This was a big 48 hours for Phillips, and not just because of one lot. In total, the auction brought in 27,513,625 CHF (approximately $27,625,350 at the time of publishing). There was of course a HUGE result on day one of the sale â which alone represented more than 50% of the money received by the auctioneer that night and more than the total achieved by the 96 lots on the the second evening. We’ll get to that in a bit, but first, let’s look at some of the other big results of the weekend.
We expected the top lots would do well (they always do, even when the markets seem more fragile than ever). The top results included many vintage Patek Philippe watches, with two more reference 1518s in pink gold and yellow gold commanding 1,474,000 CHF (approximately $1,489,813 at the time of publishing) and 598,00 CHF respectively (approximately $602,840 at the time of publishing), both north of their high estimates. It was the first time all three references were offered by the same house in the same auction. Another strong result from Patek came in the form of a yellow gold ref. 3974, which sold for 514,000 CHF (approximately $519,900 at the time of publishing). Rolex also placed some top performers. A case in point was the Daytona Cosmograph Daytona “Linz Paul Newman” reference 6239, which went for 874,000 CHF ($883,376 at the time of publishing), twice the value of its high estimate, which backed up an equally strong performance from the Tiffany-signed 6263 Paul Newman. Lastly, a rare Breguet chronograph with luminous hands and dial reached 286,000 CHF (approximately $289,059 at the time of publishing) after an epic bidding war that left the room breathless.
But six-figure watches were not the only ones drawing a lot of interest, and fight. The weekend once again showed that collectors were ready to pay top dollar for rarity and originality, with a handful of models less accustomed to the spotlight suddenly staring right at it. This was the case for a Jaeger-LeCoultre ChronomÃ¨tre Geophysic in top condition, offered by the original owner’s family, which many had their eye on before the sale because of its relatively conservative estimate (15,000 to 25,000 CHF). The watch sold for 68,750 CHF (approximately $69,540 at the time of publishing).
Another great result was achieved by the oversized steel Omega ref. CK2039 with sector dial that Ben identified as one of two of the coolest lots in the catalogue. It sold way beyond its pre-sale estimate (10,000 to 15,000 CHF), for 72,500 CHF (approximately $73,330 at the time of publishing). Ben’s other pick, an “Alaska IIâ Project Watch split its estimate (100,000 to 200,000 CHF) almost right down the middle, at 156,250 CHF (approximately $158,043 at the time of publishing).
But in terms of personal performance, it didn’t get much better than a steel Heuer chronograph (which are just about the hottest thing right now) retailed by Orvis, that has the peculiarity of having tidal indications. The watch â ref. 2446SF â was purchased by TAG Heuer, which sat in the room and fought hard, finally paying 50,000 CHF for it (approximately $50,632 at the time of publishing), pretty much ten times the watch’s pre-sale estimate (4,000 to 6,000 CHF). All four Heuers in the sale punched above their weight in fact, all of them selling above their estimate for a combined total of 154,687 CHF (approximately $156,580 at the time of publishing). Another great team result came from Day-Date models. There were ten, and all pointed towards steadily increasing value, by handily beating their low-estimates (and in 6 instances, beating their high-estimate). Tudor also confirmed its (immense) potential. Only one was offered, an Oyster Prince Submariner ref. 7928, and it smashed its estimate (3,500 to 4,500 CHF), by selling for 26,250 CHF (approximately $26,563 at the time of publishing).
Superlative quality stainless steel Pateks continued their hot streak, as did high quality, rare Rolex. The 1463 Gubelin achieved 466,000 CHF while the unique black luminous 565 achieved 322,000 CHF. What’s more, two well known watches to the market â and two record-setters in fact â proved that indeed quality nor value does not degrade over time. This tropical four line 6538 set a record last time it sold at Christie’s and that record was in fact broken this weekend. The same thing can be said about this excellent example of an early Rolex 6239 Daytona. It sold for $265,000 last time it came up at auction (Christie’s Daytona: Lesson One) and this time it yielded a whopping 310,000 CHF. This must make the owner very happy to know his investment at such a high price was a safe one.
One further example of a seemingly normal reference performing exceptionally well is that of lot 55, a rare reference 3330. This watch, in seemingly untouched condition, brought in an almost unbelievable 598,000 CHF against an estimate of 300,000 to 600,000 CHF. Here again quality trumps rarity.
About That Patek Ref. 1518 In steel
11 Million. That’s the number that was on everyone’s lips after day one of Phillips’ The Geneva Watch Auction: Four. Someone paid 11,002,000 CHF ($11,136,642 at time of publishing) for the evening’s top lot, a Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in stainless steel, one of only four known examples, setting a new record for the world’s most expensive wristwatch. That record had previously been set by a unique Patek Philippe ref. 5016, made specifically for and sold at Only Watch in 2015 for 7,300,000 CHF (approximately $7,300,000 at time). Which means vintage now holds the overall record, over modern, and stainless steel over platinum. Who would have bet on that just a few of decades ago?
Naturally, this ref. 1518 also becomes the most expensive stainless steel wristwatch ever sold at auction. That particular record had been held by a Patek Philippe Ref. 130, sold in 2015 for 4,645,000 CHF (approximately $4,987,000 at the time) during the inaugural Phillips Watches Auction One.
Two more ref. 1518s, one in yellow gold and one in rose gold were included in the sale. The yellow gold model (lot. 100) sold for only 598,000 CHF (approximately $602,840 at the time of publishing) in comparison, while the pink gold model (lot. 196) sold for 1,474,000 CHF (approximately $1,489,813 at the time of publishing). Overall, this trio of 1518s represented nothing less than 47.5% of the total proceeds of those two auction sessions.
I think it’s fair to say the room was in a state of shock at the result of the steel 1518. There had been some speculation before bidding began Saturday, that the $10,000,000 mark could be broken, but then most of the people saying that, were hoping to be a witness to history.
When the dust finally settles though, I firmly believe we’ll all agree the price paid for the watch was, in fact, not at all irrational when you consider the watch’s position at the very top of the collecting pyramid, and when you consider the prices paid for grail pieces in the art and automobile auction market.Â
A Perfect Weekend? Not Quite
While the spectacular result of the steel ref. 1518 will live long in the collective memory of those in the room this weekend (and those watching online), it was not a perfect Geneva sale, and while that’s not something Phillips will be overly concerned with, the auction house will still rue the impact of the withdrawn watches on its almost impeccable record. In total, thirteen wristwatches (lots 58, 63, 88, 97, 106, 121, 152, 158, 173, 178, 181, 184, and 193) were passed, including a Panerai reference 3646 and a Patek Philippe reference 2497, and six (lots 14, 42, 70, 75, 91, and 102) were withdrawn, some due to doubts about their originality, and others (a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms prototype, for example) because they deserved additional investigation and may be worth more than their original estimates. Still, kudos to the Phillips team for identifying and reacting very quickly by removing any doubt in people’s mind over those watches, just a few hours before the sale.
Finally, as we’ve seen many times in the recent months, exceptional vintage watches have performed remarkably well while even the highest echelons of modern watches have faltered. Consider a 5970J selling for 112,500 CHF. Or a 5004P at just 200,000 CHF. Then you have two icons of German watchmaking sell for under their market value (here and here). Whoever purchased any of the four lots just mentioned may have picked up the best buys in the entire sale.
This sale, which highlighted Geneva auction week is an interesting bellwether for watches in general. The very special will always have a place in the market, anything short of that may not.
For more information, please visit the official Phillips website.