Independent Watchmaking Highlights at Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Full house for the independents.
Sothebys HK Oct 2018 header

Sotheby’s fall watch auction takes place in Hong Kong on October 2, with over 430 lots slated to go under the hammer. While the sales includes many big ticket watches from establishment brands – most notably the one of a kind platinum Rolex Daytona “Zenith” made for the late Patrick Heiniger – it also boasts a strong line-up of timepieces by independent watchmakers.

The names featured in the catalogue include the best in contemporary watchmaking, including the likes of F.P. Journe, Roger W. Smith, and Greubel Forsey. Here’s a look at a few top picks from the independents in the sale.

The full catalogue can be seen here.


Lot 2015 – Ulysse Nardin Freak

While not strictly a watch made by an independent, the landmark Freak was the result of two brilliant watchmakers. The original concept for the movement – essentially a central wheel train surrounded by a massive mainspring – was devised by Carole Forestier, now chief movement constructor at Cartier but then a fresh graduate of watchmaking school.

Ms Forestier submitted the idea for the 1997 Prix Abraham-Louis Breguet, a prize sponsored by the Breguet Foundation to mark the 250th anniversary of the French watchmaker’s birth (the late Derek Pratt was another contestant). Ms Forestier took the top prize, and Ulysse Nardin then bought the patent while taking on Ms Forestier as an employee.

Ulysse Nardin Freak 1.5 sothebys 2

Ulysse Nardin Freak 1.5 sothebys 4

She later left Ulysse Nardin, which then tasked Ludwig Oeschlin to complete the project. Mr Oeschlin is a polymath who was long the driving force behind the various complications of Ulysse Nardin, and later founded Ochs und Junior.

And so the Freak was unveiled in 2001, having evolved from Ms Forestier’s original design. The movement continued to turn within the watch case, but sitting on the barrel, rather than within it.

Ulysse Nardin Freak 1.5 sothebys 3

More importantly, the Freak was the first watch to boast silicon components in the movement, the realisation of an ambition long held by the brand’s former, late owner, Rolf Schnyder.

This example is a first generation Freak with second generation escape wheels, making it a “Freak 1.5”. The reason for that is simple: the original escape wheels on the Freak did not function correctly much of the time, leading to a redesign and retrofit.

Ulysse Nardin Freak 1.5 sothebys 1

It’s in 18k rose gold, arguably the most appealing version of the Freak, and like all first generation Freaks is only 43mm in diameter, smaller and more manageable than later iterations.

Ulysse Nardin Freak 1.5 sothebys 5

The estimate is HK$220,000 to HK$350,000, or US$28,100 to US$44,600, and the watch comes with box and papers.


Lot 2280 – F.P. Journe Centigraphe Souveraine Black Label

The Centigraphe is one of the most interesting contemporary chronograph movements, but often overlooked. Its most obvious feature is the lightning seconds, which counts a fraction of a second with a hand that blazes around the sub-dial at 10 o’clock once a second. And the chronograph is controlled by a rocker at two o’clock, instead of the usual button.

FP Journe Centigraphe Black Label 2

But just as notable, or even more so, is the unconventional construction of the movement, which has an large barrel in the centre, and everything else arranged around the barrel. It’s the same construction as the Sonnerie Souveraine, F.P. Journe’s grande and petite sonnerie.

FP Journe Centigraphe Black Label 4

This allows the movement to be slim, while having a large enough mainspring to power the chronograph. On a full wind the watch will run for 80 hours without the stopwatch running, and about 24 hours with the stopwatch going continuously.

FP Journe Centigraphe Black Label 3

This example of the Centigraphe is a Black Label edition, which means a black (but solid gold) dial and platinum case that is available only at F.P. Journe boutiques in limited numbers. Each boutique only receives 12 Black Label watches a year, across all models, and there are only 10 boutiques around the world.

FP Journe Centigraphe Black Label 1

The Centigraphe is complete with box and papers, and is in good cosmetic condition, though a service is probably due since there is some aging on the movement. Its estimate is HK$260,000 to HK$320,000, or US$33,200 to US$40,800.


Lot 2284 – Vianney Halter Classic

This is a good example of one of Vianney Halter’s best known watches, the time-only Classic. Though it’s a mechanically simple watch, the case is elaborately executed in the steampunk style widely associated with Mr Halter (and originally conceived by American designer Jeff Barnes).

Vianney Halter Classic white gold 2

Vianney Halter Classic white gold 4

The 36mm case is small by today’s standards, especially when paired with the “bar” lugs, but the watch still has wrist presence thanks to fine, contrasting surface finishes and details. The 18k white gold case features hand-applied rivets on the bezel and crown, while the dial is similarly hand-made and finished.

Vianney Halter Classic white gold 1

It’s equipped with an automatic movement derived from the Lemania 8810, but fitted with a “mystery” rotor that is actually a weight sapphire disc.

Vianney Halter Classic white gold 3

The estimate is HK$80,000 to HK$120,000, or US$10,200 to US$15,300.


Lot 2286 – Roger Smith Series 2, 38mm

This is an early example of Roger W. Smith’s signature wristwatch, dating from 2006, the year the Series 2 first made it to market. But it is also unusual in having an engraved dial, a feature that is available only upon special order, since most examples have an engine-turned dial.

Roger Smith Series 2 pink gold 38mm 2

Roger Smith Series 2 pink gold 38mm 4

And because this is an early watch – numbered “08” – it also features a first generation Co-Axial escapement, one that is closer to the late George Daniels’ original design but that has since been improved upon by Mr Smith.

Roger Smith Series 2 pink gold 38mm 3

Also unusual is the 38mm case, a size Mr Smith discontinued several years ago in favour of 40mm and only revived earlier this year.

Roger Smith Series 2 pink gold 38mm 5

Like many of Mr Smith’s earlier watches, this Series 2 bears many of the quirks of a hand-made watch, especially on the case and dial.

Roger Smith Series 2 pink gold 38mm 1

With Mr Smith’s waiting list now several years along, his watches sell for essentially the retail price, or sometimes even over, on the secondary market, which is the case here. But this Series 2 is enhanced by the fact that is an early example, making it more interesting historically. It is complete with original box and papers, with an estimate of HK$1.1m to HK$1.6m, or US$141,000 to US$204,000.


Lot 2290 – Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes

This is an earlier version of the Tourbillon 24 Secondes, which has an inclined, high speed tourbillon that makes one revolution every 24 seconds.

Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes platinum 2

While later models tended towards simpler dial designs, this example has a solid gold dial with relief engraving and chapter rings, as well as solid gold hands.

Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes platinum 1

The movement is exceptionally well finished in typical Greubel Forsey style, with frosted bridges in German silver that have pronounced anglage. All of the visible screws are blued, while several jewels sit in gold chatons. And there are three solid gold plates mounted on the movement, including one with relief engraving like that found on the dial.

Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes platinum 4

Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes platinum 3

The case is platinum and 44mm in diameter, making it an impressively weighty watch.

Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes platinum 5

The watch is in excellent cosmetic condition, although it does not have boxes or papers. Its estimate is HK$950,000 to HK$1.4m, or US$122,000 to US$179,000.


Lot 2293 – Laurent Ferrier Galet Classic Tourbillon Double Spiral

This is the watch that made Laurent Ferrier famous – a classically styled tourbillon wristwatch with a movement inspired by observatory chronometer tourbillon calibres.

Laurent Ferrier Galet Tourbillon Onyx dial 2

Featuring a 41mm, 18k yellow gold case (unusual since most were in pink gold or platinum), this example is quintessential Laurent Ferrier style, with a black onyx dial and assegai style hands modelled on an African spear of the same name.

Laurent Ferrier Galet Tourbillon Onyx dial 1

The movement is a relatively early example, numbered “38”, and bears the calibre name “FBN 916.01”. That is short for the last names of the three watchmakers behind its conception: Laurent Ferrier, Enrico Barbasini, and Michel Navas; later movements did away with that and are marked “LF” instead.

Laurent Ferrier Galet Tourbillon Onyx dial 4

The finishing and construction of the movement is impeccable, and still special even several years after its introduction.

Laurent Ferrier Galet Tourbillon Onyx dial 3

The watch is complete with boxes and papers, and carries an estimate of HK$550,000 to HK$800,000, or US$70,500 to US$102,000.


Lot 2296 – Harry Winston Opus X

Conceived by Jean-Francois Mojon, founder of complications specialist Chronode, the Opus X was one of the last Opus watches invented prior to Swatch Group’s takeover of Harry Winston to make it to commercial production. After the Opus X, only the Opus 12 made it to market, and the Opus 14 was unveiled under the aegis of the Swatch Group.

What makes the Opus X unusual is its planetary time display (which later became the signature of Ressence). The second time zone hours, minutes and seconds each have their own sub-dials mounted on independent satellite modules that orbit around the face of the watch, while the hours for local time are indicated by a yellow pointer on the edge of the dial.

Harry Winston Opus X 2

Harry Winston Opus X 1

The hand-wound movement has a 72-hour power reserve, as well as a linear power reserve display visible on the back.

Harry Winston Opus X 4

Harry Winston Opus X 3

The case is 18k white gold and typical of most Opus watches, a large 46mm in diameter. It’s numbered “007/100”.

Accompanied only by a Harry Winston box, the Opus X has an estimate of HK$600,000 to HK$900,000, or US$76,500 to US$115,000.


And lastly, pun intended, is Lot 2010 – Panerai Radiomir Independent PAM00080. Produced in a 160 pieces limited edition in 2001 – during the brief period when Panerai unveiled annual editions featuring unusual and interesting “new old stock” movements – the Radiomir Independent has a deadbeat central seconds.

Panerai Radiomir Independent PAM 80 2

The movement inside is the Chezard cal. 7400, a hand-wound movement produced in the 1950s that was one of the more common deadbeat seconds calibres of the 20th century (along with the Chezard cal. 116 of the same family). Though the original movement was a basic one, here it has been dressed up with striping on the bridges and blued steel screws.

Panerai Radiomir Independent PAM 80 4

As with all deadbeat seconds movements of the era, the drive for the seconds hand is indirect, or independent, and visible above the wheel train bridge. The Radiomir Independent has a tiny sapphire lens on the display back to highlight the deadbeat seconds mechanism.

Panerai Radiomir Independent PAM 80 3

Like most high-end Radiomir watches of the period, this was conceived almost as a dress watch, with an 18k white gold case that’s just 42mm in diameter, diminutive compared o the average Panerai but elegant on the wrist.

The dial is a metallic blue with a railway minute track that evokes vintage wristwatches of the early 20th century, a look that’s drastically different from Panerai watches of today but a good match for the smaller case size.

Panerai Radiomir Independent PAM 80 1

Accompanied by box and papers, this is estimated at HK$65,000 to HK$95,000, or US$8,300 to US$12,200. That’s a fraction of its original retail, and about half of what this watch sold for at its peak about a decade ago.


Exhibition and auction details

Sotheby’s Hong Kong watch auction takes place on October 2, 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wanchai. All lots will be exhibited prior to the auction from September 28 to October 1, at the same location.

Selected lots will be on show in Taipei, Taiwan, on September 15 and 16.

The full catalogue is available online here.


This was brought to you in collaboration with Sotheby’s.

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