It is hard to pin down exactly who the greatest living watchmaker is. Is is Francois-Paul Journe with his masterful and innovative complications? Is itÂ Ludwig Oeschslin and his simplification of complications? Or maybe it’sÂ Roger Smith, with his turn towards the hand-made? A case could be made for all three of the men above, but any discussion of such a question would certainly be incomplete without a mention of the name “Philippe Dufour.”
There isn’t much we haven’t already said about the master craftsman who, for example, was the very first person in history to put a grande sonnerie in a wristwatch. And the first person to put a double-balance wheel in a wristwatch. And while the Grand Sonnerie and Duality are the two Dufours that gave him the credibility to be mentioned among the greatest, it is the Simplicity that will surely be his true legacy.
Conceived by Dufour to be the ultimate expression of traditional Swiss watchmaking in the VallÃ©e de Joux, a focus is given not to the complication but to the finish of the remarkable in-house caliber. It is considered one of the most finely finished watches in the world (for a special look at how it stacks up against two other high-end time-onlys from Laurent Ferrier and Seiko Credor, click here).
Dufour made just 200 of these in series from the year 2000 until about 2014. That is roughly 15 watches per year â that’s pretty incredible to think about. These watches remain the prized possessions of dozens of the most astute watch collectors in the world and one can go months, if not years, without seeing a single example for sale in the public space.
But next week, we will see the very first Simplicity hit the auction block â and in fact the second, and the third too. Over the course of two days (November 28 and 29), Christie’s will sell one example and Phillips will sell two.Â
Let’s take a look at each of the three.
November 28 â Simplicity No. 61, 37mm White Gold With GuillochÃ© Dial (Christie’s)
While it is incredible to have three watches hit the block at roughly the same time, they are all completely different configurations. The first watch, lot 2842 in the Christie’s Hong Kong sale, is a 37mm example in white gold. It features the dial that is most associated with the Simplicity, one with a central guillochÃ© pattern. Being Simplicity No. 61, it is a relatively early example (though the latest of the three here), and in the larger case size and white metal it should do well. This Simplicity is expected to sell between roughly $100,000 and $180,000. You can read more about it here.
November 29 â Simplicity No. 11, 37mm Rose Gold With Lacquer Dial (Phillips)
The next watch, which will hit the block the next day, just across town at Phillips Hong Kong, is perhaps my favorite iteration of the Simplicity. Here we have a 37mm case, this time in rose gold, but with a stunning white lacquer dial. It is not enamel as many often incorrectly assume â Dufour chose to use lacquer because it provides a similar look with greater durability, and it allows for a thinner case.
And, speaking of the case, the 37mm Simplicity, with its rounded mid-case and long thin lugs is truly one of the most divine things to ever be created by the country of Switzerland. This very early example â No. 11 â is one of the few with a “PD” engraving on the balance cock. The estimate of this lovely Dufour is roughly $120,000 to $180,000 and you can find more about it here.
November 29 â Simplicity No. 30, 34mm White Gold With GuillochÃ© Dial (Phillips)
The very next lot after the watch above is the final Simplicity to be sold at auction next week, and an interesting one because it is arguably the purest expression of the watch designed by Philippe Dufour. It is white gold, sized at 34mm, and feature a guillochÃ© dial â this is the exact same configuration worn by Mr. Dufour himself to this day and a duplicate of the No. 000 prototype often found on his wrist. Phillips has the same estimate here as for the 37mm rose gold watch, $120,000 to $180,000, and more details can be seen here.
A Note About Production Numbers
I think it is worth mentioning the following because I’ve heard some speculative talk out there about how many pieces of the Simplicity were made. When Dufour announced the project originally, he told the collecting world 100 pieces would be made. When he realized the watch was precisely what many collectors were looking for, he extended the series to 200. At no point did he say this was the final run of Simplicity watches, though many assumed that anyway. In January 2015, a post on a Chinese forum broke the news that in fact Dufour could still make the Simplicity, and he did so for four very large clients of his. Recently in Geneva, I saw Simplicity No. 205 on the wrist of its owner (a deserving client if there ever was one), and when Mr. Dufour attended the HODINKEE Collectors’ Summit around this time last year, he mentioned that he might consider opening the series once more because of the incredible demand. This does not in any way mean there will be more Simplicities out there â Philippe is, after all, working on his next watch and remains a one-man show, so it is not as if he has the time to make many more. But, I do feel it is worth at least mentioning the above (and it surely would’ve been brought up by our ever-astute commenters). Further, in no way does the production number of the Simplicity, whether it’s 100, 200, or 205, have any impact on the quality of this watch, its importance to collectors, or the feeling it gives to its owners.Â
I have been asked dozens of times over the years how I can assist friends, collectors, and readers acquire a Dufour and now, finally, I have an answer â register to bid next week, because there is no guarantee any more will ever see the light of day.