Christie’s upcoming Important Watches sale in Hong Kong is typical of auctions in the city, with just over 300 lots covering every aspect of watches, from vintage to modern, and with something for every budget.
The sale includes the must-haves of vintage watches, including the Patek Philippe ref. 2526 – three double-signed examples in fact – and ref. 2499, as well as a Rolex ref. 8171 “Padellone”.
But the auction notably includes some unusual, rare and exotic modern complications, including a Jacob & Co. Astronomia, Parmigiani Westminster carillon minute repeater, and even a custom Roger Dubuis Excalibur with miniature zodiac animals.
Here’s a look at some choice picks from the sale. And for the rest of the watches, the full catalogue can be found here.
Lot 2282 – Rolex Milgauss ref. 6541 with smooth bezel
Reputedly designed engineered at Swiss nuclear research lab CERN, the very first Rolex Milgauss – mille is French for thousand, and gauss the unit of measurement for magnetic fields – was the ref. 6543 of 1954.
It was protected from magnetic fields by a Faraday cage around the movement, as well as a double-layer dial made of a crossed mesh that creates a “honeycomb” pattern. But it was soon joined by the ref. 6541, which added a thunderbolt seconds hand to the “honeycomb” dial to create what is arguably the signature Milgauss look.
This ref. 6541 is unusual in having a smooth, fixed bezel, instead of a rotating bezel, indicating it was produced for the US market. That’s confirmed by the American import stamp “ROW” on the balance cock.
Despite being over six decades old, the watch remains in good shape. Though the case shows signs of wear, it retains much of its original shape, including faded bevels along the edge of the lugs.
The dial is also well preserved, with the red “Milgauss” at 12 having faded slightly to a dark pink.
The Milgauss ref. 6541 has an estimate of HK$1.2-2.0m, or US$160,000-260,000.
Lot 2300 – Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2
Only two years old, the Greubel Forsey Art Piece 2 Edition 2 is like many of the brand’s timepieces, objet d’art for the wrist that contains impressive, highly technical watchmaking. But more so than its more conventional watches, the Art Piece series is avant-garde, with a greater emphasis on styling than time-telling.
While the first Art Piece incorporated a micro-sculpture behind a magnifier, the Art Piece 2 is a philosophical take on time. Most of the dial is dedicated to the oversized power reserve indicator running from “0” to “72”.
According to Greubel Forsey, the jumbo display “[alters] our relationship with temporality: it is not the current time that we contemplate, but the time remaining.”
The time is visible in a fan-shaped window located at four o’clock, but not always. While it is displayed in the image above, the time is usually hidden by a sliding shutter.
Instead, a pusher located at four needs to be depressed to open the shutter to reveal the time. Around the time display window is the relief engraved micro-text describing Greubel Forsey’s philosophy, a signature motif repeated across the brand’s watches.
Also prominent on the dial is Greubel Forsey’s signature Double Tourbillon 30° that is installed on all of the Art Pieces.
The double tourbillon rotates on two different axes, the first rotating once every 60 seconds and the outer cage rotating once every four minutes.
The case back reveals the movement finished in typical Greubel Forsey style, with a frosted three-quarter plate and jewels sitting in gold chatons. The plate features the signatures of the brand’s founders, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, in relief.
The watch does not have its original paperwork, but instead is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, archive extract, and most importantly, a certificate of service.
The service certificate is valid for six months after the date of acquisition and entitles the new owner to a complimentary servicing (of a retail value of up to 10,000 Swiss francs) at Greubel Forsey’s workshop.
Released at SIHH 2017, this example is going under the hammer for the first time and has an estimate of HK$1.6-3.0m, or US$210,000-380,000, compared to the original retail price of about US$580,000.
Lot 2305 – Parmigiani Fleurier Toric Westminster Minute Repeater Tourbillon GMT
This is an ultra-complication at a notably affordable price. It boasts a tourbillon, second time zone, as well as a minute repeating Westminster carillon, which means four sets of hammers and gongs that repeat the Westminster chime played by Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament in London. You can hear a recording of its striking here.
The watch has no dial, with the face being the base plate decorated with Geneva stripes on the front, along with the hammers and gongs of the repeater.
The one-minute tourbillon is visible at six, while the second-time-zone indicator is two o’clock. The bezel just beside it advances the GMT hand.
The back reveals the intricate snails and racks of the striking mechanism that swing into action once the slide is pulled.
The 42mm white gold case is decorated with double-step bezel featuring the signature alternating gadroons and knurling of the Toric collection. Designed by Michel Parmigiani himself for his first watch, the knurling is done by hand with a toothed wheel pressed against the gold bezel.
Because the case is large and thick, it dampens the chimes of the repeater somewhat, but the watch still produces a good sound.
The Parmigiani Fleurier Toric Westminster GMT has its original certificate and boxes, and is estimated at HK$800,000-1.6m, or US$110,000-210,000.
Lot 2398 – Jacob & Co Astronomia Sky
Jacob & Co is an American jeweller that produces larger-than-life timepieces with some impressive mechanics. The Astronomia range is its flagship complication, combining various complications on a rotating carousel.
An update to the original Astronomia Tourbillon, the Astronomia Sky was introduced in 2017, and like the earlier models built by complications specialist Ateliers7h38. It boasts a sidereal display, in addition to a triple axis tourbillon.
The sidereal display sits on the brilliant blue base of the dial. Covered with depictions of the constellations, this makes one full rotation a year, replicating the time it takes the Earth to make a revolution around the Sun.
At the highest point of the watch’s impressive movement is a lacquered titanium globe that functions as a day-night indicator, rotating once a day on its own axis. That sits on a larger carousel that rotates every 20 minutes.
The time and date indicator is attached to one of the carousel’s four arms, and incorporates a differential that keeps the dial aligned vertically, no matter its position on the face.
The satellite-shaped orbital seconds sits on another arm and rotates once every 60 seconds. This is balanced by counterweight on its opposing arm, taking the form of a 1-carat orange sapphire.
The final arm carries the triple axis tourbillon: one cage rotates once a minute, the other once every five minutes, and the last axis being the 20-minute rotation of the central carousel.
Worn very little, if at all, this example is numbered “15/18” and is complete with an undated certificate of authenticity as well as its boxes.
Originally retailing for US$672,000, this has an estimate of HK$1.9-3.5m, or US$250,000-450,000.
Lot 2415 – Roger Dubuis Excalibur Chinese Zodiac
The auction includes a small collection of contemporary Roger Dubuis watches, including a pair of custom-made Excalibur watches, both commissioned by the same Asian collector.
The first is a variant of the well known Knights of the Round Table, featuring miniatures figures from the Arthurian legend. The second is more unusual in design and material, and comes direct from the original owner who commissioned it from Roger Dubuis as part of a set.
It features miniatures of the 12 animal heads of the Chinese Zodiac, each rendered in 18k gold and modelled after the 12 bronze fountainheads of the legendary water clock found in the Old Summer Palace, Yuanming Yuan, in Beijing.
After the Old Summer Palace was sacked in 1860 during the Second Opium War, the heads were stolen, but in recent years seven have appeared at auction and some have sold for tens of millions of dollars.
Francois Pinault, the French tycoon who controls luxury conglomerate Kering (and also owns Christie’s), bought and then donated the rat and rabbit heads to the National Museum of China in 2013.
Several other elements of the dial are inspired by Chines history, such as the bricks on the chapter ring symbolising the Great Wall of China. And the green enamel motif in the centre of the dial is modelled on an engraving found on the balcony of the Old Summer Palace.
The centre of the watch is divided into 24 sections to represent the 24 solar terms of the historical Chinese calendar, created by farmers to monitor weather patterns for agricultural work.
This watch is one of a set of 12 watches, all featuring the same miniatures on the dial, but with a relief rotor engraved to form single Zodiac sign; this example has the rotor in the form of a dragon grasping the central axis in is claws.
The 12 characters engraved on the back correspond to the 12 Chinese hours (each Chinese hours is two standard hours) and were created by a calligraphy master and seal carver from the Chinese province of Wenzhou, also home to the owner of the watch.
While the standard Excalibur watches are in precious metal, this has a watch case in bronze, which was the material used for the animal heads of the water clock.
And unlike the ordinary Excalibur watch case that has the crown hidden underneath a hinged cap, this has a screw down crown and rubber strap, making the watch water-resistant and ideal for swimming, which will enhance the patina of the case.
Notably, this watch is being sold by the original owner, who still has the rest of the 12-piece set. According to Christie’s, he is so proud of his creation that he is selling one in order for the world to know about it.
The Excalibur Chinese Zodiac appears unused, and is accompanied with a guarantee dated 16 April 2019, along with all original paperwork and boxes. The watch is estimated at HK$1.8-3.5m, or US$240,000-450,000.
Lot 2431 – Vacheron Constantin 260th Anniversary Harmony Tourbillon Chronograph
In 2015, Vacheron Constantin celebrated its 260th anniversary and debuted the cushion-shaped Harmony collection, inspired by a chronograph the brand produced in the late 1920s.
While the flagship of the line-up was the Ultra-Thin Grande Complication – a split-seconds mono-pusher chronograph limited to 10 pieces – the Harmony Tourbillon Chronograph isn’t too far off in terms of desirability.
Limited to just 26 pieces, the watch stood out from the other Harmony watches, very much due to the tourbillon at 12 o’clock.
Even though the watch is a relatively large 42mm, the tourbillon is large and becomes the focal point of the dial. The Maltese cross-shaped carriage, as well as the rounded tourbillon bridge, are black-polished and wonderful to observe up close.
On the flip side, the tourbillon bridge on the back is gilded and hand-engraved in the fleurisanne-style with a motif inspired by an engraving on the balance cock of the oldest pocket watch Vacheron Constantin possesses, dating from 1755.
The cal. 3200 inside was a significant accomplishment when it premiered, being of the most complicated movements to date.
Though the chronograph mechanism, features a traditional column wheel and a horizontal clutch, it is equipped with a nickel-phosphorus wheel shaped like a Maltese cross and produced via LIGA that was designed to stop the stuttering occasionally experienced when a horizontal chronograph is activated.
The Vacheron Constantin Harmony Tourbillon Chronograph, numbered two of 26, has an estimate of HK$700,000-1.0m, or US$90,000-130,000.
Lots 2456 and 2457 – Patek Philippe ref. 2526 “Serpico y Laino”
The Patek Philippe ref. 2526 is a perennial favourite at auctions, thanks to its iconic status as the brand’s first automatic watch and also its gorgeous enamel dial.
Produced from 1953 to 1960, the ref. 2526 was powered by robust and refined cal. 12-600 AT, and was produced in several variations, with pink gold being one of the rarest, and black enamel dials even rarer.
In this auction, three different versions of the ref. 2526 are on offer, including one in pink gold and another with a black dial. And all three are double-signed with a retailer signature.
Lot 2455 is a yellow gold ref. 2526 signed by Swiss retailer Gübelin, while lots 2456 and 2457 are both signed “Serpico y Laino”, the Venezuelan jewellery store opened by Italians Leopoldo Serpico and Vicente Laino in 1925.
Lot 2456 is perhaps the only known Serpico y Laino-signed, black enamel ref. 2526 – with extract-confirmed luminous dial and hands no less – and is consequently expected to sell for the most amongst the three. But the excellent condition of Lot 2457, which is pink gold, should see it get close to its high estimate.
The first series, white enamel dial has no visible wear or damage and is clean all throughout. The “Serpico y Laino” signature is completely legible and in much better shape than that on the black dial of lot 2456.
The pink gold case is similarly well preserved, with slight oxidisation on the upper right lug and around the crown, which is the original “double P” type.
The case back is prominently signed “S.&L.” and “18K”, as is correct for such a watch. And the strong hallmark underneath one of the lugs further enhances the appeal of the case.
The Patek Philippe ref. 2526 in pink is accompanied by an extract from the archives confirming the production in 1954 and its sale in 1955. The watch has an estimate of HK$800,000-1.2m, or US$110,000-150,000.
Lot 2475 – Rolex ref. 3330 with “salmon” dial
While never as fashionable as Daytonas, “pre-Oyster” chronographs such as the ref. 3330 and its successor, the ref. 3335, have always been desirable for their historical important and the sizeable case diameters for the period.
This present example is a ref. 3330 from 1937, an antimagnetic chronograph in steel with a salmon-tone dial featuring tachymetric and telemetric scales, matched with blued steel hands.
At 37mm with a narrow bezel and wide dial, the watch looks slightly larger than it is, giving it a good size even for today’s tastes. The case style is typical of the period, with a flat bezel, rectangular pushers and a flat crown.
It’s helped by the striking patina on the dial, which has turned what was originally a pale copper into a dark, slightly uneven salmon. The patina is dark and spotted in the middle of the dial, and lighter towards the edges.
Both the dial and movement are marked “Fab. Suisse”, short for “fabrication en suisse”, French for “Swiss made”. That implies this was sold to a French-speaking country, perhaps France or one of its colonies.
The case of the watch appears sharp and largely original, with the edges of the bezel and lugs being notably well defined.
The Rolex ref. 3330 has an estimate of HK$800,000-1.6m, or US$110,000-210,000.
Lot 2484 – Universal Geneve Marina Militare rattrapante “A. Cairelli”
As far as 20th century military watches go, the oversized Universal Geneve split-seconds is one of the most coveted by collectors. Though rare, several have been sold in recent years for between US$80,000 to almost US$200,000.
Extra-large even by modern standard, the 45mm watch features a 24-hour dial signed by Italian retailer A. Cairelli, a watch distributor that supplied timepieces to the Italian military, including the famous Zenith Tipo CP-2 chronograph.
The Universal was made for the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI), the country’s air force, and issued to the navigators of anti-submarine aircraft. It was designed for navigation via position of the stars, hence the unique 16-minute register that allowed the wearer to calculate the hour angle off the watch without needing a calculation table.
Powering the watch is a Valjoux 55, the same movement found in the million-dollar Rolex ref. 4113.
This particular example is in stellar condition with the dial untouched and the blued hands virtually untarnished.
On the caseback, the engraving spells out the exact purpose of the watch as well as its military designation and stock code.
“AMI Cronometro per Navigaz. Astronom. Tipo HA-1. N.Categ. 19620 MM. 200021” translates as:
“Italian Air Force Chronograph for Astronomical Navigation Type HA-1 [referring to the rattrapante], category number 19620, matrix military 200021”
Notably, the “MM” number is only five digits away from the example that sold at Phillips in 2016 for a record 197,000 Swiss francs.
The watch is accompanied by an archive extract confirming that the watch was produced in the 1950’s and the dial is signed “A. Cairelli.”
It has an estimate of HK$800,000-1.2m, or US$110,000-150,000.
Lot 2487 – A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon “Homage to F.A. Lange”
In 2010, A. Lange & Söhne commemorated the 165th anniversary of its founder’s birth with a trio of commemorative watches in honey gold, a proprietary gold lighter in colour than yellow gold but harder and more scratch-resistant.
The Lange 1 Tourbillon “Homage to F.A. Lange” was the middle watch in the trio, alongside the Tourbograph Pour le Mérite and 1815 Moonphase. All three featured a distinctive guilloche dial, and damascened movements inspired by the decoration of 19th century pocket watches.
On the Lange 1 Tourbillon, the guilloche is less apparent on the smaller sub-dial for the time, giving it a less floral look than the other two models.
The tourbillon regulator at five o’clock is unique to this model, with a larger aperture than the other versions of the Lange 1 Tourbillon. Here the tourbillon is exposed in all its glory, and not partially obscured by the dial. And though the lower half of the date wheel sits over the tourbillon, it is made of clear sapphire, leaving the tourbillon fully visible.
Powering the watch is the hand-wound cal. L961.2. The three-quarter plate is decorated with a wave-like motif, with the cocks for the tourbillon are also in solid 18k honey gold and engraved in Lange’s traditional manner.
Though the watch is in excellent condition with some scuffing on the case, the hands have oxidised, particularly the hour hand.
The Lange 1 Tourbillon “Homage to F.A Lange” was limited to 150 pieces and the present piece is numbered 104/150. The watch is accompanied by a warranty dated May 12, 2014, along with the original boxes and booklets.
Because the Lange 1 Tourbillon is the least popular tourbillon made by Lange, it is usually strong value. And that holds in this case, with the watch estimated at HK$520,000-700,000, or US$67,000-90,000.
Lot 2506 – Patek Philippe Nautilus “Jumbo” ref. 3700/1
The original Patek Philippe Nautilus, the ref. 3700/1, was launched in 1976 and remained in production till 1980 before being replaced by the almost identical ref. 3700/11.
The key differences between the refs. 3700/1 and 3700/11 is the wider, 18mm bracelet on the former (compared with 16mm on the latter). The case and bracelet of the second generation “Jumbo” was also produced by Patek Philippe itself at its Ateliers Reunis subsidiary.
After the 37mm ref. 3800/1A was launched in 1981, the original generation of Nautili came to be known as the Nautilus “Jumbo”, the most desirable of the entire family.
This particular example was manufactured in 1978 and sold a year later, and according to Christie’s, has never been offered at auction before, fresh to the market in other words.
More crucially, the watch is accompanied by its original set of papers and the original cork box, a grail in itself. In fact, the box alone is worth more than the average, vintage Patek Philippe Calatrava.
The watch is in excellent condition with only minor wear. It retains the original bevels on its edges, while the bracelet is still tight. And the ribbed dial is clean, with all the markings intact.
This has an estimate of HK$400,000-800,000, or US$52,000-100,000, but the final result will surely blow past the high estimate with ease.
It’s worth noting at the preceding lot in the sale, lot 2505, is the steel and gold version of the ref. 3700/11. Although the two-tone model is the least desirable, this example is in incredible condition, essentially “new old stock”.
Preview and Auction
The preview exhibition takes place from May 24 to 26 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. It is open to the public daily, on Friday from 10.30am to 8.00pm and subsequently 10.30am to 6pm on the weekend.
The auction will be held at the same location on May 27 starting at 1pm. The full catalogue and bidding information can be found here.
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
No.1 Harbour Road
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