The world of important auctions and the world of haute horology, or exceptional timepieces, are destined to grow and evolve together. As more and more collectors become familiar with the auction process, growing numbers of rare watches are finding their ways to the auction block. Collectors looking to sell valuable and unique timepieces benefit not only from the exposure of the auction, but also from having an audience of enthusiasts anxiously bidding against each other in an exciting and fun gentleman’s competition that often generates higher prices.
This symbiotic relationship between the auction house and the horological realm is also extremely important for establishing a current, realistic value, as well as a precedent, for rare pieces that have no current or comparable retail value. Because a successful auction house must realize its transactions in cash, the true value of an object becomes apparent. Two cats for a dog may be an ideal solution for someone who has no cash, but it doesn’t create a market. Market value becomes a reference only when an object is sold publicly at an international auction and paid for with real currency.
The stability of prices in the auction realm is due largely to the globalization of the market. Watch enthusiasts come from all over the world—the United States, Japan, Argentina, Italy, the Middle East—so even if the economies of certain countries are having difficulty, others may be experiencing growth. This broad economic base yields price stability. Today, the emerging markets of Russia and China have thousands of millionaires who want to surround themselves with extraordinary objects—naturally, fine watches are among these essentials. While a rare piece can engender stiff competition in the auction room, the bidding most likely will be even fiercer the next time that watch is sold.
Some timepieces, of course, command strong prices consistently, year after year after year. This is true of the watches made by Patek Philippe, which include some of the true icons of the 20th century, timepieces that are among the most beloved, desired, and sought-after. In Antiquorum’s Who’s Who of Horology, which lists the highest prices paid for watches at auction, Patek Philippe claims the top 12 timepieces.
The success of this brand is not due solely to the excellent quality of Patek Philippe’s products or to the elegant and classic style that makes the company’s creations stand out among all others. Much credit is owed to the intelligence of the firm’s current chairman and owner, Philippe Stern. A visionary and a passionate watch collector, Stern demonstrates a rare, open attitude about collecting and orients his firm’s strategy toward collectors. He understands that collecting grows out of love; love leads to loyalty; loyalty creates tradition; and tradition means long life.
Following its tradition of making the most complicated and impressive wristwatches, Patek Philippe launched several ultracomplicated wristwatches starting in the early 1990s. Called “the Masters” by collectors, they include the Ref. 3974, a self-winding model with minute repeater, perpetual calendar, and moon phases; Ref. 5016, featuring a retrograde perpetual calendar with moon phases and one-minute tourbillon; Ref. 5002, the Sky Moon Tourbillon, a double-faced, minute-repeating wristwatch with a retrograde perpetual calendar on one side and the orbital moon phases and a star chart on the other side; and Ref. 5102G, with orbital moon phases and a star chart on the front.
Like many of you, I also love Patek Philippe and have devoted several books and much of my time to this company in what has been an extremely rewarding pursuit. Recently, someone asked me where my profession would be if Patek Philippe didn’t exist. The notion left me speechless. I think, had that been the case, I would have chosen another profession.
Patek Philippe, 212.218.1240, www.patek.com
is the founder and chairman of Antiquorum, the leading auction house
specializing in the field of horology. Patrizzi has written numerous articles and books, including Collecting Patek Philippe.