The preview of Phillips’s upcoming sale of watches made during the first 20 years of this century will be worth a visit even for those not in the market for a great watch. The exhibition-style sale pays homage to the modern masters who have revolutionized watchmaking over the past two decades. “The watchmaking industry changed more in the last 20 years than in the previous 200 years,” says Alex Ghotbi, head of watches in Europe for Phillips. “We’ve seen so many new developments on both the technical and design side. If you go back and look at what happened from 2000 to 2020, it’s interesting from a historical perspective. It marked the arrival of new materials, a new generation of collectors and above all new brands.”
The auction is predominately comprised of independent brands—watchmaking masters and creative rule breakers that have made their mark outside of the establishment. MB&F, F.P. Journe, Laurent Ferrier, Richard Mille and Urwerk will be among the highlights, but you will still find the usual suspects like Patek Philippe and Rolex on offer. Most were made in smaller series and represent watches in high demand by collectors. Marquee pieces of the sale include an F.P. Journe Resonance, a Laurent Ferrier Gallet Traveler in platinum (one of only five pieces made), and a De Bethune Titan Hawk.
“Max Busser, for example [of MB&F], when he was running the watch department of Harry Winston, started the Opus series, working with young unknown watchmakers to create special pieces,” says Ghotbi. “The first collaboration, 20 years ago, was with F.P. Journe, who is now one of hottest watchmakers alive today. These independent brands changed the landscape, and mainstream brands followed. Rolex didn’t use an in-house automatic movement in the Daytona until 2000, and Patek didn’t develop an in-house perpetual calendar chronograph movement until 2005.”
To help put a spotlight on the lots, Phillips is partnering with watch collector TK Man, founder of Blackbird Automotive Group, who will provide editorial support for the sale catalogue. It will include descriptions of the watches, plus interviews and profiles of the personalities who have shaped the horological landscape over a period of time that saw great innovation and progress. “The past 20 years was a transformative period for the watch industry, as well as the fashion and cultural landscapes that shape horology by proximity,” says Mak, who is also a member of the Phillips Watches advisory board.
Phillips & Blackbird: Retrospective will be a live auction held in Geneva November 7 and 8, and will have a live preview, but Ghotbi says the auction house will continue to do Zoom previews and online video condition reports of the watches in the sale, strategies adopted when the virus hit. “Our sales are totally in line with what we did last season,” he says. “I think people’s hunger for watches is still there, and right now, they feel more comfortable putting money in something with enduring value, a tangle asset, rather than the stock market.” He says this holds true across other segments at Phillips, including art and design, jewelry and objects. “Generally, the whole art market is doing well,” he says. “There is always someone willing to pay for quality and rarity.”