Highlights from Christie’s Online-Only Watch Auction

Affordable and unusual picks from the auctioneer's holiday season sale.

Christie’s Watches Online latest sale has almost 200 lots in a web-only auction, with something for everyone. The line-up ranges from a steel Patek Philippe Nautilus “Jumbo” ref. 3800 to the most affordable items at under US$1000. Here are a handful of highlights from the “Time for the Holidays” sale, which ends December 7, 2016.

Lot 66: Nouvelle Horlogerie Calabrese Analogica

Nouvelle Horlogerie Calabrese (NHC) is the brainchild of AHCI co-founder Vincent Calabrese, the talented watchmaker who invented the Corum Golden Bridge and Blancpain flying tourbillon.

NHC was meant to offer Calabrese’s complications at a more affordable price, with the top of the line model being the Analogica. The watch features the Baladin wandering jump hour Calabrese invented in the 1990s, with the hour numeral travelling around the dial before changing instantaneously at the top of the hour, as well as a date display.

Christie's Online NHC Analogica

This example has slightly Art Deco case in 18k pink gold, with an estimate of US$6000 to US$10,000. It’s lot 66 in the sale.

Lot 67: IWC Da Vinci in 18k pink gold

The Da Vinci is one of the great value buys in modern watchmaking, offering a smartly constructed perpetual calendar and chronograph for under US$10,000. This is an uncommon variant of the Da Vinci, being in pink gold with a black dial (the majority were in yellow gold with white dials).

Christie's Online IWC Da Vinci

Invented in 1981, the Da Vinci was devised by the legendary Kurt Klaus, who added his clever perpetual calendar mechanism – which can be set only via the crown – on top of the workhorse Valjoux 7750. That created a relatively affordable, and very robust, chronograph with perpetual calendar that even has a four digit year display.

This is lot 67 and estimated at US$7000 to US$10,000.

Lot 77: Movado ref. 12717 pilot’s chronometer

This is a rarely seen military watch, a pilot’s chronometer by Movado dating from the 1930s. The steel case is 37mm in diameter, characteristic of the large pilot’s watches of the time. While the knurled, rotating bezel is common to many aviator’s watches of the period, the dial is unusual, with a railway minute track and Arabic markers at the quarters.

Christie's Online Movado Pilots Chronometer

The movement inside is the calibre 75, adjusted to four positions.

This is estimated at US$2500 to US$4500 and it’s lot 77.

Lot 79: Longines ref. 7415 calibre 30CH*

The calibre 30CH is one of the last great chronograph movements produced before the Quartz Crisis. The movement features a column wheel and horizontal coupling, a construction only found in the most expensive modern chronographs.

This particular ref. 7415 in 18k yellow gold (it’s incorrectly described as a ref. 7416 on the sale page) is an archetype of the 1970s Longines chronograph, with a blue and red twin scales on the dial, round pushers and a screw-down case back.

Christie's Online Longines 7415 30CH

The watch is accompanied by a Longines archive extract noting it was sold to Italy in 1972. It’s lot 79, with an estimate of US$6000 to US$10,000.

Lot 148: Patek Philippe ref. 2481

The ref. 2481 is a handsome example of mid 20th century watchmaking – this example dates from 1955 – but at 37mm in diameter is large enough for modern tastes. In fact, the ref. 2481 was one of the largest watches Patek Philippe made at the time.

Christie's Online Patek Philippe 2481

The dauphine hands, silvered dial and applied markers are typical of the period’s design, though the fluted lugs are an unusually elegant detail. This is a handsome, but not perfect example, with the most obvious shortcoming being the unsigned crown which is a later replacement. The estimate is US$12,000 to US$18,000, and it’s lot 148.

Lot 181: Cartier Cloche de Cartier

The Cloche is one of Cartier’s most intriguing ladies’ watches. With the dial set at a 90 degree angle and a bell-shaped case (cloche means “bell”), the Cloche has only been produced as a limited edition in the modern day, never being part of the regular collection.

This is particular model is from the mid 1990s, one of a limited edition of 200 in 18k yellow gold, pre-dating the Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP) that came later. Several things distinguish it from later editions of the Cloche, most notably the Arabic numerals on the dial (it was usually Romans after), and the fact that it was made in France.

Christie's Online Cartier Cloche

The case measures an elegant 33mm by 25mm, with the angled dial making it suited to double up as a desk clock. This is lot 181 and the estimate is US$4000 to US$6000.

Lot 192: A. Lange & Söhne German navy deck watch

Deck watches were the most precise portable timepieces carried on naval vessels before electronic timekeeping. Set against the marine chronometer of the ship, deck watches were functional, with silver cases and unmarked dials, but exceptionally high quality timekeepers.

This particular example was made by A. Lange & Söhne for the German navy during the Second World War and like all deck watches, tested by the German naval observatory before being entered into service.

Christie's Online Lange deck watch

Being produced to navy specifications, deck watches were almost identical, regardless of the maker, with large Arabic hour markers and oversized seconds and power reserve displays. This is estimated at US$4500 to US$9000, being lot 192 in the sale.

The Christie’s Watches Online auction ends on December 7, 2016 and the full catalogue is available here.

*The writer of this article has an interested in lots so marked.

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Editorial: Tales & Technology – Why a Dufour Hammers for More Than a Greubel Forsey

Delving into one of the conundrums of the watch market.

Just two days ago at Phillips’ Hong Kong watch auction a pair of timepieces that are masterpieces of contemporary independent watchmaking went under the hammer with dramatically different results.

The first was a Philippe Dufour Simplicity that sold for US$258,000, about five times its original retail price some 12 years ago and just a day after Christie’s accomplished the same with another example. And then three lots later came the Greubel Forsey Invention Piece 1 (IP1), a 2009 watch that came straight from the collection of Jean-Claude Biver no less. It went for modest US$226,000, less than half of the original retail price.

“J-C B” for Jean-Claude Biver

In absolute terms the Simplicity didn’t go that much better than the IP1, about 10% more. But relative to the original prices the disparity is significant, and so was the interest in each watch during bidding. The Simplicity handily crossed its high estimate, while the IP1 lingered awkwardly below the low estimate, hammering just below it.

Both watches are intrinsically very, very good. With a movement decorated to an ethereal degree, the Simplicity is a well known watch over which much praise has been lavished, despite Mr Dufour having made as many as two dozen more than originally promised (starting with four more than the initial run).

But Greubel Forsey’s work is also unquestionably excellent. The complexity of the brand’s movements is astounding, as is its remarkably fine finishing – qualities that are obvious even in casual photos.

In fact, both the firm and Mr Dufour are partners, both in horological education alliance Time Aeon as well as Le Garde Temps Naissance d’une Montre, a project dedicated to preserving the techniques to produce old fashioned, hand-made watches. Greubel Forsey and Mr Dufour are in many ways peers, artistically and philosophically.

Greubel Forsey Signature 1 stainless steel 8

Inside the most entry level of Greubel Forsey’s watches

So why the diverging fates at the recent sale?

There are several possibilities, the obvious ones being tangible. Greubel Forsey’s watches are mostly large, being wide and thick, making them less wearable than the modestly sized Simplicity. That being said, there are plenty of extremely large contemporary watches that sell well, from the likes of MB&F, Hublot and so on. Such large watches bank on being flashy, and Greubel Forsey watches are hard to miss on the wrist. Physical size is not sufficient as an explanation.

Or it could be just a matter of supply. Greubel Forsey has produced about 1000 watches in its 12 years in existence, a number confirmed by co-founder Stephen Forsey. That’s five times more than Philippe Dufour has made in twice as long.

Given Greubel Forsey’s price point, they average US$300,000 at retail, having 1000 in circulation looms large. But in absolute terms it is not very many. F.P. Journe produces about 800 a year, and at the other extreme, Patek Philippe between 50,000 and 60,000 annually.

If it’s not the number alone, it could be merely the general malaise in the market for modern, high-end complicated watches, a sad but unavoidable situation. The same reason is why watches like the Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon and Lange Tourbograph at the very same auction did not sell.

No love, even with plastic

But there’s one more, inconspicuous explanation that relies on the subtleties of brand positioning.

Physically Mr Dufour is the archetypal watchmaker, with white hair, a pipe and a watchmaker’s coat. He looks the part.

More importantly, Mr Dufour has, whether shrewdly or unintentionally, burnished that image over the years with his carefully stewardship of his own brand. He never wavered from the standards of quality set early on, while doggedly sticking to his signature timepiece.

All the while appearing in the right places and saying the right things – he always has harsh words for lazy watchmakers who finish movements with lots of machines and little effort – enough to become the living embodiment of mid-20th century Vallee de Joux watchmaking. He is the lone warrior fighting the tide of lazy modern technology, valiantly doing things the old way, the way things should be done. That is an awfully compelling story.

Fighting the good fight

Greubel Forsey, on the other hand, lacks a single individual behind it. Stephen Forsey is a vibrant public figure in watchmaking, Robert Greubel is almost invisible. The company essentially began as a two-man partnership but has since styled itself as a corporate entity – helpful for longevity but providing less appeal in the short term. Having the man, or men, whose name is on the dial of the watch actually deliver the watch is a wonderful experience.

And Greubel Forsey is selling  watches equipped with cutting edge tourbillon regulators – essentially technology. Invention Piece 1 sounds like a gadget, and so do Double Balancier 35° and Tourbillon 24 Secondes. While its watches are extraordinarily well made, they are marketed primarily as highly complex pieces of miniaturised mechanics, rather than vessels carrying a lost art into the future.

That’s exacerbated by the fact that tourbillons have become commonplace, becoming the dead golden goose. Having build its reputation on creating the very best tourbillon, Greubel Forsey has painted itself into a corner.

Ironically Philippe Dufour often speaks about the benefits of technology to produce better watches – not high-tech watches but low-tech watches made better with the aid of tech. He has revealed publicly on many occasions that he learnt computer aided-design to create the movement of his grande sonnerie wristwatch. What he does rail against is the use of high-tech shortcuts in movement finishing.

In some respects Greubel Forsey has refined Dufour’s approach even further, using technology to build impressively complex and imaginative movements, while still sticking to old fashioned hand finishing of the movement components.

So the market isn’t really a conundrum, but a complicated mix of factors that throw up surprising results.


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