Major Auction Houses Close out a Red-Hot Year of Watch Sales

Judith Zeng

Phillips
held its final watch sale of 2021 in over the weekend, realizing US$35.9 million in sales at the New York event, making it the highest-value watch auction in U.S. history.

This year has been the most successful year ever for Phillips in association with Bacs &
Russo,
the name of its watch arm, which sold 100% by lot and by value for a grand total of US$209.3 million, a record  for any auction house. 

The star of the weekend sale was the first Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711 with a Tiffany Blue dial, a limited edition of 170 pieces produced to mark 170 years of partnership between Patek Philippe and Tiffany & Co. The new model, unveiled last week, is also the last variation of the highly coveted Ref. 5711, further enhancing its value. One piece was kept in reserve for the auction with all proceeds benefiting The Nature Conservancy. It sold for US$6.5 million, making it the highest-value watch to sell online at any auction house, and the most expensive lot to sell online across all categories at Phillips.

Aurel Bacs,
senior consultant, referred to the piece as one of the most important watches he has ever auctioned. “The enthusiasm we saw in the leadup to the sale, which was reflected in the price it achieved, is a testament to the enduring legacy of 170 years of partnership between Patek Philippe and Tiffany & Co.,” Bacs said in a news release.

A Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711 with a Tiffany Blue dial sold for $6.5 million.


Patek Philippe/Jean-Daniel Mey

Three additional lots in the sale topped the US$1 million mark. A George
Daniels
yellow gold one-minute tourbillon pocket watch sold for US$1.66 million, far exceeding its upper estimate of US$1.2 million. The piece was handmade for
Edward Hornby
in 1971, and was accompanied by a handwritten letter from
George Daniels
with the presentation box and double-ended key.

An extremely rare circa 1969 Rolex Ref. 6241 yellow gold chronograph with a
Paul Newman

John
Player Special” dial and bracelet also topped its high estimate of US$1.2 million, selling for US$1.24 million. And a 2012
Richard
Mille Ref. RM022 AM CA limited-edition skeletonized carbon dual-time tourbillon wristwatch more than doubled its top estimate of US$500,000, selling for US$1,179,500.

Another highlight was the sale of an Omega Speedmaster owned and worn by American author
Ralph Ellison
following the publication of his masterpiece, Invisible Man. That piece went for more than 60 times its estimate, with the Omega Museum securing the purchase for its collection at US$667,800.

“We saw tremendously spirited bidding from nearly 75 countries, leading to game-changing prices for vintage and modern wristwatches alike,” said
Paul Boutros,
head of watches, Americas, in the release. “A spectacular
George Daniels Tourbillon
pocket watch—the fourth timepiece ever produced by the independent watch master—achieved $1.7 million, underscoring Daniels’ enduring legacy in the field. And we were delighted to set a new record for any watch by
Roger Smith
at US$730,800.”

The Phillips sale followed a Christie’s watch sale that closed on Dec. 10, achieving US$5.5 million with bidders participating from 34 countries. That sale saw 95% sold by lot and 143% hammer above low estimate.

A Greubel Forsey Invention Piece 3 Tourbillon in 18-karat white gold went for US$237,500 at Christie’s.


Christie’s

A Greubel Forsey Invention Piece 3 Tourbillon in 18-karat white gold led that sale, selling for US$237,500. Number 9 of a limited edition of 11 pieces, the circa 2010 watch features a 24-hour display with minutes, small seconds, and 72 hours of power reserve. 

Additional standouts included an F.P. Journe Octa Reserve
de Marche
in 18-karat pink gold with a brass movement, which went for US$175,000 and an
A. Lange
& Söhne Datograph Flyback in 18-karat pink gold, which more than doubled its high estimate selling for US$137,500.

Patek Philippe also achieved some notable results with the sale of the astronomical “Celestial” reference 5102G in 18-karat white gold, which sold for US$187,500; a Nautilus reference 5712 in 18-karat pink gold that more than doubled its high estimate selling for US$125,000; and a reference 3970P perpetual calendar chronograph that went for US$118,750.

Another Christie’s online sale titled The Geneva Edit An Important Private Collection is open for online bidding through Tuesday. 

On Friday, Sotheby’s New York reported the sale of an extremely rare Patek Philippe “Pink on Pink” Ref. 1518 for US$9.6 million, more than four times its US$2.2 million high estimate. Nineteen bidders vied for the prize, one of only 14 known examples, which came from the estate of
Prince Tewfik Tousson
of Egypt. The lot set an auction record for a wristwatch sold at Sotheby’s.

A Patek Philippe “Pink on Pink” Ref. 1518 netted US$9.6 million at Sotheby’s.


Sotheby’s

“The star of the sale was arguably the greatest vintage wristwatch to appear on the market in years, the Patek Philippe Reference 1518 in pink gold, which ticked every single box collectors look for today: fresh to the market, exceptional quality, and complete with original accessories,” said
Richard Lopez,
senior specialist in Sotheby’s Watches & Clocks Department in New York, in a news release.

Another rare Patek Philippe Ref 5531R-010 World Time Minute Repeater with a cloisonné enamel dial depicting New York City’s skyline sold for $2.2 million, far exceeding its high estimate of US$500,000. 

The New York Important Watches auction totaled US$24.4 million, surpassing the sale’s overall US$17.3 million high estimate, with 91% of lots sold and participation from 44 countries. Almost half the lots went to online bidders. 

With two sales remaining this year, Sotheby’s Watches has already hit total sales of US$142 million globally. The auction house will conclude its online Fine Watches New York sale on Dec. 14, while its Geneva online sale remains open for bidding until Dec. 21. 

“[The] exceptional result cemented with style the biggest year to date for Sotheby’s global Watches team, and marked the most valuable Important Watches auction ever held at Sotheby’s New York,” said
Sam Hines,
worldwide head of Sotheby’s Watches, in a news release. “Throughout the year, we’ve seen an unabated appetite from collectors around the world, driving new benchmarks and records along the way.”

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