/detail/philippe-dufour/CH080221/14.
Quick Facts Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie Wristwatch No. 1
Case: 41 mm, 18-karat yellow gold
Movement: manual wound handmade caliber, 35 jewels
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; grande et petite sonnerie
Limitation: No. 1 of eight pieces
Production year: 1992
Auction estimate: CHF 1,000,000 – 2,000,000
The third watch in this auction also represents a milestone as the third watch that Philippe Dufour developed: the Duality. It was also another world premiere as it was the first wristwatch to incorporate a double escapement compensated via a differential gear. It was inspired by a school watch Dufour had seen while studying at École d’Horlogerie de la Vallée de Joux that had a single gear train delivering power to two escapements via a differential.
As he did with the grande et petite sonnerie, Dufour set himself the task of miniaturizing the mechanism for use in a wristwatch, and the Duality was born.
When it launched, Dufour had initially planned to make 25 movements, but he hit a wrinkle. Because it was still the mid-1990s, the watch collecting community wasn’t yet as gung ho on complicated avant-garde mechanics and people didn’t fully comprehend just what Dufour had accomplished (the F.P. Journe Resonance, another dual escapement wristwatch, was still four years away).
According to Dufour it was also very difficult to assemble and regulate, so due to these combined factors the planned 25 turned into just nine watches. He made the initial prototype, No. 00, and then eight additional movements, with No. 8 being the last Duality he ever completed.
That makes this watch both a first AND a last, the very first wristwatch with a dual escapement and the last example of it that Dufour ever made. These watches have exploded in fascination over the years but due to their rarity and the fact that collectors rarely part with them, it is an experience to just see one, let alone have the chance to bid on one at auction. I’ve been lucky enough to see two in my life, and I definitely felt the importance of holding such a rare masterpiece.
The Duality also set the tone for the “simple” watches that Dufour would go on to produce, establishing a general aesthetic and expectation of subdued excellence and under-the-radar style. If you don’t know who Philippe Dufour is you might gloss right over one of his watches, maybe pausing to say, “nice watch.” But if you know, and you see a Duality with the offset subdial for seconds at 7:30, you stop whatever you are doing and you take a closer look.
The auction estimate is set between 800,000 and 1.6 million Swiss francs, and once again I think this is an underestimate considering what Dufour watches have fetched at recent auctions. It isn’t the No. 1 (or better yet, the No. 00 Duality, which recently auctioned for $915,000) but it is instead the very last Duality ever made by Dufour, the No. 8, which brings a different kind of gravitas to the sale.
It is also part of the same single collection affording us the opportunity to see all of Dufour’s creations, so I could see the excitement potentially pushing this one past the upper end of its estimate, perhaps hitting two million Swiss francs for the rightly excited bidder.
For more information, please visit www.phillips.com/detail/philippe-dufour/CH080221/190.
Quick Facts Philippe Dufour Duality No. 8
Case: 35.5 mm, 18-karat pink gold
Movement: manual wound handmade Caliber 10 with dual escapements linked via differential, 30 x 4 mm, 40 jewels
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 9 pieces
Production year: 1996
Auction estimate: CHF 800,000 – 1,600,000
In the year 2000, 12 years after Philippe Dufour debuted the first watch to bear his name, he released the as-of-yet last model to bear his name: the Simplicity. This watch is by far the most well known because it was limited to 200 movements, more than 20 times as many pieces as prior models and ten times as many watches as he had ever produced. By this time, however, Dufour’s popularity and legendary status had been cemented in collectors’ minds and hearts, and the collection sold out relatively quickly.
But since Dufour still worked alone, that limited edition equated to years of work and an eventual waiting list of at least a decade. This watch has been highly sought after for a long time, and the only way anyone could get their hands on one is when a rare piece would show up at auction.
With this piece being No. 57 it is the least rare of the pieces up for auction, but only insomuch as it isn’t the first or last of a model run. It still concludes the entire Philippe Dufour collection and represents more than a decade and a half of the master watchmaker’s efforts.
The Simplicity was offered in two sizes, the original 34-millimeter and the later 37-millimeter case, of which this is the latter. It came in pink or white gold, platinum, and one steel variation. This Simplicity is housed in a platinum case and features a hand-guilloche dial, often considered one of the most desirable combinations.
This watch was also part of the same collection as the other pieces, representing the only full collection that existed in the world since this Grande et Petite Sonnerie pocket watch is the only one in existence.
The auction estimate for this No. 57 Simplicity is a “paltry” 250,000 – 500,000 Swiss francs. While it is also a conservative estimate, it may prove to be more accurate than the others given the somewhat non-special number of this piece. I could still see this getting up into the higher 700,000 – 900,000 Swiss franc range because a bidder might just want to be a part of this historic sale, but I don’t know if it will break one million. However, excitement could help push this one above that seven-digit mark if it is auctioned last and a previously losing bidder needs to quench his Philippe Dufour thirst.
For more information, please visit www.phillips.com/detail/philippe-dufour/CH080221/115.
Quick Facts Philippe Dufour Simplicity No. 57
Case: 37 mm, platinum
Movement: manual wound handmade caliber, 21 jewels
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 200 pieces in the original run
Production year: 2004
Auction estimate: CHF 250,000 – 500,000
This auction represents the first time the entire Philippe Dufour collection has been seen at auction, a historic moment for independent watchmaking as a whole. Every solo watchmaker and independent brand followed in the footsteps of Philippe Dufour in some way, with many of the most successful and talented independent watchmakers having learned from the master himself, who is known to be generous with sharing knowledge and hard-earned skills.
These timepieces are part of the beginning of the modern independent watchmaking movement and demonstrate how successful one could be making a few watches to the highest levels instead of selling skills to the bigger brands.
Some of the ideas that Dufour put into his watches found their way into other watchmakers’ work, and the ethos of tradition, passion, and adherence to perfection (or at least striving for perfection) has been a part of some of the most exclusive independent watchmakers’ ideals.
Finally, the success of independent watchmakers is in large part thanks to the education and awareness made possible by the level of watchmaking to which Dufour has performed. He is known as the best hand-finisher in the industry. His mere presence elevates the prestige and value of all independent watchmakers who put hard work and hand-craftsmanship into their pieces.
And, in a twist, he has also been a part of what has pushed larger brands to reinvest in the skills and knowhow required to make pieces to the (attempted) Dufour level, thereby elevating the entire industry with less than 300 watches.
I would say that is an extremely high return on investment, and whoever ends up with the winning bids these timepieces, no matter how high they go, will be getting a bargain in terms of what they represent to watchmaking as a whole.
The Geneva Watch Auction: XIV hosted by Phillips is set to take place on November 5 and 7 in Geneva at La Réserve and could be the event of this decade as Philippe Dufour looks to hand over the reigns of his tradition to his incredibly talented daughter Danièla, marking another turning point for the Dufour legacy.
To see the full auction catalogue for the upcoming event, please visit www.phillips.com/auctions/auction/CH080221.