The annual auction season is drawing near, and the world's most sought-after vintage watch collectibles are heading off to Geneva, where Phillips, Christies and Sotheby's will be putting them on display. As a collector it is always one of the highlights of my year, and this November promises to be no different.
With the pre-auction catalogues released online, the tension is already beginning to mount. I know that my fellow collectors are doing their homework, preparing for the day. Will we see yet another world record selling price achieved? Will we see another epic bidding war orchestrated by Aurel Bacs and the Phillips team?
The following are a few remarkable pieces that caught my attention as I browsed the lists – and I will be interested to see how things turn out when the gavel falls.
The Patek Philippe "Officier"
The master horologists from Patek Philippe have influenced watch designs for many decades with their simple, refined lines and superb complications. As one of the oldest and most exclusive brands, it's no surprise to find Patek Philippe in the top tier at this year's auctions once again. In terms of subtlety, refinement, balance and elegance, no other watchmaker can compare.
This particular piece dates from 1924; made during the height of the "roaring twenties." It is one of only 16 single-button chronographs produced with an officer's case, and has an unusual vertical placement of the sub-dials, making it a rare and delicate orchid indeed.
It is a watch of historical significance, and the pre-auction estimates ($410,000-819,000) will likely be exceeded on the day. I'm keeping my eye on this one during November in Geneva.
Rolex Oyster Sotto Paul Newman Daytona
Paul Newman's personal Rolex Daytona, sold for $17.7 million, as just about every watch enthusiast knows. That sale changed auction history. It seems as if no watch auction will be complete anymore unless there is a gorgeous Oyster Sotto in the catalogue – and this year, as it turns out, there is a particularly fine specimen.
The Rolex REF 6263 in stainless steel is in a popularity class of its own, compared to other sports watches. It commands the attention of collectors wherever it goes. Add to that the Oyster Sotto detail (a Daytona dial that has the Oyster designation beneath the word "Cosmograph" at 12 o'clock.) and you're in the big leagues as far as vintage watches go.
This piece dates from 1969, and Sotheby's set the pre-sale estimates between $500,000 and $1,000,000.
Robert Bradley's Rolex Sea Dweller
Provenance makes all the difference when it comes to the value of vintage. This watch has a story behind it which is sure to arouse the interest of the top Rolex collectors:
Robert Palmer Bradley was a renowned American diver, naval pilot and marine biologist – a true man of adventure. He was the pilot of the Deepstar-4000, which was a deep sea submersible vehicle designed by the famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.
Rolex, of course, was heavily involved in testing their Sea Dwellers in deep waters during this time. They were perfecting the helium escape valve which allows diving watches to withstand the pressures of the depths, and that's where the connection to Bradley was made. Very few of these early Ref. 1665"Single Red" prototypes have survived. In fact only twelve have been found to date, making this watch even more desirable to the right collector.
Rolex made a gift of this prototype watch to Bradley (and there's an engraving in the case-back to prove it). It is predicted to fetch between $500,000 and $1,000,000.
A Near Perfect Patek Philippe Ref. 2499
One of the most intriguing watches coming under the gavel this year is this exceptional Patek Philippe Reference 2499 dating back to 1952. It was an heirloom, passed down from Grandfather to son, and treasured for years. This is the first time the watch has come up on auction. Estimates range between $1,5 and $2,5 million, and it's sure to be one of the highlights of this season.
Considering the age of this watch, it is in superb condition.
The 18K gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch bears the signature SERPICO Y LAINO, CARACAS, on the combined date and moon phases dial – another unique touch, along with the unusually large case for the period. It was made by Wenger, one of Geneva’s best case makers at the time.
The Christies catalogue shares this detail from the current owners, who wished to commemorate their grandfather's legacy:
I'll tell you a story... We are in the early post-war years. My father is part of those who migrated to the new world. In the fifties at a very young age he took a suitcase full of hopes and fears and set off in search of fortune.
He told me about the early days: 10/15 people had to share the same roof in uncomfortable conditions and work non-stop. Great sacrifices in difficult years, rewarded by an economy that experienced great growth.
What we are experiencing here and now is an effect of his perseverance over time.