Sotheby’s spring sale of Important Watches, to be staged at the Hôtel Beau-Rivage in Geneva on Sunday 15 May 2011, will embark world collectors on a journey through five centuries of watch history, from 1580 to the present day.
The sale will include iconic pieces from each era, from a 16th century German tambour watch to a highly rare Patek Philippe chronograph (est. CHF 600,000-1,000,000 / $665,000-1,100,000), through luxurious pocket watches made for Indian Maharajas in the 19th Century and watches that have witnessed historical moments, such as Fausto Coppi’s legendary 1942 Cycling World Hour Record. Featuring over 280 lots estimated in excess of CHF 7.2 million, the sale will bring together an impressive range of antique timepieces, pocket watches and blue-chip wristwatches, including a group of very rare Rolex models.
Commenting on the sale, Geoffroy Ader, Head of Sotheby’s European Watch Department, said: “This sale has been put together to catch the imagination of international watch collectors and convey the passion that has animated watchmakers since the very beginning of watch history. With a market broadening to an ever increasing number of connoisseurs across the world, we are delighted to be able to offer a selection of very rare timepieces epitomising the quintessence of watch production over centuries and continents.”
Antique Timepieces (1580-1900)
Historical Timepieces from the Property of an Estate (Part 1)
Leading the outstanding group of historical pieces is an eminent single owner collection charting the evolution of pocket watches from 1580 until 1900. This prestigious collection has remained in the same family for over half a century and is being offered for the first time at auction. The oldest piece in the collection and the sale is an early German gilt metal tambour cased stackfreed verge watch with alarm dating circa 1580 (est. CHF 6,000-8,000/ $6,700-8,900).
Highlights also include two exceptionally rare automaton watches. The first -known as the “Dutch Kitchen” – is a fold enamel watch with a magnificent automaton scene depicting a lady at the spinning-wheel sitting by a fire with a child, a cat and two dogs. Dating from circa 1815, this watch -one of a dozen “Kitchen” automata known today – is attributed to the Geneva watchmaker Pierre Simon Gounouilhou (1779-1847), one of the only makers alongside Dubois & Fils who produced this form of automaton (est. CHF 30,000- 50,000/$33,500-55,500). The second is a Swiss gold and enamel musical and automaton watch, dating circa 1820 and featuring two putting on a swing and one playing the drum (est. CHF 30,000-50,000/$33,500-55,500).
Another piece of extraordinary rarity is a very fine example of the famous wooden watches by the Bronikoffs. This rare boxwood cylinder watch was made for the Siberian market circa 1850 and bears an estimate of CHF 6,000-8,000/ $6,700-8,900. Originally from Vjatka, Russia, the Bronikoff family specialised in the making of all-wood, and all-ivory watches -a tradition continued through the 19th century. Among the small number of Bronikoff watches surviving today, some are found in the Hermitage, the Moscow Clock Industry Research Institute, the Tbilisi Museum of People’s Art and the Physics and Math Salon of Dresden.
Timepieces made for the Chinese market
Following the success, in Sotheby’s November 2010 sale, of a group of antique timepieces made for the Chinese and Oriental markets, May’s sale presents a further selection, including on this occasion, luxurious pocket watches made for the Indian market in the 19th century.
During the early 1800s, English and Swiss makers vied for the lucrative Chinese market, creating pieces of extraordinary craftsmanship and imagination. Characteristic of the English style are two magnificent gold, enamel and pearl-set watches made by Barraud’s circa 1818 and 1815 (No. 9591 and 9035) and a very fine gold, enamel and pearl-set watch made by Charman circa 1800, each estimated at CHF 30,000-50,000/ $33,200-55,500.
Timepieces made for the Oriental market
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Swiss watchmakers, Goldsmiths, painters on enamel and engravers also worked together to create unique pieces for the Oriental market, as shown in a rare gold, enamel and diamond ring watch made circa 1800 (est. CHF 20,000-30,000/ $22,100-33,200).
Another fine example of a timepiece made for the Ottoman market is a rare 14k gold, enamel, keyless lever watch created circa 1900 for the Crown Prince Sehzade Yusuf Izzeddin Effendi (1857-1916). A moderniser and reformer, the son of Sultan Abdul Aziz ran the Ottoman Empire from 1909 until his death (est. CHF 15,000-25,000/$16,600-27,700).
Bearing witness to the complex mechanisms incorporated in the timepieces destined for the Turkish market in the early 20th century is a grande complication watch with perpetual calendar, minute repeating and chronograph and Turkish numerals. Made circa 1900, this watch carries an estimate of CHF 80,000-120,000/ $88,500-133,000).
Also reflecting the inclination of the oriental market for mechanical novelties is a rare pinchbeck and agate necessaire with inset verge watch made in London circa 1765 by James Ransom for the oriental market in the manner of James Cox (est. CHF 20,000-30,000/ $22,100-33,200).
Timepieces made for the Indian market
Another undeniable highlight of the sale is a group of luxurious pocket watches made in Geneva for Indian dignitaries in the 19th century. Reaching their apogee in the latter half of the 19th century, the “Rajah Watches” were decorated with enamel portraits of their owner, taken from photographs sent from India. The movements were mainly produced in the Vallée de Joux or Le Locle, while cases were almost exclusively manufactured in the workshops of Ferrero, Tardy, Bonifas, Giron and Lamunière.
Of the half-dozen most esteemed Geneva enamel portraitists specialised in watches, John Graff (1836-1902) was highly sought after throughout India. Testament to his mastery in the field is a gold, enamel and pearl-set watch with a painted portrait of His Highness Sawai Mahendra Sir Pratahsing Bahadeer, Maharaja of Orchha, Tikamgarh, Bundelkhand, signed Graff, circa 1890 (est. CHF 20,000-30,000/ $22,100-33,200). Other examples of “Rajah watches” in the sale include a gold, enamel and minute repeating watch dating circa from 1920 and featuring a painted portrait of His Highness Maharaja Bhupinder Singh (1891-1938), the ruler of the princely state of Patiala in Punjab from 1900 to 1938 (est. CHF 20,000-30,000/ $22,100-33,200).
Enamel Pocket watches
Complementing this historical panorama of pocket watches, a selection of remarkable enamel timepieces includes a very rare and unusual gold and enamel watch with grande and petite sonnerie made circa 1835 by Swiss watchmaker Louis Audemars, famous for the fine workmanship of his movements. Decorated with a scene of the Church of Santa Maria della Salute on the front cover and a view of a Venetian lagoon on the back cover, this exceptional piece is estimated at CHF 100,000-150,000/ $111,000-166,000.
Illustrating an important moment in the airship history is an exquisite gold and enamel verge watch with a polychrome scene depicting the Montgolfier brothers’ first demonstrated flight of a hot air balloon in Annonay, France in 1783. Made circa 1785, this watch is estimated at CHF 8,000-12,000/ $8,900-13,300.
Pieces of History
Completing this outstanding selection of historical timepieces are “pieces of history”, timepieces of historical significance and important provenance.
Leading this group is the silver open-faced keyless lever split-seconds chronograph used by Ferruccio Massara when timing Fausto Coppi’s legendary Cycling World Hour Record at the Velodromo Vigorelli in Milan on 7 November 1942. The Campionissimo’s record (45.798 km in an hour) stood for 14 years until it was broken by Jacques Anquetil in 1956.
Born on 15 September 1919, Angelo Fausto Coppi (1919-1960) went on to transcend sport in the years following World War II, the Golden Age of cycling. During his fifteen-year career, he won no fewer than seven Grand Tours, including two Tours de France and five Giro d’Italia. His successes also comprise a World Championship Road Race; a first place in the Paris-Roubaix; three Milan-San Remo titles; five Tours of Lombardy titles; and a Fleche Wallonne victory. Made by Ulysse Nardin circa 1915, this silver openfaced keyless lever split-seconds chronograph will be offered for sale with an estimate of CHF 20,000-30,000/ $22,100-33,200.
Capturing the essence of Rolex watches are Rolexes that belonged to great adventurers from the 20th and 21st century. The first is a Rolex Submariner worn by British diver and treasure hunter Keith Jessop (1933-2010) during one of the greatest deep sea salvage operations in history. In 1981, Jessop recovered five tons of “Stalin’s Gold” (£42 million) from the wreck of the British light cruiser Edinburgh, sunk in 1942 and lying since then 800ft down in the Barents Sea. The gold was being shipped from Russia to Great Britain to pay for American weapons and supplies delivered early in the war. A faithful heir to the first water-resistant watch introduced by Rolex in 1953, the 1975 stainless steel automatic centre seconds wristwatch with bracelet ref 5513/1680 Submariner has remained in the family until now (est. CHF 20,000-30,000/ $22,100-33,200).
The sale will also include a group of Rolexes which accompanied the Polish-French climatologist Dr. Janusz Kurbiel in his North Pole expeditions in the 1980s and 1990s. “When you can’t rely on external time checks, a watch becomes one of the basic instruments of survival”, declared Kurbiel, who appeared in Rolex advertising campaigns in the 1990s. Auctioned to finance a new expedition, Dr. Kurbiel’s Rolex comprises a 18K yellow gold and stainless steel Oyster Perpetual Datejust (ref. 16013) dating circa 1987 (est. CHF 6,000-8,000/ $6,700-8,900), a stainless steel Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona, dating circa 1993 (est. CHF 15,000-20,000/ $16,600-22,100) and a stainless steel Oyster Perpetual Milgauss dating circa 1979 (est. CHF 20,000-30,000/ $22,100-33,200), whose original model was designed in 1956 to meet the demands of the scientific community and withstand magnetic fields of up to 1,000 gauss.
Enjoying an illustrious provenance are also two historical watches by Breguet. The first – a yellow gold open-faced ruby duplex quarter repeating watch n° 2658 was created circa 1813 for the Queen of Naples, Caroline Bonaparte Murat (1782-1839) by Louis Abraham Breguet, legendary Swiss watchmaker who counted among his most loyal clients Marie-Antoinette, Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I (Est. CHF 60,000 – 80,000/ $66,500-88,500).
Testament to the genius precision performance of Breguet is a set of two chronograph counters used in the 1950s by Prince Troubetskoy (1912-2008), driver of the first Ferrari to ever compete in Grand Prix Motor Racing (est. CHF 8,000-12,000/ $8,900-13,300).
Vintage and Modern Timepieces
The selection of vintage and modern timepieces is spearheaded by an outstanding group of Rolexes. Following the record achieved last November for a Daytona “Paul Newman” with brown dial (sold for CHF 464,500 – six times its high estimate), May’s sale will present a very rare Oyster Cosmograph Daytona “Paul Newman” with inverted lines. Made circa 1967, this stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with registers and original presentation case (ref 6263/6239) carries an estimate of CHF 100,000-150,000/ $111,000-166,000.
The Rolex section also comprises various Daytona vintage models, covering all different references and dial combination, including an extremely rare version of the gold cosmograph wristwatch (ref. 16528) with a variant ‘13’ on the dial instead of the 15 minutes indication. Accompanied by a letter from Rolex Chairman Heiniger confirming the printing error on the 13 indication marker, the “Daytona 13” is estimated at CHF 80,000-120,000/ $88,500-133,000.
Rolex aficionados will have the opportunity to find further rare models by the prestigious maker. Among them is a rare stainless steel automatic centre seconds wristwatch with gilt printing and bracelet, made circa 1959 (ref 6538 oyster perpetual submariner four lines gilt printing ‘Big Crown James Bond’) (est. CHF 40,000-60,000/ $44,200-66,500).
Another undeniable highlight of the sale will be the Patek Philippe section led by the top lot of the sale, an extremely rare yellow gold chronograph Patek Philippe ref. 2499 with perpetual calendar and moon phases. Sold on 18 December 1962, this fine example of Patek Philippe craftsmanship comes to auction with an estimate of CHF 600,000-1,000,000/ $665,000-1,100,000.
Patek Philippe’s legendary craftsmanship is also represented elsewhere in the sale: in a fine and rare 18k yellow gold open-faced minute repeating perpetual calendar split second chronograph watch with moon-phases (ref. 767, MVT 198106, case 687006) – a very rare example of a highly complicated pocket watch whose production began in 1927 and was completed in 1957 (est. CHF 200,000-300,000/ $221,000-300,000); a rare stainless steel athlete’s open-faced chronograph watch with registers made circa 1960 (ref. 840 MVT 869123 case 2629364) (est. CHF 30,000-50,000/ $33,200-55,500); and in a platinum automatic wristwatch with date presented by Volkswagenwerk AG to its Chairman Dr. Hans Busch circa 1966 (ref; 3514, MVT 1124065, case 320391) (est. CHF 25,000-35,000/ $27,700-38,700).
The Patek Philippe section also includes some very important modern timepieces, including a fine and very rare 18k pink gold perpetual calendar spilt seconds chronograph wristwatch with registers, date and moon-phases, made circa 1996 and carrying an estimate of CHF 170,000-230,000/ $188,000-254,000.
A Collection of Military Watches (Part 1)
Another highlight of the selection of wristwatches is an impressive collection of military watches, including very rare pieces produced for armies around the world in the 20th century. A long-standing supplier of the Marina Militare, the Italian watchmaker Panerai will be represented by a rare oversized stainless steel cushion form military wristwatch with black lacquer ‘California dial’ made circa 1950 and estimated at CHF 40,000-60,000/ $44,200-66,500.
Going back to the First World War, Rolex’s long-established connection to the military forces is reflected in a Daytona Cosmograph wristwatch made circa 1970 for the Fuerza Aerea del Peru (est. CHF 30,000-40,000/ $33,200-44,200) and a GMT Master 24 hour wristwatch made for the United Emirates Forces, circa 1970 (est. CHF 20,000-30,000/ $22,100-33,200).
Introduced by Rolex to bring dependable quality to a lesser cost, the Tudor watches represented a superb value for the military, as shown in a Tudor wristwatch made circa 1970 for French Marine Nationale (est. CHF 5,000-7,000/ $5,600-7,800).
Finally, the sale will include a large selection of modern wristwatches by today’s greatest watchmakers, including Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Greubel Forsey, Louis Moinet and Vacheron Constantin. Among the modern limited edition timepieces are a very fine and rare platinum double tourbillon wristwatch made by Greubel Forsey circa 2007 (est. CHF 200,000- 300,000/ $221,000-332,000) and the first example of tourbillons by La Chaux-de-Fonds watchmaker, Louis Moinet – a limited edition 18k pink gold wristwatch with power reserve dating circa 2010 (est. CHF 80,000-100,000/ $88,500-111,000).
Hôtel Beau-Rivage, Geneva
Sunday 15 May 2011 at 8 pm
Pre-sale exhibition :
Hôtel Beau-Rivage, Geneva
Friday, 13 May, 3pm -6pm
Saturday, 14 May, 10am -6pm
Sunday, 15 May, 10am -6pm
Image: Pinchbeck and agate necessaire with inset verge watch made in London circa 1765 by James Ransom for the oriental market in the manner of James Cox. Est. CHF 20,000 –
30,000/ $22,100-33,200. Photo: Sotheby’s
* Pre-sale estimates do not include buyer’s premium