Editorial: Geneva Auctions Spring 2024 Part I – Only Watch

Hacked but it happened.

A longer-than-usual Geneva auction weekend just concluded, having started with Only Watch 2024 and concluded with Christie’s watch sale – both of which were postponed for different reasons.

Only Watch set the tone for the rest of the sales. The appetite for buying was muted. Most watches performed as expected: desirable brands and watches did well, though not as well as they would have in 2022 or early 2023. A handful of watches were outliers and performed spectacularly. That said, there were more watches that sold poorly compared to either of the last two instalments. In sum, it was a reflection of the overall market for collectible watches.

A night-time cyberattack

On a sunny Friday morning in Geneva, just before Only Watch was scheduled to take place in the afternoon, it emerged that Christie’s had suffered a company-wide cyberattack that brought down its website, app, and everything else digital. According to a Christie’s representative, the cyberattack began in the early hours of Friday last week, which was fortunately daytime in Asia, so its Hong Kong office was able to respond.

Even though the hack took place just before the watch and jewellery auctions in Geneva, the cyberattack was probably timed to take place before the following week of art sales in New York, where Christie’s will sell over US$800 million of art.

Tess Pettavino making the opening speech. Image – Only Watch

A colourful event

Because of the cyberattack, Christie’s postponed its watch auction scheduled for Monday, although Only Watch went ahead as planned, with the event raising over CHF28.3 million, not far from the CHF29.7 million raised at the last one in 2021.

Having been postponed once for six months due to questions over its probity and governance, charity auction Only Watch published its audited financial statements and rescheduled its sale for last Friday afternoon.

The cavernous hall inside the Palexpo convention centre was full at the appointed time – about 500 people turned up – but the sale didn’t begin. As word of the Christie’s hack spread, there was talk inside the hall about another postponement.

The bidding for the RRCA. Image – Only Watch

Fortunately that did not happen, and about 30 minutes past the hour, Only Watch 2024 began – but without online bidding since Christie’s website was down. Despite the lack of online bidding, the results by and large turned out as expected.

The results at Only Watch mostly depended on a handful of factors: the appeal of the brand and its watch, and the brand’s effort in marketing the watch to its clients.

Did the lack of online bidding impact the results? Probably, but only at the margin, because the watches expected to do well did exactly that. If anything the missing online platform only affected the lower-value lots, and did not have much of an impact on the total.

Indies to the fore

One clear takeaway that emerged was the popularity of independent watchmakers, or more specifically, independent watchmaking brands that are genuine, authentic, and focused on traditional horology. And it was often the brands that did something truly different, rather than a low-effort variation of an existing model, that did the best.

There was a clear inclination towards time-only watch with finely decorated movements. The watches by Petermann-Bedat and Theo Auffret working together and Sylvain Pinaud each sold for over CHF200,000, while Kari Voutilainen’s square-case world time finished past CHF400,000.

Voutilainen CSW Only Watch

Petermann Bédat and Auffret Paris’s joint creation

Notably, all those watches got to their six figure with progressive bidding from several bidders, indicating a pool of interested buyers. Unusually, the Krayon Anywhere sold for CHF440,000 thanks to a bidder who jumped to CHF400,000 even though the bidding opened at a quarter of that. This probably reflects Krayon laying the groundwork before the sale to ensure its clients, or one client, would be bidding.

A pair at two million francs

And then of course there was F.P. Journe and Rexhep Rexhepi.

The F.P. Journe Furtif Bleu, the first of its new sport watch line, achieved CHF2.0 million, a big number but one that was entirely predictable before the sale. The watch went to the same gentleman collector who bought the FFC Blue at Only Watch 2021.

Notably, the Barbier-Mueller Mosaique II, essentially an F.P. Journe by another name, sold for only a tenth as much, probably because it is an F.P. Journe by another name. It was probably one of the best buys of the sale.

The Furtif Bleu in tantalum

But the CHF2.1 million for the Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Antimagnétique (RRCA) – no one predicted. As expected there were a lot of bidders up to the million-franc mark, but after that it was down to a pair of phone bidders, one of whom was believed to be in the room. The winner was a phone bidder represented by a gentleman from Christie’s London office who was bidding via video-link.

The surprise result for the RRCA would continue for the brand’s other watches sold in the following days, indicating a frenzy for Akrivia and Rexhep Rexhepi that is bordering on mania.


Good buys

Amongst the bargains from the independents was arguably the Pandamonium collaboration from MB&F and H. Moser & Cie. that sold for a little under CHF400,000. Considering it’s a one-off minute repeater, the buyer got a relatively good buy.

On the other hand, the Lederer Central Impulse Chronometer (CIC) sold for about a tenth of that, but the unique CIC was unusually unattractive and also low effort, so the modest result was not a surprise.

Beyond the independents, the results were more uneven. Amongst the outstanding results was CHF700,000 for the Louis Vuitton Einstein Automata, which saw two bidders battle it out all the way from the low six figures. The winner was a silver-haired gentleman who is a prominent and respected industry insider, reflecting the fact that while the watch is not for everyone, some serious people took it seriously.

The Einstein Automata

Watches from two of Louis Vuitton’s sister brands, TAG Heuer and Tiffany & Co., sold for surprisingly little. The TAG Heuer Monaco Split-Seconds achieved just CHF110,000, below the retail price of its regular production equivalent, while the Tiffany “Bird on a Rock” pendant sold for CHF120,000, making it probably the best buy of the entire sale.

The Monaco Split-Seconds

The only one

But as is always the case with Only Watch, it was only one watch that truly mattered. The Patek Philippe ref. 6301A Grande Sonnerie sold for CHF15.7 million, accounting for about 60% of the total raised during the event.

Bidding for the watch was swift up to the CHF10-million mark, with several phone and room bidders vying for the watch. Beyond that it was down to three bidders, a phone with Remy Julia of Christie’s Dubai, Ronny Hsu of Christie’s Hong Kong, and in the room, Sam Hines, who was formerly head of Sotheby’s watch department.

The ref. 6301A. Image – Patek Philippe

Mr Hines eventually emerged victorious, and it also emerged during the bidding he was bidding for Zach Lu, who was sitting right behind him. Mr Lu is Taiwanese collector who is a longtime Patek Philippe collector and owner of several past Only Watch creations from the brand, including the ref. 5208T.

Rahul Kadakia bringing the hammer down on the ref. 6301A. Image – Only Watch

The most notable aspect of the bidding for the ref. 6301A was who was not bidding – the gentleman who won the last two Patek Philippe Only Watch creations, the Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300A and desk clock ref. 27001M. He was absent from Only Watch 2024, which perhaps explains the disparity between the CHF31 million for the ref. 6300A in 2019 and last week’s CHF17 million.

Correction May 15, 2024: The Krayon sold for CHF440,000, and not CHF420,000 as indicated in an earlier version of the article.

Correction May 17, 2024: The Patek Philippe ref. 6301A sold for CHF15.7 million, and not CHF17 million as stated in an earlier version of the article. Additionally, the winner of the RRCA was a phone bidder, and not an online bidder.

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