HONG KONG.- Christies
Hong Kong sale of Important Watches of 30 November will offer over 550 rare timepieces valued in excess of HK$85 million/US$11 million. This vast selection features the worlds leading makers, with haute horology examples showcasing the best of fine watchmaking over the last four centuries. In addition to a wonderful selection of vintage and modern complicated wristwatches from the 1940s through the present day, the sale features stunning high jewellery watches, as well as a striking collection of beautifully decorated Chinese market enamels and complicated pocket watches.
Important and Never-Before-Seen Timepiece for the Chinese Market
From the 16th century, Chinese emperors and their courtiers developed an insatiable appetite for clocks, watches and mechanical curiosities made in Europe. Pocket watches were considered valuable commodities and status symbols, luxury objects that came from the West. Entrepreneurial watchmakers from the West, or Sing Song Merchants as they were called, looked upon China as the new market and created designs and mechanisms especially for the Chinese market. These timepieces often came in fanciful shapes and combined horological complications with extreme miniaturization with the creative artistry of master goldsmiths and artisans. Today more than one thousand examples of such rarities still exist at the Beijing Palace Museum located in the Forbidden City.
Leading this seasons selection of time pieces made for the Chinese market is a pistol combined with a watch and perfume sprinkler that stands as a stunning marriage of 19th century Swiss technology and exquisite craftsmanship (lot number 3885, estimate: HK$2,800,000 - 4,500,000 / US$350,000 - 550,000). This extremely rare piece epitomizes the creativity of watch makers in Europe to satisfy the ever-growing demands for clocks and automata by the Imperial court and its courtiers in China, as well as European aristocrats and royal families, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Another highlight is a rare and previously unrecorded enamel and diamond-set ring watch with its original fitted box, circa 1810 (lot 3569, estimate: HK$700,000 - 900,000 / US$87,500 - 112,500). Since their first appearance in the 16th century, ring watches have always been the subject of great fascination, in part because of their decorative appeal, but also for the horological tour de force needed to construct a perfectly functioning movement of such small size that it can be set into a piece of jewellery. Production of these extraordinary pieces required exceptional skills and as such they were exclusively executed by only the best watchmakers, jewellers and enamellers of the time - and naturally, such masterworks were reserved for only the most distinguished and wealthy clientele. Only a handful of ring watches with complications have appeared on the open market to date, and all have been unique pieces in their own right. Amongst these exceedingly scarce specimens, the present ring watch occupies a very special position: it features a particularly rare and unusual characteristic of a quarter-repeating mechanism combined with two automatons in the form of two cupids in whose arms are striking the past hours and quarters alternately on two small bells atop the dial. Moreover, not only are the bezel and the visible balance diamond-set but, for a ring watch, the dial has the exceptional feature of having a painted scene. Previously unrecorded, this ring watch is without doubt one of the most outstanding examples of its kind to have ever come to light.
Also of particular note is an exceptional, and highly-unusual, heart-shaped gilt, pearl and glass-set belt-buckle watch, circa 1770 (lot 3568, estimate: HK$400,000 - 600,000 /US$50,000 - 75,000). Glass-encrusted watches were particularly favoured by the Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795), as were glass-encrusted ornaments and clocks, and many such pieces were sent as gifts or tributes to the Palace. A wonderful example of European watchmaking technique combined with the long history of the Chinese Imperial Workshop of Guangzhou glassware, this particular piece, signed by James Cox (1723-1791), was probably intended as a presentation object to the Imperial court.
Patek Philippe and the Art of the Minute Repeater
Before the days of electricity, repeating pocket watches were the only means to allow time to be determined in the dark. While there are many types of repeaters, the minute repeater is considered the most complicated of repeaters, chiming the time down to the minute upon demand, using separate tones for hours, quarter hours, and minutes. In this age of technology, minute repeaters still involve an exacting level of craftsmanship, it is often said that the maker of a minute repeater requires the ear of a musician and the hand of a surgeon. Only the most highly qualified watchmaker is entrusted with the manufacturer of a minute repeating wristwatch with its more than 100 unique components. In fact, most watchmakers consider this the most challenging single complication in watchmaking. To produce the perfect sound and cadence of striking, every component has to be adjusted to perfection. Leading the selection of minute repeaters offered this season are several important examples from Patek Philippe. Combined with Patek timeless designs, these minute repeaters are among the most desirable and collectible watches in today's watch market.
One of the most elegant and subtle of the Patek Philippe grand complication timepieces is the Reference 3939 (lot 3680, estimate: HK$2,200,000 - 2,800,000/US$280,000 -350,000). This rare reference unites the sonorous charms of a two gong minute-repeater with the gravity-defying precision of a tourbillon escapement. In keeping with its eternal style, Reference 3939 ignores the contemporary trend for larger dials and measures just 33mm. in diameter, an achievement for such a technically sophisticated timepiece, especially given its impressive 336 individual parts. This is also one of the very few Patek Philippe references to feature an enamel dial blessed with Breguet-style numerals.
Also leading the selection is the Patek Philippe Reference 2524 (lot 3585, estimate: HK$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 / US$250,000 - 350,000). While a recent study reveals that Patek Philippe mounted different types of dial on the reference 2524, the present watch is the rarest variant of all 2524 references as it is the only known to be fitted with a two-tone silvered dial with alternating applied small baton and Roman numerals. Only 12 examples of reference 2524 are known to the market, reaffirming the extreme rarity of the present lot with this unique dial configuration which was most certainly made upon special request at the time by the original owner.
Not to be missed is the rare Patek Philippe Ref. 5013 (lot 4067, estimate: HK$2,400,000 - 4,000,000 / US$300,000 - 500,000). Part of Patek Philippe's "Grand Complication" series, the Ref. 5013 was first introduced in 1992 and was the famed makers first minute repeating wristwatch featuring an automatic movement combined with a perpetual calendar and retrograde date. Indeed, at the time of its introduction, it was Pateks most complicated wristwatch ever made. Production of this reference ceased in 2010, and the present watch is one of only five examples in yellow gold to have ever reappeared on the market.
Additional Highlights: High Jewellery Watches and Contemporary Masterpieces
Timepieces that combine horological know-how with top quality diamonds and other precious stones are often among the most sought-after by collectors. And while makers such as Piaget and Vacheron Constantin are well known for their complicated mans wristwatches, they both hold key positions for creating unparalleled Haute-Joaillerie luxury watches, adorned with the finest quality gemstones and fashioned entirely by hand. Among the most stunning of such timepieces offered this season is the diamond-encrusted Vacheron Constantin Pagoda Kalla (lot 3613, estimate: HK$1,200,000 - 1,600,000/US$150,000 - 250,000). Set with approximately 312 diamonds with a total weight of roughly 65 carats this sparkling work of art encompasses the four Cs that collectors look for: cut, colour, clarity and carat weight.
Each season Christies offers a selection of ground-breaking timepieces from todays most gifted independent watch makers. Representing a new chapter in horology, these pieces showcase astoundingly impressive technical breakthroughs and are only rarely seen on the Asian market. Among the leading and most technically creative of the Independents is Greubel Forsey. This season, horological aficionados will be vying for the makers Tourbillon 24 Secondes incline (lot 3667, estimate: HK$1,100,000 - 1,800,000 / US$140,000 - 225,000). Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey have been working together for nearly two decades in a relationship founded on their shared technical creativity and the present watch is the duos third fundamental invention. In the T24Si is a single inclined, exquisitely finished tourbillon cage that undergoes rapidly changing positions with a high angular velocity, giving the impression that the whole complication is in orbit while offering the wearer a unique display of the tourbillon. This horological masterpiece is a solid validation of the underlying fundamental inventions of Greubel Forsey, with an objective to reinforce the link between mechanism and indication, as well as the relentless pursuit to improve timekeeping precision.