The Most Expensive Watch Ever – Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime in Steel for CHF31m

At Only Watch in Geneva.

The Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300A made for Only Watch 2019 has just made history by selling for 31m Swiss francs – selling to a new face at watch auctions – topping the 23m francs achieved by the Henry Graves Supercomplication and the 17m francs of Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman” Daytona.

Before the Grandmaster Chime sold for the record-setting sum, I wrote:

A major, outsized finish of 12m or 15m francs, or even more, is possible but only likely if an unexpected, deep-pocketed bidder buys the watch, or manages to push the winner further than expected.

I was way off the mark value-wise, but at least half right.

The bidding opened with room bids, first a 5m franc bid from gem dealer and auction veteran Claude Sfeir, followed by 10m francs from a prominent SE Asian collector.

But the action swiftly moved to phone bidders, all bidding via Christie’s representatives, including Stéphane Von Bueren of the watch department in Geneva.

It was a prolonged tussle – with bidding rising in 500,000 franc increments – between Mr Von Bueren’s client and another represented by Wei-Ting Jud of Christie’s London. Once bidding hit 17m francs, there was brief applause as the watch topped the record of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona.

At 22.5m francs, a new bidder jumped in, represented by Max Fawcett of Christie’s Geneva. From there it was Mr Fawcett against Ms Jud – and another round of applause when the watch surpassed the record set by the Graves Supercomplication – who was bidding with a reassuring conviction and powered to victory at 31m francs for paddle 9198.

Scenes from the sale. Photo – Alex Teuscher Photography

The winner was indeed unexpected, being an important Asian collector who is not a regular face in salerooms, although the underbidder is an auction regular.

In fact, the winner and his party were not even sitting in the VIP area at the front of the room, which might imply they were not expected to triumph. The VIP area, made up of the first few rows of seats, was indeed filled with auction regulars, as well as Thierry Stern and several Patek Philippe executives, who all looked pleased with the result.

The 31m Swiss francs raised by the Patek Philippe brought the total of Only Watch 2019 to 38.593m francs, making it the biggest watch auction ever.

A new chapter?

The result returns the crown of most expensive wristwatch ever sold to Patek Philippe, and will no doubt elevate the brand’s standing amongst collectors and enthusiasts, while also boosting desire for its complicated, as opposed to sports, watches.

Does it mark a paradigm shift in the auction market? Probably not, since the winner came, saw and conquered with quiet determination, but is not likely to return to set records for other Patek Philippe watches, particularly for the sort of watches that have traditionally set records at auctions, like the refs. 1518 or 2499, so the steel Grandmaster Chime will probably be “The Only One”.

Update November 10, 2019: Added names of the Christie’s representatives and bids prior to the winning bid.

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