Phillips Geneva Watch Auction Could Achieve $21 Million

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The first live watch auction since the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down business in much of the world will be held by Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo in Geneva. The sale of 215 lots combines the innovation and creativity of high watchmaking with the passion of those who collect important timepieces.

The “Geneva Watch Auction: XI” was originally scheduled for May but the global pandemic caused it to be postponed. It is now being held June 27 and 28 at the Hôtel la Reserve. The pre-auction estimate is approximately $13.1 million – $21 million, says Alexandre Ghotbi, Phillips head of Watches, Continental Europe, and Middle East director.

“Surprisingly, the response has been immense,” Ghotbi said in a recent interview. “We’re getting a lot of requests. It’s the first live watch auction since Covid and it’s going to be the first live auction of such importance, so I think it’s going to test the market for watches and we feel reasonably confident. The response has been very good up until now.”

Jean-Claude Biver and Patek Philippe

The top three lots of the sale are all Patek Philippe, which isn’t unusual. In fact it would be unusual if the top lots did not consist of either Patek or Rolex watches. What makes these timepieces especially noteworthy is their owner: Jean-Claude Biver. As a watchmaker, brand owner and luxury brand executive, Biver is one of two persons who are most often credited with saving the Swiss watch industry from the popularity of quartz watches in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His mark can be found on a number of successful watch brands, including Blancpain, Omega, Hublot and Tag Heuer. He also is a man with an outsized personality and boldness you don’t often see among Swiss watch executives. He is easily the most visible and best-known person in the Swiss watch industry.

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Ghotbi adds that Biver is also an esteemed collector of timepieces and the watches that he is selling are known for both their rarity and exceptional condition.

“He has one of the biggest Patek Philippe collections in the world,” Ghotbi said. “All of his watches are in amazing condition. He has an eye for this sort of thing. They are all museum quality.”

The top lot is the Patek Philippe reference 1518 perpetual calendar chronograph, 1948, with moonphases in pink gold and an extremely rare pink dial. It was the first perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch produced by Patek Philippe in a series when it was introduced in 1941. Only 281 examples are believed to have been manufactured until the reference ceased production. The majority were made in yellow gold. Pink gold reference 1518s were most often fitted with a silver dial. It was very rare that they were fitted with pink dials, according to Phillips. This watch has appeared on the market only once, with Biver purchasing it. Its estimate is approximately $1.2 million – $2.4 million.

“It is super rare with fewer than 15 that are known to exist,” Ghotbi said.

The number two lot is a rare and well preserved Patek Philippe reference 2499 perpetual second series calendar chronograph with moonphases, 1957. Launched in 1951, the reference 2499 was the direct successor and a sportier version of the reference 1518 with round pushers and a larger 37.5mm case. The second series was offered either with Arabic numerals or applied batons as well as with a tachymeter scale. Biver’s model in yellow gold with applied batons is so rare that only 20 examples are known to exist. Its estimate is approximately $1 million – $2.1 million.

The third lot is the Patek Philippe reference 1579 from 1946 in platinum with blue enamel graphics and spider lugs. It is one of only three models of this reference with a platinum case. “It is unknown why Patek Philippe decided to use platinum for this reference and only for three watches, but it is interesting to note that the three watches have consecutive serial numbers and different dials, making each piece unique,” the auction house said in a statement. This watch is the last of the three made and differentiates itself from the other two with its scale and markers in blue. Its estimate is approximately $840,000 – $1.6 million.

Biver added a fourth Patek Philippe watch to the sale and even though its estimates are a bit lower, it may be the most interesting of the group. It is the reference 96HU, a prototype world time watch that would eventually evolve into the reference 1415, introduced in 1939. It is one of the two known 96HU prototypes created by the watch brand and is likely the first, according to the auction house. This 1937 watch uses an earlier Reference 96 “Calatrava” case (number 294’862) as opposed to the 1415 case with tear drop lugs. The 176’230 movement number dates back to 1913. It is both a historically significant timepiece and one of the rarest world time models ever made by Patek Philippe. It was unknown to the market until 2011 when it first appeared and was purchased by Biver. The other example of this prototype is in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. Its estimate is approximately $315,000 – $631,000.

Ghotbi says its small case size, 31mm, may be the reason its estimate is lower than Biver’s other Pateks. “It’s not just a question of rarity but also of today’s tastes,” he says. “It’s a smaller size but it has intellectual value. If you have two bidders who want the same watch, then, who knows?”

Lorenz Bäumer and F.P. Journe

Lorenz Bäumer, a Parisian jeweler with a boutique at Place Vendôme is another watch collector of note. He is a longtime friend and early supporter of watchmaker François-Paul Journe, who founded F.P. Journe and who is today considered by many one of the most important contemporary independent watchmakers in the world.

However, in the early 1990s few people knew of Journe and his ability as a watchmaker. Journe approached Bäumer telling him he was starting his own company. He asked Bäumer if he would be willing to pay for his first watch in advance by Souscription (subscription) in order to fund his business. Bäumer agreed. After some time passed, Bäumer received Journe’s first watch, the Tourbillon Souverain “Souscription,” along with 19 other collectors who agreed to this method of buying this watch. The 20 examples are individually numbered on the dial. Bäumer’s is number 14.

Bäumer also purchased Journe’s second timepiece, the Chronomètre à Resonance. The first 20 models were numbered for his early supporters. Bäumer’s model is again numbered 14. Both are available for this sale.

The Tourbillon Souverain “Souscription” comes in a 38mm platinum case. It is accompanied by the undated souscription contract detailing the purchase of the watch signed by F. P. Journe, two additional F.P. Journe leather straps, a product leaflet, two technical printouts of Journe’s original drawings for the timepiece, and packaging unique to the watch. Its estimate is approximately $157,000 – $315,000.

Chronomètre à Resonance comes in a 38mm platinum case with pink gold sides, crown and lugs that showcases the watch’s double escapement. It also comes with the original box and original technical drawings. Its estimate is approximately $84,000 – $168,000.

Ghotbi says that consigners like Bäumer continued to support the sale despite the challenges of planning it during the global pandemic.

“It was a difficult sale to put together,” he said. “We started sourcing the watches before lockdown and we put the catalog together during lockdown with all of us working remotely. None of our clients with consigned watches took them out because of Covid. They said, ‘we trust you, go ahead.’”

Patek Philippe and Rolex

Other watches of note in the sale include the following:

* A Patek Philippe, a pocket watch reference 605 HU, 1950, with a cloisonné enamel dial representing Eurasia and Africa. Previously unknown and appearing for the first time publicly, this watch is the only one known in pink gold featuring this type of dial. It is being offered by the family of the original owner. Approximate estimate: $262,000 – $520,000.

* A well-preserved Patek Philippe reference 1579 chronograph in yellow gold, 1955, sold and signed by Swiss retailer Gübelin. It is only the fifth example signed by Gübelin known in the market.

* A Patek Philippe reference 1518 in yellow gold, 1944, from the family of the original owner. This reference was launched in 1941 and was the world’s first perpetual calendar chronograph made in this series.

* An ultra-rare white gold Patek Philippe reference 3448 perpetual calendar, 1970, coming from the family of the original owner. This example is one of only 30 known reference 3448s in white gold and the third featuring calendar discs in German.

* A Rolex Submariner reference 5513, circa 1963, in excellent condition featuring an ultra-rare “Explorer” dial also known as a “3-6-9” dial. It’s similar to the dials found on Rolex’s “Big Crown” reference 6200.

* A Rolex Submariner “Big Crown” reference 6200, recently found in an antique shop in Alexandria, Va.

* Rolex “ultra-exclusive” reference 6232 in pink gold, 1958. It is one of only 12 watches in existence that were originally destined for the French market. Phillips says it is quite possibly the best-preserved example of this reference.

Because of the pandemic there will be special precautions enforced during the viewings and auction, Ghotbi says. Viewing will be held June 24 – 28 at the Hôtel La Réserve by appointment. Plexiglas will be used to separate people during viewings. Normally upwards of 450 persons attend the Geneva auctions, which are held in a tent in the garden of the hotel. Because of social distancing only about 80 persons will be able to attend this sale. Air inside the tent will be renewed every 10 minutes.

In addition, travel restrictions will keep many from outside of Europe from attending the auction. “Europe has mostly opened up and the majority of participants of our live auctions in Geneva are European,” Ghotbi said. “American, Asian and Eastern European clients will bid by phone.”

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