Two royalty-owned watches command record-breaking prices in Geneva, alongside a perfect Paul Newman Daytona and a big surprise from Patek Philippe
By James Buttery
Records were well and truly smashed in Geneva this weekend as both Phillips and Christie’s achieved unprecedented prices for a number of historic watches. We saw the most expensive Rolex at auction; the most expensive Rolex Daytona at auction, and one incredibly high Patek Philippe 2497. We also had one of the world’s most complicated watches ever made – the Patek Philippe Calibre 89 – up for sale at Sotheby’s. And guess what… it didn’t sell. Read on to hear more about that one.
A King among watches
Aurel Bacs brought the gavel down in typically dramatic style on the star lot of Phillips Auction FIVE on Saturday. The Rolex Bao Dai Ref 6062, pictured above and below, sold for just under £4m (CHF 5,066,000), the highest price ever paid for a Rolex at auction.
The watch sparked an eight-minute bidding war between ten bidders in the room and a further three on the telephone, one of whom eventually placed the winning bid. Just three black dial diamond-set examples of the triple calendar moon phase are known to exist, this being the only one with diamonds on the even hours.
Lending further provenance was the fact that the watch once belonged to His Majesty Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam. The watch was originally uncovered by Phillips in 2002.
But Phillips wasn’t finished there. The last lot of the day, Lot 237, managed to break another Rolex record, this time for the highest price paid for a Daytona. The yellow gold Ref 6263 Paul Newman Daytona from 1969, below, features a lemon grene dial and is one of the earliest such references known.
It sold for £2.89m on Saturday (CHF 3,722,000) leaving its £620,000-£1.24m estimate well behind.
Phillips sold five watches for above CHF 1m (£777,679) on the day, going to some of the 500 online bidders and 400 bidders in the salesroom. In total 220 watches sold for £25,361,237 (CHF 32,614,375).
Interestingly neither of these Rolex watches grabbed your attention as much as another star lot when we asked our Twitter followers which of the top four lots at Phillips was “the one”:
Because you can’t add pictures to polls – here’s the selection: Which insanely expensive watch from our previous tweet would you rather own?
— QP Magazine (@qp_editors) May 15, 2017
Christie’s Top Lot
Two days later, Christie’s achieved a new auction record for a Patek Ref. 2497 with Lot 166, below, another watch to have been previously owned by royalty, namely the late Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. The watch was presented to the Emperor on an official visit to Switzerland in 1954; some years later he gave it away as a gift and it has remained in the recipient’s family until now.
Head of the company’s Geneva watch department and auctioneer, Thomas Perazzi, opened bidding at £311,000 (CHF 400,000) and took a tense 15 minutes to meet the eventual winning bid of £2.27m (CHF 2,911,500), which came from renowned dealer Davide Parmegiani.
The 2497 perpetual calendar, while not as highly prized in collector circles as the 2499 perpetual calendar chronograph, is one rare watch nevertheless. Only one other with a black dial is known to exist, and that lacks the “military” style luminous numerals seen here.
Whilst not in danger of troubling the record set for most expensive Daytona by Phillips two days earlier, one Christie’s lot boasted a more interesting history with its consignor, a retired British Airways pilot, sat in the saleroom observing the £569,800 sale.
The 1972 Oyster Cosmograph Daytona Ref.6263 with green Khanjar symbol on the dial was given to the pilot by the Sultan of Oman in 1974, when he flew the Sultan and his entourage on one of his first state visits from Muscat to Rome. Shortly before landing in Rome, one of the Sultan’s Ministers entered the cockpit and gave the pilot the watch, as a full set with box and papers, to thank him.
A big shock at Sotheby’s
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the May Geneva auction weekend is that this, the one-time Most Complicated Watch in the World (a title now held by Vacheron Constantin’s ref. 57260), failed to sell when Sotheby’s offered it this year.
It is of course the a Patek Philippe Calibre 89 which was released to celebrate Patek’s 150th anniversary in 1989 and remained the most complicated watch ever made for more than 25 years. Just four pieces of the 1.1kg, 1,728-component pocket watch were made, with one each in 18ct yellow gold, rose gold, white gold and platinum, as well as a prototype which is on display at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
A broad estimate of £5.01m-£7.82m (CHF 6.5m–10m) had been set before the auction, but bidding, which started at CHF5.9m, failed to exceed CHF6.4m. The same example failed to sell at a private Christie’s sale with an estimate of $11m in New York last year and was last sold at Antiquorum’s 35th Anniversary auction in 2009 for CHF5.12m.
All four pieces are known to be due a no doubt expensive and time-consuming service which might be influencing what watch collectors are prepared to spend on the watch itself, however it is worth noting that, however complicated, the Calibre 89 is not a unique piece like the Patek Philippe Graves Supercomplication which Sotheby’s sold for a world-record $24m in November 2014. One way or the other, there is a landmark piece of horological history floating around, unable to find a loving home. We at QP would be happy to organise a whip-round…