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Myths and Legends of Fine Watchmaking: Sotheby's Geneva announces Sale of Important Watches
Watch and automaton in a gold enamel box by Piguet & Capt in Geneva, 1801-1804 (lot 334, est. CHF 600,000 – 800,000 / $685,000 – 910,000). Photo: Sotheby's.

GENEVA.- For its sale of Important Watches on the 14th of May 2014, Sotheby’s Geneva has gathered a selection of more than 300 timepieces, which demonstrate the central tenets of the art of fine watchmaking and the values which are at the heart of its success. Through carefully curated timepieces, the sale showcases the skills unique to watchmaking. This spring’s event brings together a selection spanning two centuries : led by a beautiful group of automatons and music boxes, it also includes an array of models charting the history of Rolex’s iconic « Submariner », along with a fine range of vintage and modern wristwatches created by master watchmakers including Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Panerai. The overall estimated value for the assembled lots is in excess of 7 million francs.

The sale in May includes a number of very fine examples of automatons and music boxes, led by a watch and automaton in a gold enamel box by Piguet & Capt in Geneva, around 1801-1804 (lot 334, est. CHF 600,000 – 800,000 / $685,000 – 910,000). Collectors will also be captivated by a rich selection of enamel fob seals and music boxes, formerly in the collection of Jacqueline Reuge, a member of the famous family of music-box makers : illustrated left, a pink and yellow gold musical fob seal attributed to Vt Deville à Genève, around 1815 (lot 329, est. CHF 5,000 – 7,000 / $5,700 – 8,000), a gold and enamel musical harp, the body fitted with music and a lever activating the tune (lot 331, est. CHF 45,000 – 65,000 / $51,500 – 74,000).

The evolution of the art of timekeeping is illustrated in a superb selection of vintage timepieces, spanning six decades and showcasing the know-how of this sector. The early 20th century is represented by a fine ensemble of pocket watches created by Vacheron Constantin, featuring a rare white and pink gold pocket watch, reference 3372, with 31 time zones (31 cities) and a three-tone dial. This reference 3372 is illustrated in The World of Vacheron Constantin, a book published by the prestigious firm in 1992 (lot 209, est. CHF 28,000 – 35,000 / $31,800 – 39,800).

Another stand-out in the group is a fine and rare platinum pocket watch, Vacheron Constantin with calendar, power reserve and moon phases at noon – a rare setting for this complication (lot 211, est. CHF 15,000 – 25,000 / $17,100 – 28,400).

The selection of timepieces signed by Vacheron Constantin also features a watch of historical importance: a gold pocket watch (circa 1955) which belonged to the Italian poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959, Salvatore Quasimodo. The watch is accompanied by a presentation case, along with a gold medal featuring a likeness of the writer. Salvatore Quasimodo wore the watch to attend the prize-giving ceremony in 1959 (lot 206, est. CHF 3,000 – 5,000 / $3,450 – 5,700).

Created by Rolex in 1953, the « Submariner » is a reference for diving professionals. 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of its launch, at Baselworld in 1954. The first watch to be waterproof to a depth of 100 metres, it has evolved via a series of technical innovations to guarantee optimum reliability and precision to 300 metres. It’s easy to see why writer Ian Fleming chose it as the perfect watch for James Bond.

For this sale, Sotheby’s will present a rich selection of models which perfectly illustrate the story of this iconic timepiece (lots 224-244). The tone is set by a rare stainless steel wristwatch, reference 6204, Submariner circa 1954 (lot 224 est. CHF 30,000 – 50,000 / $34,100 – 57,000). A further early example of this illustrious watch : a rare stainless steel automatic wristwatch, reference 5510, circa 1957, known among collectors as the “Big Crown James Bond” (lot 226, est. CHF 30,000 – 50,000 - $34,100 – 57,000). The selection also includes a Submariner delivered to the Royal Navy : a rare wristwatch, reference 5513, circa 1972, with original bezel and dial featuring the letter “T”, characteristic of watches commissioned by the British Royal Navy (lot 244, est. CHF 40,000 – 60,000 / $45,500 – 91,000).

This Spring’s vintage selection also includes a series of important wristwatches by Rolex. Stand-out examples include a number of unusual pieces, notably a rare and exceptional reference 6263 Cosmograph Daytona “Paul Newman Panda Dial”, circa 1972 (lot 341, est. CHF 250,000 – 500,000 / $284,000 – 570,000). The Rolex Daytona has retained its status as an unchallenged icon among 20th century wristwatches and this example of the 6263 reference constitutes the ultimate trophy for Daytona collectors, because it is accompanied by all of its original accessories, giving it its iconic status in the legend of the Rolex Daytona: The Ultimate Panda. Just as stunning is an extremely rare reference 6263 steel Chronograph wristwatch whose stand-out feature is its colour-changed Paul Newman dial, highly valued by collectors, and its registers and constant seconds, which are also colour changed to give perfect harmony (lot 305, est. CHF 200,000 – 400,000 / $228,000 – 455,000) .

Another outstanding lot in the selection of vintage watches: a reference 6062 wristwatch, one of very few produced by Rolex with triple calendar and moon phases – the other being the 8171. The ‘Star Dial’ is one of the most sought-after watches with the reference 6062, as these were produced in very limited numbers. The watch is being offered by its original owner. This model is a beautiful example: the dial is in original condition, displaying a warm, slightly off-white grained finish and subtle patina (lot 342, est. CHF 80,000 – 160,000 / $91,000 – 182,000).

The May selection of vintage watches also features several models produced by Patek Philippe.

According to our research, only four Patek Philippe ‘8 day’ wristwatches are known, and only two of them have been offered at auction (the two other models are known only through archive photographs). The archives of Patek Philippe reflect that both were sold to Brock & Co. in 1931. In May, Sotheby’s will also present a rare yellow gold ‘8 Day’ watch, reference 3655. This unique model of exceptional historical interest is offered with a purpose-built rectangular case, specially designed by Patek Philippe in 1984 (lot 268, est. CHF 100,000 – 150,000 / $114,000 – 171,000).

The sale also includes a striking example of the reference 2526 in yellow gold with an enamel dial, the first automatic watch produced by Patek Philippe. Its classic case and white enamel dial, both in excellent condition, will no doubt prove captivating for collectors (lot 267, est. CHF 25,000 – 35,000 / $28,400 – 39,800).

Vintage watches from the workshops of the renowned manufacturer Panerai are well represented in the sale, which features several important pieces, including an extremely rare titanium prototype centre seconds wristwatch, around 1985. This prototype, developed for the Italian navy following a successful partnership with the brand between 1930 and the 1950s, was assembled by hand in the laboratories of Officine Panerai in Florence (lot 295, est. CHF 80,000 – 160,000 / $91,000 – 182,000).

Some vintage wristwatches by Panerai stand out thanks to their illustrious provenance: this section features a stainless steel military diver’s wristwatch with prototype bezel, reference 6152/1, Luminor, around 1955, formerly owned by Admiral Gino Birindelli, former commander of the Italian Navy. The impeccable provenance of this watch, which is being offered by the descendants of Admiral Birindelli, add greatly to its historical importance and place in the history of Panerai watches. Examples of the reference 6152 are extremely rare and the appearance of this watch at auction for the first time constitutes a unique opportunity for collectors (lot 298, est. CHF 180,000 – 360,000 / $205,000 – 409,000).

A number of beautiful and unusual pieces also feature this Spring. Created in 1907, probably in Cartier’s London workshops, an enamel and silver gilt clock with time, thermometer and barometer indication, to be displayed on a car dashboard is testament to a golden age of automobiles. The clock is presented in its original leather case (lot 94, est. CHF 50,000 – 70,000 / $57,000 – 79,500).

When the art of watchmaking embraces that of fine jewellery, the results can be sensational, as demonstrated by a ravishing Art Déco platinum ring watch set with diamonds, by Cartier, around 1937. This piece is presented with a certificate of authenticity from Cartier, and is equipped with Le Coultre’s famous calibre 101 movement (lot 180, est. CHF 30,000 – 50,000 / $34,100 – 57,000).

The sale also includes an impressive ensemble of fine modern wristwatches. Patek Philippe’s renowned technical skills are demonstrated in a perpetual calendar Chronograph wristwatch with registers, moon phases, night and day and leap year indication, reference 5270G. This reference was unveiled at Basel World in April 2011 and replaces the famous reference 5970 (lot 159, est. CHF 100,000 – 150,000 / $114,000 – 171,000).

The section also includes one of Patek Philippe’s most beautiful modern watches: the 5013P reference, with its unmistakeable platinum tonneau-shaped case. This watch symbolizes the famous manufacturer’s artistry in its complications: calendar functions, moon phases and perpetual calendar (lot 160, est. CHF 380,000 – 580,000 / $432,000 – 660,000).

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