Recap: Top Lots & Highlights from Phillips’ “The Hong Kong Watch Auction: Three”

An evening sale that took a while to get going, but really got going when it did.

A day after Phillips’ thematic Rolex sale that peaked midway with the record setting Rolex ref. 8171 “Padellone”, the auctioneer just concluded The Hong Kong Watch Auction: Three.

This time the sequence of events was inverted: momentum built up haltingly, with several modern complications, including a Lange Tourbograph, passing with no interest. Fortunately the action picked up in the middle, leading to some stellar results unsurprisingly dominated by Patek Philippe.

One of the biggest surprises of the evening sale led by Sam Hines and Aurel Bacs was lot 1104, a pretty Patek Philippe pocket watch featuring an enamelled Egyptian motif that was one of our pre-sale favourites.

Phillips HKWA3 Patek Philippe enamel Egypt pocket watch 3

Who knew King Tut was so popular?

Striking and wonderfully preserved, the one of a kind pocket watch was estimated at HK$500,000 to HK$1m, or about US$64,000 to US$125,000.

After several long minutes of enthusiastic bidding from several bidders, the lot sold for HK$4.04m, or US$521,000, all fees included. It went to a bidder, presumably European, represented by Nathalie Montbaron of Phillips.

Suzanne Rohr’s work of art

The two miniature enamelled pocket watches that followed also blew past their estimates. Lot 1106, featuring wild horses painted by noted enamel artisan Suzanne Rohr, went for HK$5m, or US$645,000, more than double the high estimate and a record for Rohr’s work.

Another decorative Patek Philippe timepiece that sold handsomely was lot 1108, the ref. 1191 Dome Clock originally sold by Patek Philippe in 1987. Weighing an extraordinary 6kg and designed in a baroque style that would suit President-Elect Trump’s penthouse, the clock is made of yellow gold, silver, diamonds, mother-of-pearl, lapis lazuli and royal blue enamel.


It sold for HK$5.12m, or US$659,968, going to a tall gentleman standing at the rear of the room whom everyone recognised: Osvaldo Patrizzi. Bidding with determination, Patrizzi was the founder of watch auction house Antiquorum and once the most powerful man in the business, until he sold the company and got embroiled in a legal battle surrounding the sale.

Three of Eric Clapton’s custom-ordered Patek Philippe chronographs were on offer, but one did exceptionally well. The white gold Patek Philippe ref. 3970G with a salmon dial – a combination that’s typically a crowd favourite – sold for HK$3.56m, or US$459,000, above the high estimate. That was the result of determined bidding by a phone bidder and someone on the floor locked in a battle of wills.

Eric Clapton’s trio, from left: refs. 3970R, 3970G and 5004R

In contrast, the next Clapton-owned lot, the pink gold ref. 3970R with an identical dial in silver sold for just HK$2m, or US$258,000.

And the ref. 5004R, also an ex-Clapton watch, went for HK$3.14m, or US$405,000, making it the most reasonably buy of the trio in all likelihood.

The most valuable lot of the evening was lot 1135, the unique Patek Philippe ref. 2419 minute repeater. One half of a pair originally ordered by the same owner some 60 years ago, the ref. 2419 is the only one of its kind, being a unique reference with unusual features, namely an oversized crown and repeater slide, as well as black hands and hour markers.

Patek Philippe ref. 2419 minute repeater retailed by Cartier

The contest for this was drawn out, with the kind of carefully paced but resolute bidding that results in a staggering price. The bill was HK$9.8m, or US$1.26m, thanks to a victorious phone bidder from Japan represented by Phillips’ Kaz Fujimoto. That was a surprise to all in the room, given it last sold for just over US$700,000 in 2011.

Intriguingly the underbidder on the ref. 2419 was the winner of the the matching ref. 2524/1, which was the lot before. Bidding on the phone via Tiffany To of Phillips, the underbidder presumably wanted to keep the pair together. While he did not succeed, he did land the ref. 2524/1 for less than half its counterpart, HK$4.04m or US$521,000.

The ref. 2524/1

Also notable were the watches from notable independent watchmakers, including the pair of Dufour Simplicities that did well, as expected given the benchmark set at Christie’s the day before.

Unusually the Roger Smith Series 2 in white gold sold for HK$1.13m, or US$145,000.

Phillips HKWA3 Roger Smith Series 2 white gold 38mm 1

That’s equivalent to the current retail of the equivalent in the English watchmaker’s line-up, which is arguably more refined and well finished than the earlier piece on offer. That being said, the Series 2 that sold had a 38mm case, a size no longer offered by Smith, so perhaps someone just really had to have a smaller watch.

Similarly, the MB&F HM4 “Thunderbolt” sold for HK$1.25m, or US$161,000, about the same as the original retail price when it was launched.

Phillips HKWA3 MB&F HM4 Thunderbolt 2

The HM4 is already discontinued and sold out, but this bodes well for MB&F’s creations, given the mixed track record for such avant-garde timepieces at auction.

But it was not all good news for the independents. The Greubel Forsey IP1, possibly the brand’s most dazzling watch, sold for just HK$1.75m, or US$226,000, less than half the original retail of about US$600,000.

Phillips HKWA3 Greubel Forsey IP1 platinum JCB 1 Phillips HKWA3 Greubel Forsey IP1 platinum JCB 4

That’s despite the watch being unworn and boasting a stellar provenance, being from the collection of TAG Heuer chief executive Jean-Claude Biver, who has his initials on the dial. Fortunately, with Swiss business title Bilanz estimating Mr Biver’s net worth at SFr175m, he won’t be too badly off.

The full list of results can be seen here.

Update November 30, 2016: Additional information on bidders added, including lot 1108.

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