This week, QP stopped by the London showroom of Phillips auctioneers to check out the highlights from its upcoming sale in May. Here are six of our favourites.
By Chris Hall
As we have come to expect from Phillips, the standard of pieces in what will be its fifth Geneva watch auction is incredibly high, and consistent. The house is aware of the bar it has set since returning to the watch world in 2014 with Bacs and Russo as lead specialists, and you suspect it knows full well the impact its sales have had on the vintage market since – raising the profile (and prices) of steel chronographs in particular.
Talking of impact, there is something arresting about seeing the watches from the next auction laid out together. Roughly £10m worth of watches, including eight or nine pristine Daytonas, all special in some way, and at least a dozen rare and complicated Patek Philippes. How do you pick a handful from a room like that? Well, we tried. Here are the six watches that sang out to us.
1. Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 3700/11
Estimate: CHF40,000 – 60,000
We wrote last year about the chance that the stock of the Nautilus might rise in tune with its 40th anniversary; aside from Christie’s themed sales it’s not immediately apparent that prices have shot up, but interesting examples will always draw our eye. This ref.3700 has such a brilliantly patinated dial – described as “tiger’s eye”, it began life as dark grey – that we could overlook any other failing; not that it has any, of course. Made in 1980, it’s a 42mm “Jumbo” with the original bracelet.
2. Gubelin chronograph
Estimate: CHF20,000 – 40,000
Nothing about this watch makes a lot of sense. It’s way too big (34mm across, but looks and feels bigger), too square, and too downright modern for its era (c.1950, although possibly earlier). Phillips’ London based watch director, Paul Maudsley, said neither he nor anyone else at the company has ever seen anything like it before. Cased in white gold with a two-tone dial, it is thought to be a unique commission. Although primarily a prestigious retailer from Lucerne, Gubelin did occasionally commission watches from top-end brands – but it is not known who created this watch.
3. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec I
Estimate: CHF20,000 – 30,000
Normally we might have passed this one by in favour of some of the more arcane pieces, but with Blancpain having just released a modern watch based on this exact piece, we thought we’d take a second look. The bisected circle at six o’clock was designed to turn red in the presence of water, acting as a detector for moisture ingress into the case. The condition is remarkable – and shows how faithful the modern watch is to the original. Interestingly enough, this is a civilian piece despite the Mil-Spec designation – you can tell by the diamond-shaped marker at 12 o’clock and bi-directional rotating bezel, apparently.
4. Rolex Oyster ref.3627
Estimate: CHF20,000 – 30,000
Just look at that bracelet! A Rolex, with lugs like that? In pink gold and steel? This is one unusual Rolex; manufactured in 1937 it is one of the very first Rolex watches with an automatic movement – the original “bubbleback” and incredibly rare. As the catalogue notes, the lugs give a “medieval” feel to the watch. Extra value is conferred by the signature of Serpico Y Laino, famed South American retailers, on the dial.
5. Patek Philippe 2526
Estimate: CHF25,000 – 50,000
Yes, this is a Patek Philippe. It’s thought to be unique – as you most probably could have guessed. There’s no name on the dial (it’s stamped on the caseback) and it has an amazing combination of clous-de-Paris dial, “threaded” hour markers and a Gay Freres scaled bracelet in four undulated rows. The watch is made even more unusual for the time – it dates from 1956, amazingly – by being entirely pink gold at a time when yellow was much more fashionable.
6. Patek Philippe ref. 530
Estimate: CHF300,000 – 600,000
Patek Philippe chronographs are things of beauty. Early ones in good condition are particularly prized; add in the fact that this is the only ref. 530 ever seen with Breguet-style Arabic numerals and you have a recipe for big numbers. It’s from 1949, measures 36.5mm across (described as “whopping” by the auction notes; sure, it was big for the time but that’s going some), and the experts at Phillips believe that this watch has literally never been polished since it left the factory.