The watch world’s biennial charity auction is rolling around again – bringing with it a trove of interesting stories far beyond the ordinary fare of lightly tweaked one-offs
by Chris Hall
Only Watch didn’t used to be so interesting. The charity sale, which was first held in 2005 and has returned every other year since, is organised by Luc Pettavino, CEO of the Monaco Yacht Show and the president of the Association Monegasque contre les Myopathies, a foundation dedicated to developing treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Pettavino, whose son Paul died from the condition in 2016, has organised numerous auctions to raise funds, contributing more than 25m Euros to date.
Horologically speaking it has often reflected the mood of the industry. Last time out, we saw a fantastic story from Tudor (which presaged the appearance of the Black Bay Black) and pretty much everything else struggled to make a splash – apart from Patek Philippe, which always pulls off a phenomenal price. Told you it mirrored the wider watch world…
A lot of the time – this year being no exception – the contributing watch brands produce a lightly altered version of a current watch, usually adhering to a colour scheme for that year. Occasionally, however, they use Only Watch as an opportunity to do something truly newsworthy. We have selected the 11 entries to this year’s auction (out of a total of 49) which we think have more to say for themselves.
1. FP Journe’s Monopusher Split-Seconds Chronograph
This one is so interesting we felt it deserved an entire story to itself – which you can read here. In a nutshell, FP Journe has bucked the trend for Only Watch submissions by electing to make an entirely new watch. And not just any watch, but a beautiful and complicated chronograph with a movement to match.
In doing so, Journe has totally stolen the limelight from the other 48 brands, and well played to him. If there were any justice, it would be the most expensive lot when the hammer comes down on November 11 – but it won’t. That’ll be the Patek. Obviously.
2. Tudor’s latest Black Bay
After the astonishing price paid for the Heritage Black Bay One – no less than 120 times retail price – at the last Only Watch auction, Tudor has been one to watch at the charity auction. However, this is a bit less of a firecracker.
The khaki-clad Heritage Black Bay Bronze One comes soon after Tudor produced an exclusive blue model for retailer Bucherer, and continues to demonstrate that the Black Bay is an immensely flexible design. The Bronze One’s brooding, vintage military aesthetic is likely to result in a sizeable sale price, but the fans won’t be foaming at the mouth like last time.
3. A watch nerd’s dream from WOSTEP
This is the only time that a WOSTEP watch (i.e. a watch produced by the legendary Geneva school of watchmaking) has been offered to someone who has not completed the school’s training. It features the signatures of 16 former students – a roster of luminaries including Kari Voutilainen, Peter Speake-Marin, Stephen Forsey, Bart and Tim Gronefeld and Stepen Sarpaneva.
The manually wound 18,000vph movement is contained within a 54mm stainless steel watch head without lugs. A curio for sure, but one any fan of haute horlogerie would love to own.
4. An unexpected partnership
Laurent Ferrier is going to produce a watch with URWERK. That’s right: two watch brands from truly opposite ends of the design spectrum are going to collaborate on a piece for Only Watch (and hopefully beyond!). The partnership actually began life in 2015, around the time of the last auction at Dubai Watch Week, and will come to fruition this year.
All we have to go on for now is a design sketch – which would seem to imply something based on an Urwerk calibre and case shape, perhaps with Laurent Ferrier bringing a classical feel to the case details, materials and finishing. We’ll have to wait and see – but it’s one of the most intriguing collaborations in recent years.
5. Hope for Piaget
We at QP are keen to see Piaget properly embrace its flamboyant past. It has flirted with the idea in recent years but remains wary – could this be a sign that it is edging closer? Piaget’s 2017 entry to Only Watch expands upon a trilogy of Black Tie watches released in 2014 with hardstone dials.
The concept brought together the Black Tie watch of the 1950s with the scene-stealing stones used in Piaget’s fearless jewellery designs of the 1970s. This Black Tie Vintage Inspiration in yellow gold with Pietersite dial is equally brave and every bit as evocative as those timeless designs.
6. Another big hitter for Patek Philippe?
As we may have implied once or twice already, for all its efforts to involve a real range of watchmakers, Only Watch is largely propped up on a commercial front by the involvement of Patek Philippe, which customarily obliges to produce a one-of-one that collectors will pay big money to acquire.
Typically these are cased in titanium (a real no-no for “normal” Pateks) with a blue dial. So what do we have this year? Yep, it’s a reference 5208 minute repeater grand complication in titanium with a lovely blue guilloché dial. The question is whether it will continue to do the business for Only Watch. The answer is almost certainly yes.
7. Business as usual from Louis Vuitton
This is only a talking point in the sense that Louis Vuitton habitually knocks it right out of the park with its Only Watch creations and has done so yet again this year – yet we feel that it gets relatively little credit for doing so.
The timidity with which so many brands approach the idea of messing about with colour on their dials exposes how far ahead Louis Vuitton (and a few others) are, and taps into a bigger point about design in the industry… why for instance Zenith needs to partner with Bamford to push the boundaries rather than doing it itself.
8. Montblanc splits opinion
There’s always (at least) one. One watch in the Only Watch sale that really divides the office. Montblanc’s green take on the 1858 chronograph (a watch we’re definitely fans of – see here) is the one this year.
Maybe it’s the strap that just pushes it over the edge, but this watch is being simultaneously hailed as “energetic proof the 1858 is a hugely versatile design” and “slightly nausea-inducing” at QP Towers.
9. Hermes has a dark side?
Parisien grande maison Hermes has been on a bit of a tear in the watchmaking scene for the last three years, with the Slim d’Hermes in all its various forms. But we never suspected it had this lurking underneath – a fully blacked-out version with yellow highlights.
It works – it just works so well. Of all the watches in this auction, this is one we really hope leads to something in the core collection next year. “Hermes Noir” – you heard it here first.
10. Another special partnership
Agenhor – the complications specialist behind work as varied as Van Cleef & Arpel’s Poetic series and Fabergé’s latest chronograph – has paired up with HEAD, the graphic art and design department of the University of Geneva.
Using the first production movement from the Agengraphe (the chronograph calibre inside the Fabergé and Singer Porsche watches), they have created a desk clock. The movement is modified to allow five discs to rotate to show the time, and the 84mm plexiglass sphere magnifies the display through a transparent aperture.
11. MB&F’s new friend
It’s no surprise to see arch-collaborators MB&F bringing something a little bit different to Only Watch. But it is still one of the most interesting entrants – this year MB&F has created a version of HM8 in conjunction with a fifteen year old artist called Cassandre Legendre.
She has gone to work on the large sapphire plate that exists where you’d expect to find the dial (the time, of course, is read through prisms on the watch’s lateral display. The result is a doodle artwork in the style of “Mr Doodle” Sam Cox, topped off with a smiley-faced screw plate.