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Modern Watches Took Center Stage—and Proved Their Worth—at Phillips’s $15 Million Auction

Philippe Dufour's $1.5 million Simplicity 20th Anniversary Watch was the highlight.

Philippe Dufour 00/00 Limited-Edition Anniversary Simplicity Courtesy of Phillips

Phillips Retrospective: 2000-2020 was like a value-retention litmus test for luxury watches made in the modern era. The sale, which totaled $15,056,626, saw most pieces exceed their high estimate, proving that modern masterpieces are as collectible as the usual vintage favorites.

The top amount paid in the sale was $1,512,343 for number 00/20 of a limited-edition Simplicity by Philippe Dufour, an independent watchmaker widely considered the greatest master of modern watchmaking. Dufour’s original Simplicity, made in 2000, was limited to approximately 200 pieces and remains in high demand on the pre-owned market. The watch sold in this auction is the first in a new series celebrating the model’s 20th anniversary, made in 2020. Dufour’s watches are assembled and decorated by hand and are known for having an absolutely perfect finish.

F.P. Journe Sonnerie Souveraine

F.P. Journe Sonnerie Souveraine (Lot 247)  Courtesy of Phillips

If Philippe Dufour is the master of modern watchmaking, then F.P. Journe is the rock star. There were six examples from the master in this sale, including the Sonnerie Souveraine minute repeater with grande and petite sonnerie, hammering for $767,172, a handsome sum for a stainless steel watch. The brand tends toward 18-karat gold cases (and movements), but Journe’s Sonnerie’s steel case enhances the sound of the gongs. The watch, the movement of which holds 10 patents, won the 2006 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, the Oscars of watchmaking. He has made fewer than four per year since it was introduced in 2006.

Patek Philippe Ref. 5531/1R (Lot 292)

Patek Philippe Ref. 5531/1R (Lot 292)  Courtesy of Phillips

The sale also included pieces by the likes of Richard Mille, Greubel Forsey, Kari Voutilainen and MB&F—whose creations grace the bucket lists of most collectors—but as with auctions from any era, even this sale was dominated by Patek Philippe. There were 18 in this sale, the highlight of which was a ref. 5531/1R pink gold minute repeater/world time watch with a cloisonné enamel dial, selling for $1,324,106. Two other Patek Philippe minute repeaters were among the top five in the sale: a ref. 5316/P platinum minute repeater/perpetual calendar/tourbillon with an enamel dial, selling for $658,052; and a ref. 5207/P platinum minute repeater/perpetual calendar/tourbillon with day and night display that raked in $630,050. The presence of so many Patek Philippes in the sale proves that modern pieces—not just rare vintage favorites like the 1518 and the 2499—appreciate in value.

Richard Mille Bubba Watson RM-038 (Lot 270)

Richard Mille Bubba Watson RM-038 (Lot 270)  Courtesy of Phillips

There were five watches in the sale made by Richard Mille, one of the most successful independents of the past 20 years, whose pieces routinely sell in the six-figure range. The top lot here, selling for $595,047, was the ref. RM 038 Bubba Watson, so named because it was tested by the famously long-driving golfer on the course to ensure its shock resistance. It’s a tourbillon with a case made of scratch-resistant magnesium coated with crystalline oxide ceramic. The watch is number 11 in a limited edition of 38 pieces. Bonus: it came with a golf bag.

Patek Philippe Ref. 5316/P (Lot 278)

Patek Philippe Ref. 5316/P (Lot 278)  Courtesy of Patek Philippe

The Retrospective auction on Sunday came the day after Phillips $28,002,004 Geneva Watch Auction XII on Saturday, for a combined total of just over $43 million. Combined with sales in Geneva earlier in the year, Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo has set a record for its highest-ever annual total for auctions in Geneva: CHF 69 million (about $76.7 million). Not bad for a world riddled with Covid lockdowns and political uncertainty.

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