Highlights: Artisanal Timepieces at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Fall Auction

Enamels by Anita Porchet and Hélène May-Mercier, and more.

After delving into the notable complications in Sotheby’s upcoming Hong Kong auction on October 7, we shift our focus to the timepieces exhibiting a distinct artisanal touch, spanning the encyclopaedia of decorative techniques from cloisonné enamelling to wood marquetry.

Several are exquisite examples of enamel crafted by the renowned artisans Anita Porchet and her eponymous workshop, along with a pocket watch with a miniature enamel made by Hélène May-Mercier for Patek Philippe. Another highlight is the commemorative Vacheron Constantin Mercator created to mark the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 that was the work of a Belgium husband-and-wife enamel workshop.

Important Watches I takes place on October 7, 2023. Registration for bidding and the catalogue can be accessed here

Lot 2209: Vacheron Constantin Mercator “Hong Kong Handover 1997” 

The transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China was a significant historical event that brought an end to 156 years of colonial rule in the territory and marked the conclusion of the British Empire. To mark the handover, Vacheron Constantin created a special iteration of the Mercator.

One of the brand’s best known models at the time, the Mercator set itself apart with a unique double retrograde display for the hours and minutes, with the top-of-the-line models having cloisonné enamel dials.

While the initial Mercator editions portrayed entire continents or regions, this version showcases a detailed map of Hong Kong and the wider Pearl River Delta. The dial also possesses an additional charm thanks to a Chinese junk sailing across the seas, reminiscent of the caravels and galleons often found on antique European maps.

Like all enamel Mercators, the dial is signed “J. & L. Genbrugge”, short for Jean and Lucie Genbrugge, the enamellers based in Belgium who helped conceive the Mercator and later supplied all of the enamel dials for the model.

This example is housed in an 18k pink gold case measuring 36 mm in diameter and powered by the ultra-thin automatic cal. 1120/2 that was derived from a Jaeger-LeCoultre ebauche.

Numbered “3/30” on the case side, it is offered on its own without any accessories. It carries an estimate of HK$240,000-320,000, or about US$30,710-41,000. Find out more in the catalogue.

Lot 2269: Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts ref. 5077P “Papillon”

Our roundup of artisanal timepieces would be incomplete without the renowned enameller Anita Porchet. She has completed fantastic examples of the craft for brands ranging from Vacheron Constantin to Louis Vuitton. Ms Porchet is celebrated for her meticulous creations in miniature enamel and cloisonné, ranging from various flora and fauna to whimsical representations of space.

Crafted for Patek Philippe’s 2009 Rare Handcrafts collection, this ref. 5077P “Papillon” has a cloisonné dial portraying a butterfly in vivid tones, including reds, oranges, pinks, and blues, giving the impression of the creature fluttering through the air while sipping nectar from a flower.

Most notable is the signature “A. Porchet” on the dial at eight o’clock, indicating that Ms Porchet herself made the dial. This contrast with the “A.P.” signature that indicates a dial that was completed by her workshop.

The  ref. 5077P “Papillon” features a standard 38 mm Calatrava case in platinum, while the movement is the automatic cal. 240 visible through the screw-down sapphire case back. 

This particular example is offered as a complete set and carries an estimate of HK$750,000-1.2 million, or about US$96,000-154,000. Full lot details here.

Lot 2271: Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts ref. 5089G “Transatlantic” 

With their varied themes, Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts timepieces exhibit diverse charm. An example of that diversity is the Calatrava Rare Handcrafts ref. 5089G “Transatlantic” that depicts an ocean liner steaming away from an stylised Art Deco skyline.

The ref. 5089G “Transatlantic” features a magnificent dial meticulously crafted in cloisonné enamel, drawing inspiration from the passenger liners that were the default means of international travel until the early 20th century. The dial portrays the liner’s arrival in New York City with the iconic Manhattan skyline in the background, capturing a cinematic atmosphere as the vessel steams into the harbour.

The dial is marked “Email”, French for “enamel”, but not signed by the artist, an honour Patek Philippe granted only to the most famous enamellers like Anita Porchet.

Like most time-only Rare Handcrafts wristwatches, the “Transatlantic” is housed in standard Calatrava case with a diameter of 38.5 mm. It is driven by the cal. 240 that can be seen through a hinged case back.

This particular example is offered with its original box and papers along with the certificate of origin. It carries an estimate of HK$650,000-1.0 million, or about US$83,100-127,900. Find out more in the catalogue

Lot 2273: Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts ref. 5089G “Henri Rosseau” 

Here we have another example of the craftsmanship of Anita Porchet, but this time by her workshop. This is an interpretation of the artwork by the French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau (1814-1910). This watch was part of a series titled Le Douanier Rousseau that was made in 2017 to pay tribute to the late French painter.

The series comprised four models, each featuring a specific animal depicting in his paintings: owl (the one presented here), lion, leopard, and bird. All of these animals were modelled on specific Rousseau paintings, specifically The Dream, which currently hangs in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and was the inspiration for the lion and bird dials; The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope on show at Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland, which depicts the owl and leopard.

Crafted in cloisonné enamel, the dial depicts the owl in a striking manner and vivid colours, with the dial composed by greens and reddish-orange. The owl fixes its gaze upon the wearer while perched upon a tree branch.

In contrast to the ref. 5077P “Papillon” above, this dial bears the signature “A.P.”, indicating it was completed by Ms Porchet’s workshop.

Like the preceding Rare Handcraft watches, the ref. 5089G “Henri Rousseau” is housed in an 18k white gold case containing the cal. 240.

This particular example is offered with its presentation box, certificate and instruction manual. It carries an estimate of HK$750,000-1.2 million, or about US$96,000-154,000. For more, view the catalogue entry

Lot 2275: Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts ref. 5089G “Steam Locomotive”

Dating to 2018, this ref. 5089G-076 was part of the Steam Locomotive series of three watches dedicated to vintage trains, with the other references being refs. 5089G-75 and 74. The dial is executed in dark colours, evoking the train at dusk. But because it is in cloisonné, the gold wires that form the outlines of the motif catch the light and add brightness to the dial.

Like the ref. 5089G “Transatlantic” above, this bears only “Email” on the dial and no artist signature, which should make it more affordable than the artist-signed Rare Handcraft Calatravas.

This particular example is offered as a complete set and carries an estimate of HK$650,000-1.0 million, or about US$83,100-127,900. Find out more in the catalogue.

Lot 2282: Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts ref. 5089G “Lake Geneva” 

Introduced in 2014 to as part of the Patek Philippe 175th anniversary commemorative editions, this watch took inspiration from a vintage postcard featuring a picturesque view of Lake Geneva with a barque sailing across Geneva harbour with the famous Jet d’Eau fountain in the background. Scenes such as this that depict the city and its surroundings were recurring themes in the Patek Philippe Rare Handcraft collection for decades, reflecting the tastes of the company’s leadership.

The Lake Geneva series was made up of four watches, the refs. 5089G-17, -18, -19 and -20, with this being a ref. 5089G-20. All featured wood marquetry dials comprised of up to 166 tiny pieces of wood composed of 15 to 30 different types of wood. Each piece of wood was meticulously cut to shape and then glued on to the solid gold dial base.

The hinged back bears the commemorative engraving unique to the 175th anniversary editions. The present lot is offered as a watch only and carries an estimate of HK$650,000-800,000, or about US$83,100-102,300. Full lot details here.

Lot 2301: Patek Philippe ref. 866/73 “Bacchus and Venus” by Hélène May-Mercier 

Hélène May-Mercier (1910-1996), an accomplished enamellist, was the protege of Carlo Poluzzi (1899-1978), an artisan renowned for some of the most exquisite Geneva miniature enamel works of the 20th century. The late May-Mercier created only about 20 examples of miniature enamel for Patek Philippe from the 1970s to the 1990s. Some regard Anita Porchet as being the modern-day successor of Poluzzi, May-Mercier, and also the now-retired Suzanne Rohr. 

The miniature enamelling by May-Mercier on this 1976 pocket watch captures in incredible detail Bacchus and Venus, the 1726 painting by the French Rococo painter Noël-Nicolas Coypel. It depicts Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, having an affair with the goddess of love, Venus.

The unique yellow gold open face keyless watch has a diameter of 47 mm and is offered as a full set. It carries an estimate of HK$1.8-3.6 million, or about US$230,200-460,400.

Find out more in the catalogue.

Preview and auction details

All lots will be on show during the preview exhibition in the run-up to the auction. Both the auction and preview will take place at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery located in Admiralty.

Open daily October 2-6 from 10:00 am-6:00 pm

October 7, 10:00 am

All times are local to Hong Kong, GMT+8.

Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery
5/F, One Pacific Place
88 Queensway, Admiralty
Hong Kong

For the full catalogue, as well as viewing appointments and online bidding, visit Sothebys.com.

This was brought to you in collaboration with Sotheby’s.

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IWC Revives the Big Pilot’s Watch Markus Bühler with a Tourbillon

The "turbine" pilot's watch with upgrades.

One of the least known but perhaps most interesting iterations of IWC’s trademark oversized pilot’s watch is making a comeback, but with an upgraded movement and precious metal case. The Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Markus Bühler retains the key elements of its namesake 2008 original, but with a self-winding tourbillon movement inside a platinum case. The tourbillon is flying, while its cage takes the form of a turbine blade.

A simple concept that played to the Big Pilot’s historical roots, the original model was conceived by a young Markus Bühler as part of a contest for IWC apprentices, but appealing enough that IWC made a dozen as a limited edition. Mr Bühler naturally won the contest and now oversees the entire assembly process at Manufakturzentrum, the IWC facility where both production of parts and assembly of in-house movements is done. Powered by the in-house cal. 82905, the Tourbillon Markus Bühler will naturally be put together at the Manufakturzentrum.

Markus Bühler, now the Associate Director of Watch & Movement Assembly at Manufakturzentrum

Initial thoughts

The original Markus Bühler was interesting and appealing because it captured the spirit of a pilot’s watch in a novel manner while still retaining the functional aesthetics expected of such a watch. The turbine seconds was a simple modification that worked perfectly, both visually and conceptually.

Now the idea has been brought back, but in a fancier package. The new Markus Bühler still makes sense – the turbine tourbillon is appealing and also functional as a regulator – but it is unsurprisingly expensive. At the same time, the upgrades to the watch mean some of the no-frills functionality of the original has been lost, which is not unexpected since the IWC pilot’s watch is a functional luxury watch rather than an actual instrument.

Also worth noting is the reduced case size. At 43 mm the Markus Bühler Tourbillon will definitely be more wearable than the 46 mm original, despite the hefty platinum case, but it might lack the presence of the original, which was really a big pilot’s watch that was probably too big but sensible in its own way.

Still, some of the changes, like the addition of a tourbillon and platinum case, feel like reasons to enable a six-figure price. The Markus Bühler Tourbillon costs CHF125,000, or about US$136,000, making it very pricey relative to the original, but about market for such a tourbillon with a platinum case. Preserving more of the original’s concept would have been a good thing, particularly the no-frills steel case, since it would have also made the watch more affordable.

The original Markus Bühler in steel

The back of the original showing the Unitas movement

A spinning turbine

Unsurprising for an apprentice’s project, the original Big Pilot Markus Bühler was a no-frills watch. It was powered by a modified Unitas movement, the low-cost calibre found in many oversized watches, including Panerai’s entry-level models. The new Tourbillon Markus Bühler, on the other hand, is very much a luxury complicated watch with a platinum case and in-house movement.

Substantially smaller than the original, the Tourbillon Markus Bühler has a 43 mm case in platinum that’s 14.6 mm high. It has almost the same dimensions as the regular-production Big Pilot’s Watch 43, but stands 0.2 mm taller due to the tourbillon. Despite the reduction in size, the Tourbillon Markus Bühler will be a weighty watch due to the case material.

The dial has similarly been made more elaborate. Instead of the matte finish on the original, the dial is now a glossy black lacquer. And though the design remains similar, the dial now sports the typography with a rounded font that is standard across the Pilot’s Watch line.

The all-important turbine remains at six o’clock. As on the original, it makes one revolution a minute. But it is no seconds hand, rather the turbine blades are the upper cage of the flying tourbillon found in the cal. 82905.

The cal. 82905 is a new movement, but based on the workhorse cal. 82000 family that is found inside a range of IWC models from the time-only Portugieser Automatic 40 to the Portofino Perpetual Calendar. In other words, the cal. 82905 is essentially a cal. 82000 with a flying tourbillon.

Mechanically, the addition of a tourbillon is fairly straightforward, since the balance wheel is located at the six o’clock position in the base movement. Moreover, IWC already has a compact flying tourbillon construction in its stable, one that dates back to the early 1990s.

The specific execution of the flying tourbillon, however, is interesting. The upper cage of the tourbillon are the turbine blades, which also serve as a regulator index because the hairspring is attached to the underside of one blade, allowing a watchmaker to adjust the hairspring by rotating the turbine.

The other notable feature of the movement are the escapement parts, which are silicon coated with synthetic diamond, or Diamond Shell technology in IWC terminology. As a result, the pallet fork and escape wheel operate with superior efficiency due to lower friction and less weight. While diamond-coated silicon parts are not new – Ulysse Nardin first employed this technology over a decade ago – they are novel for IWC and its sister companies in Richemont.

Key Facts

IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Markus Bühler
Ref. IW329901

Diameter: 43 mm
Height: 14.6 mm
Material: Platinum
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: Cal. 82905
Functions: Hours, minutes, and flying tourbillon
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 80 hours

Strap: Black Cordovan leather with platinum buckle

Limited edition: 51 pieces
Availability: Only at IWC boutiques
Price: CHF125,000 excluding taxes

For more, visit IWC.com.


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