Hands-On with Top Picks at Christie’s Hong Kong Watch Auction

From value-proposition high-comps to notable independents.

With the Geneva auction season still visible in the rearview mirror the Hong Kong spring auctions are already on the horizon. They take place at the end of May, with Christie’s offering over 300 lots.

As is typical of a Hong Kong auction, the sale is an opportunity to pick up great contemporary watchmaking at compelling prices. The catalogue overall is a mix of modern and vintage timepieces, but with a larger proportion of recent watches. It includes a strong offering of modern complications – like the Audemars Piguet Cabinet series – and independent watchmaking from Urwerk to a sapphire MB&F.

The auction happens on May 28 and the full catalogue is available here.

Lot 2290 – Ulysse Nardin Freak 1

A historically important watch in many ways, the Ulysse Nardin Freak was the first wristwatch with silicon movement components to hit the market, almost a generation ago, back in 2001.

Ulysse Nardin Freak 1 rose gold 2

Not only was it notable in technology, the movement construction – invented by Carole Forestier and then perfected by Ludwig Oechslin – is ingenious. The movement (regulator, wheel train and bridges) doubles up as the minute hand, while the giant mainspring takes up most of the space inside the case, giving it a weeklong power reserve.

Ulysse Nardin Freak 1 rose gold 3

This particular example of the Freak is perhaps the quintessential version, with a rose gold case that matches the gilt finish of the movement bridges. It is what collectors term a Freak “1.5”, having being a first generation Freak with an upgraded, and substantially more reliable, silicon escapement taken from the Freak 2.

Ulysse Nardin Freak 1 rose gold 1

Ulysse Nardin Freak 1 rose gold 4

Accompanied by the original packaging and a warranty dated 2003, the Freak has an estimate of HK$200,000 to HK$300,000, or US$26,000 to US$38,000.

Lot 2299 – Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Minute Repeater

A strong value proposition as far as minute repeating wristwatches are concerned, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Minute Repeater was one of the most interesting striking watches of its time.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Minute Repeater titanium 2

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Minute Repeater titanium 3

The base movement is hand-wound with a 15-day power reserve, and topped by a repeating module that’s visible through the sapphire dial. The gongs of the repeater are mounted on the sapphire crystal (and named Crystal Gongs by Jaeger-LeCoultre), which amplify the chimes.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Minute Repeater titanium 1

The sound is also helped by the lightweight titanium case, which is large 44mm in diameter. The result is a loud, strong and clear chime.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Minute Repeater titanium 4

This is complete with the original packaging, and was originally sold in 2011. The Master Minute Repeater is estimated at HK$280,000 to HK$400,000, or US$36,000 to US$51,000.

Lot 2305 – Vianney Halter Antiqua

One of the classics of modern independent watchmaking, the Antiqua is synonymous with the works of Vianney Halter, though its styling was largely the work of American designer Jeff Barnes.

Vianney Halter Antiqua white gold 1

This example is in 18k white gold, with matching white gold sub-dials. The case construction is a work of art, with dozens of hand-applied rivets on the case, bezel and even the crown.

Vianney Halter Antiqua white gold 2

Relative to its retail price the Antiqua is a value buy, in part because it has a reputation for being finicky to set, delicate and expensive to repair.

Vianney Halter Antiqua white gold 3

The watch includes its original winding box, an important accessory that’s often lost. The estimate is HK$240,000 to HK$300,000, or US$31,000 to US$38,000.

Lot 2307 – Urwerk UR-105M

One of the entry-level models in Urwerk’s line-up, the UR-105M tells the time via a wandering hours, with satellite discs indicating the hours travelling across the minute track.

Urwerk UR-105M steel 1

As is typical for Urwerk, various indicators are integrated into the case. Seconds are on the side, while the power reserve is on the “control panel” case back.

Urwerk UR-105M steel 3

Urwerk UR-105M steel 2

This model has a steel front plate, with a black-coated titanium back. It was a limited edition of 77 pieces.

Complete with boxes and a warranty dated 2016, the UR-105M has an estimate of HK$220,000 to HK$350,000, or US$29,000 to US$45,000.

Lot 2314 – MB&F HM2-SV

The HM2-SV, short for “Sapphire Vision”, was one of the first MB&F watches to feature a sapphire crystal case. Here it takes the form of a huge, oblong chunk of clear crystal screwed onto the front of the case that has a titanium back.

MB&F HM2 SV blue 3

MB&F HM2 SV blue 5

The movement is revealed on the front, and framed by a bright blue gasket that keeps moisture out of the case.

Hours and minutes are indicated on the right sub-dial, with the moon phase and date on the left.

MB&F HM2 SV blue 2

MB&F HM2 SV blue 1

Although it is almost a decade old, having been introduced in 2010, the HM2-SV remains of the most unusual and striking MB&F watches to date. And relative to today’s sapphire case wristwatches, it is a accessibly priced buy.

MB&F HM2 SV blue 4

The HM2-SV has an estimate of HK$200,000 to HK$400,000, or US$26,000 to US$51,000. And as is the case for most MB&F watches sold at international watch auctions, the brand will offer the buyer a free service and subsequent one-year warranty.

Lot 2405 – Richard Mille RM 30 Le Mans

A 2014 limited edition that marked Richard Mille’s sponsorship of that year’s Le Mans Classic vintage car rally, this RM 30 has a front and back case in white ceramic, with a titanium case band in between.

Richard Mille RM 30 Le Mans 1

Richard Mille RM 30 Le Mans 3

The movement inside (which is made by Vaucher but customise for Richard Mille) is self-winding with an unusual “declutchable” rotor that disconnects from the winding mechanism once the mainspring is fully wound. It was conceived to prevent overwinding.

Richard Mille RM 30 Le Mans 2

The estimate is HK$500,000 to HK$800,000, or US$65,000 to US$100,000, which might seem like a strong price for a time-only watch, but as Richard Mille timepieces go, this is a strong, entry-level buy given its unusual case material and large case size.

Lot 2433 – Audemars Piguet Tradition d’Excellence Cabinet No. 2

In 2000 Audemars Piguet announced the Tradition d’Excellence Cabinet, a series of five highly complicated watches that together would form a “cabinet” of top of the line complications.


All the watches shared platinum cases and tourbillon regulators, but had different additional complications. Each watch in the series was a spare-no-expense multi-complication, but they are now somewhat forgotten given the domination of the Royal Oak (which makes them good buys relative to their original retail prices).

The Cabinet No. 2 combines a tourbillon, minute repeater and perpetual calendar with oversized date. (And the Cabinet No. 1 watch is the preceding lot in the auction.)

20180504-Christies-watches_21-full 2

The case is a large 43mm in diameter, but filled up well with a relatively large movement.


Built by Renaud & Papi, Audemars Piguet’s complications subsidiary, the cal. 2869 is gorgeously finished. And the lettering around the rim of the case back is hand-engraved.

20180504-Christies-watches_22-full 2

Like most of the Cabinet series, the case is a round Jules Audemars, executed in a manner that’s reminiscent of vintage Audemars Piguet cases. The case flanks and lugs have a matte finish that’s brushed in a diverging, perpendicular direction, while the lugs have prominent hallmarks on their sides.


This is complete with the original packaging, including a monumental wood box decorated with marquetry and burl wood that locks with a tiny, tasselled key. The estimate is HK$700,000 to HK$1.20m or US$90,000 to US$150,000.

Lot 2442 – Patek Philippe ref. 5004R

The auction also has two generations of the Patek Philippe split-seconds chronograph with perpetual calendar. Appropriately enough, the earlier generation ref. 5004R comes first.

Patek Philippe 5004R and 5204P-1

Patek Philippe 5004R and 5204P-2

Produced for about 20 years starting in 2004, the ref. 5004 is typical Philippe Stern-era styling, with leaf-shaped hands, Arabic numerals and a railway minute track. This example produced in 1999 is one of the most appealing variants of the model with a rose gold case and black dial.

Patek Philippe 5004R black dial Christies 1

Like all Patek Philippe chronographs of the period, it’s powered by the Lemania-based CH 27 movement, which makes the watch slightly thick looking due to the compact 36.5mm case.

Nevertheless the Lemania-based chronographs are highly regarded by nostalgic collectors, but the ref. 5004 sells for the smallest premium relative to the original retail prices, making it arguably the least appreciated chronograph of that era.

Patek Philippe 5004R black dial Christies 2

Patek Philippe 5004R black dial Christies 3

This ref. 5004R is accompanied by its boxes and important spare, solid case back, as well as an archive extract (but not the original certificate). It’s estimated at HK$1.10m to HK$1.80m, or US$150,000 to US$230,000.

Lot 2496 – Patek Philippe ref. 5204P

The successor to the ref. 5004R was the ref. 5204P. It has the exact same combination of complications, but a more modern design as well as the in-house CHR 29 movement.

Patek Philippe 5204P Christies 1

The dial has luminous hands and hour markers, and an unusual upside down moon phase window.

Patek Philippe 5204P Christies 4

Because its 40mm platinum case is larger than that of the ref. 5004R, the ref. 5204P has slightly better proportions.

Patek Philippe 5204P Christies 3

The movement was designed to be robust, making it the most reliable split-seconds chronograph Patek Philippe has ever introduced.

Patek Philippe 5204P Christies 2

The ref. 5204P is complete with boxes, documents and a solid case back. Its estimate is HK$1.60m to HK$2.40m, or US$210,000 to US$310,000.

Auction and exhibition 

Selected lots will be on show in Bangkok on May 17 and 18, at the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel.

All the lots will be on display at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) in Wanchai from May 25 to 27. The exhibition is open to the public.

The sale starts at 12pm on May 28, at the sale room in the same venue. The full catalogue, as well as absentee bidding, can be found here.

This was brought to you by Christie’s.

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Hands-On with the Elevating Art of Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers

Hot air ballons in micro-artisanal craft.

At SIHH earlier this year, Vacheron Constantin added to the artistic diversity of its Métiers d’Art collection with Les Aérostiers, five whimsical yet intricate – and strikingly pretty – watches that take inspiration from the earliest days of aviation.

The advent of modern flight arguably began in 1783, when a sheep, a duck and a rooster became the first passengers to brave the air in a prototype balloon over Versailles, as King Louis XVI looked on.

Invented by the Montgolfier brothers, the balloon was attached to a cabin shaped like a gondola and managed to fly about two miles before it landed in the nearby woods with all three aeronauts unharmed. Balloon-mania subsequently swept across the European skies.

The Les Aérostiers are a nod to those pioneering hot air balloons of the 18th century. Each watch depicts a significant balloon, rendered in a variety of artisanal crafts from enamelling to engraving.

Vacheron Constantin Metiers d’Art Les Aerostiers Group

Photo credit Vacheron Constantin

The balloons on each watch are created using pounced ornament engraving, a combination of tracing to transfer images (called pouncing) and engraving. It involves transferring two-dimensional drawings onto the dial using an engraving technique known as drypoint, before removing background material in order to leave a bold, relief engraving.

Vacheron Constantin Metiers d’Art Les Aerostiers 4

Photo credit Vacheron Constantin

Because the balloons are rendered on such a small scale, the sharp-tipped engraving tools, known as burins, had to be sharpened repeatedly during the engraving to maintain the finest of points, creating the tiniest details on the human and animal figures, right down to fractions of a millimetre.

These balloons are set against a background of plique-à-jour enamel, a technique similar to stained glass.

Vacheron Constantin Metiers d’Art Les Aerostiers 6

Photo credit Vacheron Constantin

Transparent enamels are applied in cells, with the dial sitting on a temporary glass base to keep the liquid enamel in place. Once the enamel has been fired and solidifies, the base is removed to create the translucent dial.

Vacheron Constantin Metiers d’Art Les Aerostiers

Photo credit Vacheron Constantin

The translucency of the means the dial side of the cal. 2460 G4/1 is slightly visible, with the time, day and date shown in windows on each quadrant of the dial.

As miniature works of art, the enamel dial are also framed by a flange that is cast in rose gold and engraved to resemble balloon ropes.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Aérostiers 2

Each watch in the series depicts a pioneering balloon that took to the skies in France between the years 1783 and 1785, and is named after the location and year of the flight.

The Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers – Paris 1783 commemorates the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon flight on November 21 in 1783, which took place after the successful trial with farm animals.

Their balloon lifted off with human passengers, chemist Pilâtre de Rozier and Marquis François d’Arlandes, on board and landed successful. The balloon is depicted in micro-sculpted pink and white gold, and engraved with France’s royal emblems of the day.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Aérostiers 1

Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers – Paris 1783

The Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers – Paris 1784 commemorates the fascinating craft that was developed by inventor Jean-Pierre Blanchard.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Aérostiers 3

His craft was comprised of a carriage suspended from a balloon. But the ambitious aviator had also attached wings to his carriage in hopes that it would propel the balloon through the air. It didn’t work, though the balloon landed safely and Mr Blanchard went on to a successful career as a balloonist.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Aérostiers 4

Mr Blanchard’s winged balloon

The other watches in the series are Versailles 1783Bordeaux 1784, and Bagnols 1785.

Notably, the Les Aérostiers watches feature a brand new case style for Vacheron Constantin, being used here for the first time.

Moderately sized and elegant on the wrist, the cases are 40mm and 18k white gold, with a design that harks back to complicated watch cases of the 1980s and 1990s, featuring narrow lugs topped with screws.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Aérostiers 6

Conceived specifically for Métiers d’Art watches, the self-winding and in-house cal. 2460 G4/1 inside displays the hours, minutes, day and date on four discs.

The indications shown in four apertures at the edges of the dial, freeing up the centre for artistic decoration. As with all Vacheron Constantin mechanical movements, the cal. 2460 bears the Geneva Seal.

Vacheron Constantin Metiers d’Art Les Aerostiers 2460g4-b245

The dial side of the cal. 2460. Credit Vacheron Constantin

Price and Availability 

Limited to five pieces each, the Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers is priced at US$135,000.


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