Mark your calendars. The watch world’s most high-profile selling event, the biennial Only Watch charity auction to benefit research on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, takes place on Nov. 6 in Geneva.
The last time the event was staged, in 2019, a new world record was set for the highest price paid for any watch sold at auction, ever (for a unique version of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime). With 54 brands, from Akrivia to Zenith, producing wild and unique pieces for the sale (seven of which are highlighted below), the 2021 Only Watch auction is poised to see similar headlines.
F.P. Journe x Francis Ford Coppola FFC Blue
Master watchmaker François-Paul Journe was having dinner at Francis Ford Coppola’s house in Napa Valley in 2012 when the director asked him if it was possible to create a watch in which a hand, using various combinations of fingers, displayed the hours.
“I replied that the idea was interesting and required thinking about,” Journe said in a statement. “But how to display 12 hours with five fingers? It was not an easy matter and this complex challenge inspired and motivated me.”
Nine years later, the idiosyncratic prototype timepiece that resulted from that offhand (see what we did there?) conversation is called the FFC Blue. Presented in a 42 mm tantalum case, the model is based on F.P. Journe’s revered automatic Octa Calibre 1300, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The minutes are driven by a rotating disk located at 12 o’clock, while the mobile fingers appear or disappear instantaneously, indicating the hours by their position. (The fingers were inspired by a mechanical hand created by Ambroise Paré, a 16th-century physician known as the father of modern surgery.) Estimated at CHF 300,000–400,000 (approximately $326,383-$535,177); fpjourne.com
Girard-Perregaux’s retro-futuristic entry into the Only Watch auction is a sleek reboot of its 1976 Casquette model. A quartz-powered wristwatch with an LED digital display, the original Casquette—encased in a choice of steel, yellow gold-plated metal or Makrolon—was the embodiment of the era’s funky design style, its TV-shaped case a reflection of the decade’s space-age obsession.
The redux edition seen here is the product of Girard-Perregaux’s second design collaboration with George Bamford, founder of the English customizer Bamford Watch Department (the first effort, the Laureato Ghost, came out last November). Bamford told Robb Report last year that he had his heart set on reviving the vintage model and here we have it.
This time around, the case is made of forged carbon, and the caseback and push buttons of grade 5 titanium. “Although some observers may describe the ’70s design of this watch as retro, I would argue that the shape of the case and the use of forged carbon make it look decidedly futuristic,” Bamford says. We couldn’t agree more. Estimated at CHF 10,000–20,000 (approximately $10,880-$21,760); girard-perregaux.com
Moser & Cie. Streamliner Cylindrical Tourbillon
The movement at the heart of H. Moser’s Streamliner Cylindrical Tourbillon for Only Watch was developed in 2020, when the watchmaker teamed with fellow independent brand MB&F on one of the year’s most talked-about collaborations. For this year’s auction, H. Moser chose to render the dial of its popular Streamliner model in Vantablack, the darkest man-made substance in existence, to accentuate its three-dimensional cylindrical tourbillon movement. Housed in a 40 mm steel cushion case, on the complex Streamliner integrated steel bracelet, the piece is a subtle but unmistakable work of haute horlogerie. Estimated at CHF 60,000–80,000 (approximately $65,276-$87,035); h-moser.com
Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon
Complete transparency, thanks to a case and dial made entirely of sapphire glass, has become something of a calling card for Hublot. For Only Watch, the brand has turned its eye for clarity on the Big Bang Tourbillon, whose bezel and hands are decked out in the special event’s signature orange hue. Powered by a new self-winding manufacture tourbillon movement—MHUB6035—introduced in January, the model comes with two interchangeable One Click structured lined rubber straps (one is transparent and the other is orange). The “Pièce Unique” engraving on the back seals the deal. Estimated at CHF 160,000–180,000 (approximately $174,071-$195,830); hublot.com
Ulysse Nardin UFO Clock
Part timekeeper, part art object and part horological experiment, Ulysse Nardin’s UFO table clock answers a philosophical question: “What would a marine chronometer designed in 2196 be like?”
To capture the next 175 years of timekeeping, the watchmaker relied on its historic expertise with marine chronometers as well as its reputation for bold, futuristic watchmaking, best represented by the legendary Freak wristwatch of the early Aughts.
The 663 components contained by the glass-blown bell jar of the UFO sit upon a gentle swing meant to evoke the perpetual movement of the ocean. Equipped with three dials, allowing the display of three different time zones, the UFO is the product of a collaboration with the traditional clockmaker Maison L’Epée.
Introduced in April in a metallic blue edition of 75 pieces, the UFO has been remade for Only Watch as a singular object with its spherical anodized aluminum base, power reserve disks, lower ties, connecting cylinders and Ulysse Nardin logo insert decked out in a bright orange hue. Estimated at CHF 42,000 (approximately $45,693); ulysse-nardin.com
Urwerk UR-102 Gaïa
At first glance, the UR-102 Gaïa from the avant-garde watchmakers at Urwerk seems like a departure from their signature style. Simple to the extreme, the model’s only concession to time display is a single wandering hour. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll discover that the model, encased in a round asphalt-colored anodized aluminum case with a platinum caseback, is derived from the watch Urwerk showcased at its very first appearance at the Baselworld fair, in 1997.
The piece is named after the Gaïa Prize for entrepreneurship, which Urwerk founders Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei won in 2020. “The award recognizes a journey from oblivion to the limelight, along with tenacity, conviction and pugnacity that have repeatedly been put to the test,” Baumgartner and Frei said in a statement. “This model reflects this fierce determination that blazes new trails. We dedicate this symbol of hope to all those who struggle to make things happen.” For Only Watch, what could be more fitting? Estimated at CHF 32,000–75,000 (approximately $34,814-$81,595); urwerk.com
Zenith Defy 21 Double Tourbillon
Chronographs are Zenith’s bread and butter, but the brand’s Only Watch entry, its most advanced and complex chronograph to date, takes it up a notch or three. The Defy 21 Double Tourbillon features two independent tourbillons operating at 5Hz for the timekeeping function of the movement and 50Hz for the 1/100th of a second chronograph, each rotating at rates of 60 seconds and 5 seconds, respectively.
What truly elevates the timepiece, which is sheathed in a transparent 46 mm sapphire case, into the realm of art (both the kinetic and static variety) is the three-dimensional PVD rainbow coating that’s been applied as a surface treatment to the tourbillon chronograph movement. Created by contemporary artist Felipe Pantone, a specialist in op art, the multicolor treatment produces an optical effect of transitioning hues throughout the open dial. Color us impressed. Estimated at CHF 180,000–220,000 (approximately $195,830-$239,347); zenith-watches.com