If there were any lingering fears of a slowdown in the pre-owned watch market, they were blown away over the weekend: the Phillips, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s watch auctions in Geneva raked in a total of just over $108 million, with numerous world records set for grail pieces that somehow keep making their way to the secondary market.
Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo’s Geneva Watch Auction XVII totaled $52,488,707, with all lots sold. Two watches went above the $3 million mark, and a record was set for a gem-set Rolex Daytona: the Ref. 6270 “The End Game,” in yellow gold with a pavé diamond dial, sapphire indexes, and baguette diamond bezel sold for $4,105,853. The second-and third-highest lots were both rare Patek Philippe Ref. 2499 perpetual calendar chronographs—a perennially sought-after model among high-level collectors. A second-series model in pink gold sold for $3,261,784, and a first-series in yellow gold sold for $2,624,859.
Another notable lot was the very first Biver watch produced by Pierre Biver and his father, industry legend Jean-Claude Biver, sold for $1,413,129. The watch, a Tourbillon Minute Repeater Carillon in Titanium with a silvered obsidian dial, is a prototype (numbered 00) launched in March for the new brand. The first pieces are not even delivered yet, but pre-orders are being taken for $550,000.
On the other end of the “up-and-comer,” so to speak, spectrum…even minor Rolex models can hit the big-time at auction. Phillips sold a steel Ref. 6541 Milgauss, a steel watch with a honeycomb dial and “lightning” hand, for $2,490,222, a record price for any Rolex Milgauss. Made in 1956, this was the first series of Milgauss watches made by Rolex, with the rare lightning seconds hand to indicate its magnetic resistance.
Christie’s sold just over $45 million worth of watches at its weekend sales, held at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, the combined total of its Rare Watches and Art of F.P. Journe sales: $29.7 million and $15.3 million respectively. A total of six watches sold above $1 million, with four watches exceeding the $500,000 mark. The top lot in the Rare Watches sale was a Patek Philippe Ref. 5711-1A-018, also known as the Tiffany Blue—a Nautilus double-signed by Tiffany with a blue dial, which easily ranks as the most famous watch of the decade. It sold for $2,498,876, an impressive amount, but not a new record for the model. Christie’s sold one last year for $3,180,665. The watch, made in a limited edition of 170 to celebrate the 170-year partnership between Tiffany and Patek, retailed in 2021 for just over $50,000. Also notable in the sale was a rare Patek Philippe Ref. 2499 one of the first series, made in 1953, selling for US$1,954,811.
Christie’s also sold a rare Daytona chronograph watch with a diamond-set bezel and a diamond and sapphire-set dial and bracelet, ref. 6269, made circa 1985 for the Sultanate of Oman, sold for CHF1,134,000 (US$1,274,730). It was one of six pieces in the sale ordered by Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said, the Sultan of Oman.
The Art of F.P. Journe sale of 40 lots totaled an impressive $15,314,702, confirming Journe as the master of independent watchmakers. The top lot was a Tourbillon Souverain Souscription watch, numbered two of 20, made circa 1999, selling for $3,033,735. The second-highest lot was a platinum Chronomètre à Résonance made in 2000, for $1,542,083.
Sotheby’s Geneva watch totaled just over $13 million. The Important Watches sale generated $10,614,751 and the Centuries of Time: A Private Collection of decorative pocket watches totaled $2,575,919. The top lot in the Important Watches sale set a new world record for a Rolex Paul Newman John Player Special, at $2,491,655. Seven bidders battled in an eight-minute bidding war for the piece, the third most valuable Paul Newman Daytona in gold ever sold and the fourth most valuable Paul Newman style of Daytona. Named after the British tobacco-sponsored Team Lotus Formula One car of the 1970s, the Rolex JPS was produced in only 300 18-karat yellow-gold versions. Among these, only a small fraction were fitted with the coveted John Player Special dial.
The second-highest lot in the Important Watches sale was an F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance ‘No. 1, with a platinum case and a ruthenium-plated movement, selling for $593,856.
But not all collectors are after wrist candy. The Private Collection sale included a rare selection of curated elaborately decorated pocket watches, many of which were made for the Chinese market. The top lot was a Breguet pocket watch minute repeater with an elaborately enameled gold case, selling for $1,131,153, followed by a gold, enamel and pearl-set flask watch, with two elaborately engraved gold eagle heads. Made circa 1800, it sold for $106,046.
The takeaways? The usual suspects remained supreme, while F.P. Journe continues to exert its dominance on the secondary market to keep pace with Rolex and Patek Philippe. The Milgauss final hammer price indicates there may be some more upward trajectory for the recently discontinued model. The Patek Philippe x Tiffany Nautilus is coming down in price but not falling below seven figures, suggesting it will continue to be a legend found on very few wrists. And finally, solid gold Rolex watches with diamond-set dials and bezels prove bling can finally take the spotlight on the auction circuit.