There are six weeks left in the year, but Patek Philippe just made a record for Sotheby’s in 2018. Although it sold for just under its top estimate of CHF 4,000,000 or $4,040,000, Sotheby’s Patek Philippe “Asprey” timepiece hammered down today for $3.9 million, making it the most expensive watch sold at Sotheby’s for the entire year. The vintage piece beat Christie’s hammer price for another co-branded Patek Philippe reference 2499, the “Serpico y Laino,” which sold yesterday for $3.2 million (the watch was estimated to sell between CHF 1,500,000 and CHF 2,500,000 or $1,489,084 and $2,481,821 at current exchange). Sotheby’s sale of the Asprey today rounds out a trio of big watch sales in Geneva that began with Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: Eight, followed by Christie’s Rare Watches.
So, what makes this 37mm object for the wrist worth $3.9 million? For starters, in watch collecting circles, the reference 2499 is considered a holy grail timepiece—a Patek Philippe model essential to top-tier collectors. But its co-branding is what makes this timepiece truly rare. Manufactured in 1952 and sold in 1956 by Asprey of London, was the most complicated Patek Philippe ever sold by the London jeweler. The watch is a first series and houses a dial signed by both the Patek Philippe manufacture and Asprey (similar to the Patek Philippe co-branded by Serpico y Laino sold at Phillips), as well as a caseback engraved with Asprey’s hallmark, Patek Philippe, and London import marks. Top that off with its impeccable condition and the fact that it has not been on the market since first coming to auction in 2006, and you have the ultimate collector’s piece.
Other Sotheby’s highlights from its Important Watches sale today didn’t fare as well. A Richard Mille RM 57-2 Falcon, considered to be a top lot by the auction house, did not hear the final slam of the hammer—a bidder in the crowd wavered for several minutes keeping the auctioneer on pins and needles before ultimately deciding to pass. The one-of-a-kind piece, which was commissioned in 2017, was estimated between $800,000 and $1,200,000, but failed to sell. The skeletonized movement sits beneath a hand-chased, 18-karat white gold engraving of a falcon set within a black sapphire-set case, which apparently, appealed only to its original client.
Still, Sotheby’s bested the rest at the Geneva watch auction sales this month with its $3.9 million Patek Philippe “Asprey,” proving that provenance and history remain key for big sales. The auction house also had its second-highest total for a watch sale in a decade, raking in a total of CHF 2.2 million or $12.1 million. Sotheby’s reported that over 900 bidders from 54 countries participated to make those numbers happen, and over 30 percent were first-time bidders.