Highlights: Phillips ‘Refresh:Reload’ Online-Only Auction

Watches, with art and jewels.

Phillips’ first-ever online watch auction, Refresh:Reload is a cross-category affair, encompassing watches, jewellery, and contemporary art.

The week-long sale includes over 50 watches, ranging from the usual suspects like Royal Oak, Nautilus, and Submariner, but also a selection of more interesting, unconventional watches, like a De Bethune DB12 chronograph with oversized date and month, and an extra-thin, skeletonised Seiko Credor.

Here are a couple of highlights from the sale, which is online from now till 6 pm (GMT+8) on May 28. The entire catalogue is available here.

Lot 5 – Bronze Hourglass by Daniel Arsham

One of the earliest lots in the auction is a sculpture with a horological element. The Bronze Hourglass was an edition of 100 examples commissioned by watch retailer The Hour Glass to mark its 40th anniversary in 2019.

It’s the work of Daniel Arsham, one of today’s hottest contemporary artists. Mr Arsham is best known for his “eroded” works, objects made to appear heavily aged. Some of his work sits the crossroads between art and luxury goods – he’s applied his unique aesthetic to Rimowa luggage, Dior bags, and also a Porsche 911.

The Bronze Hourglass has an estimate of HK$35,000-45,000, or about US$4,500-6,000.

Lot 92 – Seiko Credor 40th Anniversary Signo Cherry Blossoms

A limited edition made to mark the 40th anniversary of Seiko’s Credor collection, the Signo Cherry Blossoms encapsulates the key specialties of mechanical watchmaking at Seiko’s Shizukuishi Watch Studio (as opposed to the Spring Drive movements made by the Micro Artist Studio in another facility).

The Signo Cherry Blossoms is powered by the cal. 6899A, an ultra-thin, hand-wound movement that is just 1.98 mm high, less than the height of a 500-yen coin. It’s been skeletonised and then engraved by hand with a Japanese-inspired motif rendered in great detail.

The base plate, which forms the dial of the watch, is engraved with a stream carrying floating cherry blossoms, each made of a tiny piece of mother of pearl inlaid on the plate. Continuing the theme, mother of pearl panels are inlaid onto the chapter ring around the dial.

The case is platinum and 35 mm in diameter, which is slightly small by contemporary standards but ideal for a formal dress watch.

The watch is accompanied by its original box and papers. With its original retail price about US$27,000 in 2014, the Signo Cherry Blossoms offers strong value given the horological content. In fact, this very watch sold for HK$162,500 at Phillips in May 2019. Now it has a modest estimate of just HK$50,000-80,000, or about US$6,500-10,000.

Lot 106 – Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde with cocobolo wood dial

Though Jaquet Droz now offers a confusingly wide variety of Grande Seconde models, its earliest watches were mostly time-only but equipped with dials made of exotic and beautiful materials. Most were either stone or enamel (including the signature Paillonnee dials made by Anita Porchet), making this Grande Seconde fairly unusual.

Limited to eight pieces, this has a dial of cocobolo wood, a hard and heavy wood from Central America that has a pronounced, reddish-brown grain.

The case is the standard Jaquet Droz style, which is a large 43 mm but elegantly shaped, with bowl-shaped sides that given it a slimmer profile. And the movement is a Frederic Piguet calibre with an 22k white gold rotor.

The Grande Seconde includes all the boxes and papers, and has an estimate of HK$30,000-50,000, or US$4,000-6,500, but it has no reserve, so it could end up being a very, very good deal.

Lot 122 – Ikepod Horizon by KAWS

When Ikepod – maker of wristwatches designed by Marc Newson – was revived for the second time in 2008, its back was Adam Lindemann, a noted contemporary art collector and dealer. Consequently, Ikepod collaborated with Jeffs Koons in 2009 and then KAWS in 2012, who each designed a version of the Horizon wristwatch.

A sleek round case with no lugs, the Horizon is very much typical of Mr Newson’s industrial design aesthetic, which also shaped the look of the Apple Watch (and its distinctive strap that’s also found on the Horizon). Ordinarily fitted with a dimpled dial that gives it a resemblance to a golfball, the Horizon was reimagined by KAWS, who applied his signature elements of “circle teeth” and “x-ed out eyes” to the dial, giving it a style completely distinct from the other Horizon models.

The case is brushed titanium with a black coating, while the movement is an ETA 2892 automatic. The Horizon KAWS is complete with box and papers, and carries an estimate of HK$100,000-150,000, or about US$12,800-19,200, which is a lot for an Ikepod but notably affordable for a KAWS given the record-setting run of his works at auctions in recent years.

Lot 127 – Zenith El Primero G381 in 18k yellow gold

When Zenith unveiled the El Primero in 1969, it presented the movement in two references equipped with the now-famous round case with pointed lugs, the better-known A386 in steel with tri-colour sub-dials, and the less common G381 in 18k yellow gold with a “panda” dial.

This example of the G381 is one of the earliest made – according to the archive extract it was delivered in April 1969, the same month as the Basel watch fair.

And the watch is in sharp condition, showing what appears to be the original surfaces and edges of the case – including the bevel on the outer edge of the lugs – as well as the deeply-stamped hallmarks on the back of the lugs. More unusually, this example has a “tropical” minute track that’s faded to a medium brown.

The estimate is HK$65,000-140,000, or about US$8,000-18,000.

[Full disclosure: I own this watch and consigned it to Phillips in order to make way for a pair of similar El Primero watches that have personal significance for me, both of which may be featured here soon.]

Lot 132 – De Bethune DB12 chronograph with oversized date and month

Though now best known for its avant-garde watches, De Bethune made its debut in 2002 with classically-styled watches inspired by 19th century horology, such was the varied and fine taste of its cofounder, David Zanetta.

This DB12 is one of those early watches, but with an unusual combination of complications – a chronograph along with an extra-large date and month. like many other De Bethune watches of the period, it is powered by a vintage movement, a Venus cal. 175. Dating from the 1960s, the Venus 175 was modified to feature the big date, as well as decorated extensively, resulting in the attractive view through the display back.

The white gold case is 42 mm in diameter, with short lugs tipped with a cone that have become the brand’s trademark.

The DB12 has its original boxes and papers, and an estimate of HK$95,000-HK$155,000, or about US$12,000-20,000.

Lot 138 – Blancpain Air Command limited edition

Launched only last year, the Air Command limited edition was a well-received  remake of a rare, 1950s Blancpain pilot’s chronograph.

Though larger than the original, the Air Command is faithful to the original in design and details, but upgraded with modern materials. So instead of an aluminium bezel insert, the Air Command has a scratch-resistant ceramic insert. And its domed crystal is sapphire, instead of Plexiglas.

More importantly, the movement inside is the accomplished cal. F388B movement. It’s a notably large, 31.8 mm movement with all the features of a modern, high-end chronograph, namely a column wheel and vertical clutch. The version of the movement in the Air Command is fitted with a propellor-shaped rotor made of 18k white and pink gold.

Nerds will appreciate it is also equipped with a free-sprung balance wheel made of titanium with gold regulating weights, which oscillates at high frequency – 5 Hz, or 36,000 beats per hour.

The Air Command is like new, and includes packaging and accessories. The estimate is HK$150,000-200,000, about US$20,000-25,000.

Lot 182 – Breitling AVI Ref. 765

Breitling just unveiled the remake of the AVI ref. 765 three months ago – this is a vintage original. Introduced in 1953, the AVI was a pilot’s chronograph with a style typical for the era, but oversized at 41 mm in diameter, making it a largish watch even by today’s standards.

Like many Breitling chronographs of the period, including the more famous Navitimer, the AVI was powered by the Venus cal. 178, a hand-wound movement.

From the photos, the watch looks like a well-preserved example that shows consistent wear and tear. The radium on the dial has aged to a dark brown, while the black lacquer filling of the bezel engraving has worn off.

The AVI ref. 765 has an estimate of HK$80,000-130,000, or about US$10,000-17,000.

Auction information

Refresh:Reload starts at 12 am (GMT+8) on May 20, and closes at 6 pm (GMT+8) on May 28.

All lots are available for viewing at Phillips’ gallery in Hong Kong at St. George’s Building in Central, but only by appointment. The full catalogue and online bidding are available on Phillips.com.

This was brought to you in collaboration with Phillips.

Update May 20, 2020: Lot 122 added.

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Seiko Introduces the Prospex Street Series “Urban Safari”

Affordable safari style.

Released in 2018, the Seiko Prospex Street Series is essentially a modern twist on the iconic Seiko “Tuna” dive watch, retaining the signature case design of the “Tuna”, but with the addition of more colours as well as affordable pricing. With colours inspired by an African safari, the new Prospex Street Series “Urban Safari” is a four-strong collection made up of two basic models, each inspired by famous historical models with nicknames – the automatic “Tuna” and analogue-digital “Arnie” .

Initial thoughts

Strong, monochromatic colours give the watches an eye-catching and sporty look. Add to that the matching silicone straps and the result is something that goes well with streetwear, fulfilling the purpose of the collection.

The khaki versions are very much safari in theme, but the others are more reminiscent of the concrete jungle. But regardless of model, the fundamentals of the watch are very much Seiko’s strength – casual, sporty design and very accessible pricing.

“Tuna” and “Arnie”

Historically a feature found on Seiko’s top-of-the-line dive watches, the shrouded case features prominently in Seiko’s current line-up collection, with the most recent addition being the historical remake of the ref. 6159-7010 of 1975 that’s part of the Diver’s Watch 55th Anniversary Trilogy.

The “Tuna” inspiration of the Urban Safari is immediately evident from the protective shroud around the case, giving the watch a resemblance to a tuna can. Though the Urban Safari cases resemble the “Tuna”, they are noticeably scaled down and simplified to cater for everyday wear and no doubt also a lower price.

The “Tuna” remake in the 55th Anniversary Trilogy

A more lively version of the vintage “Tuna” diver, the Urban Safari automatics are definitely the more traditional ones of the two, with a four o’clock crown like most Seiko dive watches.

The Urban Safari automatic is rated to 200 m, and measures 43.22 mm in diameter and 12.67 mm in height, giving it a compact tuna-can profile.

The solar-powered Urban Safari on the other hand, is based on the “Arnie”, the ref. H558-5009 from 1982. Characterised by a “Tuna” case as well as a hybrid “ana-digi” display, the watch famously worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in many of his films of the period, including Predator and Running Man.

Because the Urban Safari “Arnie” is also an electronic multi-function watch, it has two additional pushers located on the left side of the case for the additional functions, which include a chronograph, a built-in calendar, alarm and stopwatch. The Urban Safari “Arnie” is far larger than the automatic, however, clocking in at 47.8 mm wide and 14.43 mm tall.

Key facts and price

Prospex Street Series “Urban Safari” automatic
Ref. SRPE29K1 (Khaki)
Ref. SRPE31K1 (Light grey)

Diameter: 43.22 mm
Height: 12.67 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Crystal: Hardlex
Water-resistance: 200 m

Movement: Cal. 4R36
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, day and date
Winding: Self-winding
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Power reserve: 41 hours

Strap: Silicone

Availability: Scheduled for end May worldwide (not unavailable in the USA)
Price: €580

Prospex Street Series “Urban Safari” solar-powered
Ref. SNJ029P1 (Khaki)
Ref. SNJ031P1 (Dark green)

Diameter: 47.8 mm
Height: 14.43 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Crystal: Hardlex
Water-resistance: 200 m

Movement: Cal. H851
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, and LED display with full-auto calendar, chronograph, alarm
Winding: Solar-powered

Strap: Silicone

Availability: Scheduled for end May worldwide
Price: €530; or US$550

For more information, visit Seikowatches.com.


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Business News: Richemont Fortifies Balance Sheet with €2 Billion Bond Sale

A pandemic buffer.

Having just announced its full-year results while predicting a gloomy outlook for the business, Richemont has successful placed €2 billion of bonds, with coupon ranging from 0.75% for the 8-year note to 1.625% for the 20-year note. The bond placement boosts the Swiss luxury group’s robust balance sheet, which had a gross cash position of €6.34 billion and a net cash position of €2.40 billion at the end of March 31, 2020.

The notes received an A+ rating from credit ratings agency S&P, which also lowered its outlook for Richemont from stable to negative, “citing the possibility of a downgrade if the coronavirus pandemic causes the company’s credit metrics to worsen”.

Widely regarded as a savvy investor who transformed his family’s tobaccco-and-banking empire into an even larger one focused the “hard” luxury of watches and jewellery, Mr Rupert’s belief in the severity of the pandemic-induced recession is obvious. That, in turn, does not bode well for the luxury watch business. Richemont’s biggest earner is Cartier – the jewellery division is half the group’s turnover – it also owns a host of luxury watch brands, including A. Lange & Söhne, IWC, and Panerai, which make up about 20% of its sales.

During Richemont’s earning conference call on May 15, Mr Rupert explained the bond issue: “We have always believed in protecting our balance sheet… For years, a lot of investment banks questioned us about that it’s a lazy balance sheet. But having been through this in ’87 and in ’99, 2000 and in 2008… it’s just being in the position… where we’re in charge of our own destiny… we are in a secure cash position to ride out even if this COVID-19 tragedy extends for longer than we hope.”


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A Tribute to Peter Baumberger of Urban Jürgensen & Sønner

A friend and watchmaker.

Peter Baumberger (Koppingen, 1939 – Biel, 2010)

Ten years ago, Peter Baumberger died in Biel. On the occasion of this anniversary, I would like to pay a brief tribute to the one who was a dear friend and an extraordinary character – pictured above with his favourite oval tourbillon pocket watch and wearing a Ref. 3 wristwatch – whose ideas and personality marked the Swiss watch industry after the Quartz Crisis.

I first met Peter in November 1975, during a sale organised by Peter Ineichen auctioneers in Zürich. He was with the famous Derek Pratt. At that time, Peter was one of the world’s leading dealers in antique watches. His charming and authentic nature immediately fascinated me – this is how our friendship started, a friendship that lasted until the end of his life.

The name of Peter Baumberger will remain forever in Swiss watchmaking history thanks to his rescue and his revival of the historic brand Urban Jürgensen at Le Locle, which he acquired in the late 1970s. Undeniably, Peter played a pioneering role in the renaissance of the high-quality Swiss mechanical watch, long before others. As a trained watchmaker, he combined cutting-edge technical skills with a very distinct aesthetic sensitivity, as well as with an intimate knowledge of the works of the old masters; the remarkable confluence of these aspects is therefore the basis of his creative work.

Peter put all his strength and his spirit at the disposal of Urban Jürgensen to give a new spark to the brand. From then on, the masterpieces produced under his direction bear witness to the quest for uncompromising perfection and the love for detail that characterised it. The automatic wristwatches with perpetual calendar, Reference 2 and Reference 3, represent the admirable result of this philosophy, while the oval pocket watch, “Hommage” reference no. 1, is today considered an icon of traditional mechanical watchmaking from the end of the 20th century, both aesthetically and technically.

The Urban Jurgensen oval tourbillon pocket watch. Photo – Urban Jürgensen

As a final point, his research into the development of a proprietary Urban Jürgensen calibre with a traditional detent escapement – a real first for a wristwatch – was the apotheosis of Peter’s visionary spirit. This work was notably carried out with Derek Pratt.

The achievement of Peter’s projects and the respect of his very high standards of quality would not have been possible without the genius and the know-how of the English watchmaker, with whom Peter maintained professional and friendly ties since the early 1970s. Originally, the master clockmaker had restored a few rare historic watches for Peter, such as the Vacheron Constantin pocket watch offered to King Fouad I of Egypt in 1929.

The Urban Jurgensen Ref. 11C with detent escapement. Photo – Helmut Crott

Peter also worked as a forerunner by discovering other personalities whose names are currently unavoidable in the watchmaking world: think of Kari Voutilainen or Jean-François Mojon. Irrefutably, he had a particular gift for recognising and promoting exceptional talents, which he then put at the service of his brand.

Peter looked in vain for a worthy successor to replace him at the head of his beloved brand. His family found him dead on May 18, 2010, at the age of 71 in his workshop in Biel. His face had a peaceful expression and Peter held a watch magazine in his hands, leaving us a legacy of his eternal passion for watchmaking.

A medical doctor by training whose love for timepieces compelled him to switch careers, Dr Helmut Crott is a storied name in the world of vintage watches and international auctions. He established Dr. Crott Auctioneers in 1975 and sold the business in 1993 to become a specialist in vintage Patek Philippe watches. Dr Crott acquired Urban Jürgensen & Sønner (UJS) in 2011 upon the passing of Peter Baumberger.


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Louis Erard Introduces the Excellence Regulator with Smoked Dials

Handsome and affordable.

Regulators are all about their characteristic dial where the hour, minute and seconds hands are each located on separate axes – with the minute hand being the largest and longest – a layout originally designed for maximum legibility on clock faces in the mid-18th century. The Louis Erard Excellence Regulator revisits this classical design, but now with a fashionable smoked dial – and an eminently affordable price tag.

Initial thoughts

Regulator watches are simple, but are not common at this price point – the Excellence Regulator costs just 2490 Swiss francs, or about US$2600. Louis Erard, however, has made something of a specialty of affordable regulator watches, most notably with the whimsical Alain Silberstein Regulator launched last year that was styled by the eponymous watch designer for Louis Erard.

The value proposition is good, though the dials are definitely reminiscent the fumé dials of H. Moser & Cie, which didn’t invent such graduated-colour dials, but have made them almost synonymous with the brand. Based on the photos, the graduated finish of the Excellence Regulator dials are not quite as not as complex or refined as that on Moser’s watches – understandable and acceptable given the substantively lower price.

Smoked dials

While the regulator layout is unusual, the smoked dials are the highlight. Offered in vibrant and saturated hues of grey, blue or green, the colour gradually tapers off in intensity, turning almost black towards the edges where it meets a grey minute track.

The regulator display of the watch has the hours at 12 o’clock and the seconds at six – the typical layout for a regulator wristwatch (clocks usually invert the two). Compared to the Alain Silberstein Regulator that was more playful, the new models are more classical, having formal Roman numerals and lance-shaped hands. 

Because the face is essentially all about the smoked finish, the rest of the dial is simple, but smartly done. I love the use of Roman and Arabic numerals on each sub-dial to distinguish the different indications. There’s also a power reserve at nine o’clock, but it feels bit redundant as the movement will run 42 hours on full wind, which is the industry norm. Nevertheless, the power reserve indicator does help with dial symmetry as it acts as a visual counterweight to the branding at three o’clock.

Though the dial finish is new, the watch has the same case as the brand’s other regulator models, which means comfortable diameter of 40 mm in diameter and a slim 9 mm in height – dimensions that wear well.

The key reason for the thinness – and affordability – is the movement. Instead of using an in-house calibre, Louis Erard instead relies on the cost-efficient solution of a workhorse ETA Peseux 7001 as the base movement, which is combined with its own proprietary modifications to create the regulator-style display. 

Key Facts and Price

Louis Erard Excellence Regulator with Smoked Dials
Ref. 54230AG52.BDC02 (Grey)
Ref. 54230AG55.BDC02 (Blue)
Ref. 54230AG59.BDC02 (Green)

Diameter: 40 mm
Height: 9 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 50 m

Movement: ETA Peseux 7001 with Louis Erard RE9 regulator display
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, and power reserve
Winding: Manual wind
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Power reserve: 42 hours

Strap: Calf leather

Availability: Available now
: 2490 Swiss francs

For more information, visit Louiserard.com.


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