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A 19th century musical automaton snuff box sells for $842,408 at Sotheby's Geneva
An exceptional and rare gold and enamel musical automaton snuff box with timepiece, Piguet et Capt à Genève, 1801- 1807. Sold for: CHF 749,000 (842,408 USD). Photo: Sotheby's.

GENEVA.- Today, at Sotheby’s Geneva, nearly 550 watch connoisseurs from across the globe registered their intention to bid on rare timepieces which celebrated the central tenets of the art of fine watchmaking. The sale was led by an exceptionally rare 19th century gold and enamel snuff box with a concealed timepiece and musical automaton. Two passionate bidders competed for this masterpiece of Swiss horology, driving the final price to CHF 749,000 ($842,408). The auction totalled CHF 10,123,625 ($11,386,142) (est. CHF 6.9-10.6 million / $7.7-11.8 million).

Commenting after the sale, Geoffroy Ader, Head of Sotheby’s European Watch Department commented: “Today’s sale emphatically demonstrates the continued strong demand for rare examples of watchmaking skill which combine exemplary provenance and extraordinary condition. The highly competitive global bidding for never-before-seen pieces by Vacheron Constantin and the record price set for Panerai are emblematic of a diversifying market. The search for quality was apparent in the intense competition seen for vintage achievements by iconic brands such as Rolex. Our sale also paid homage to the original values of watchmaking, with unique items of historical significance, and there was enormous enthusiasm by discerning international connoisseurs not only for the Automaton Snuff Box, but also for our selection of timepieces spanning 200 years of watchmaking craftsmanship.”

Tim Bourne, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Watches, commented: “The strength of today's sale, with its extraordinary enthusiasm for the rare and exceptional, undoubtedly creates enormous excitement in the marketplace for the highly important yet unknown five titanium watches from Patek Philippe to be offered by Sotheby's New York at auction in June.”

Today’s star lot - a three compartment gold and enamel snuff box – was produced in the workshop of Piguet & Capt in Geneva, circa 1801-1804. The right lid opens to reveal an automaton scene with a seated lady playing the harp and a gentleman tapping his foot in beat to the music and moving his forearm. The figures stand beneath a bird jumping from a cage (lot 334, est. CHF 600,000- 800,000/ $685,000-910,000).

Vintage watches from the workshops of the renowned manufacturer Panerai were well represented in the sale. Today, Sotheby’s Geneva established a world auction record for a Panerai watch when it sold a stainless steel military diver’s wristwatch with prototype bezel, reference 6152/1, Luminor, circa 1955 for CHF 425,000 ($478,002) (lot 298, est. CHF 180,000-360,000 / $205,000-409,000). Coming from the collection of the late Admiral Gino Birindelli, former commander of the Italian Navy, this rare example of the reference 6152 appeared for the first time at auction today.

The appeal of Rolex was confirmed throughout the sale, with unique models and references setting new landmarks. The “Ultimate Panda” - a rare and exceptional reference 6263 Cosmograph Daytona “Paul Newman Panda Dial”, circa 1972 achieved CHF 359,000 ($403,771) (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 was accompanied by all of its original accessories. Another outstanding lot - The ‘Star Dial’ reference 6062 - one of very few references produced by Rolex with triple calendar and moon phases realised CHF 209,000 ($235,064) (lot 342, est. CHF 80,000 – 160,000 / $91,000 – 182,000). The watch was being offered by its original owner and was in original condition, displaying a warm, slightly off-white grained finish and subtle patina.

The evolution of the art of timekeeping was illustrated in a superb selection of vintage timepieces, spanning six decades and showcasing the know-how of this sector. The early 20th century was represented by a fine ensemble of pocket watches created by Vacheron Constantin, with many lots selling for many multiples of their high estimates. Made in circa 1933, a rare white and pink gold pocket watch, reference 3372, with 31 time zones (31 cities) and a three-tone dial realised CHF 305,000 ($343,037), more than 10 times the pre- sale estimate (lot 209, est. CHF 28,000- 35,000 / $31,800-39,800). Another stand-out in the group was a fine and rare platinum pocket watch with calendar, power reserve and moon phases at noon – a rare setting for this complication - which sold for CHF 173,000 ($194,575), more than 11 times the pre-sale low estimate (lot 211, est. CHF 15,000-25,000 / $17,100-28,400).

Fine modern wristwatches were highly sought after today. An example of one of Patek Philippe’s most beautiful modern watches - the Reference 5013P with its unmistakeable platinum tonneau-shaped case – sold for CHF 509,000 ($572,477) (lot 160, est. CHF 380,000-580,000 / $432,000- 660,000). This watch symbolizes the famous manufacturer’s artistry in its complications: calendar functions, moon phases and perpetual calendar.

Lady’s watch are rare at auction. This spring’s sale featured an impressive “Reine de Naples” wristwatch by Breguet which surpassed expectations and realised CHF 161,000 ($181,078). Produced circa 2010, this exquisite timepiece in white gold was set with diamonds and ruby, weighing 4.8 carats and 5.8 carats respectively (lot 142, est. CHF 40,000-60,000 / $45,500-68,500).

A number of beautiful and unusual pieces also feature this spring. Testament to a golden age of automobiles, an enamel and silver gilt dashboard, created in 1907, probably in Cartier’s London workshops, more than doubled pre-sale estimate and achieved CHF 112,500 ($126,530) (lot 94, est. CHF 50,000 – 70,000 / $57,000 – 79,500). The clock was presented in its original leather case.

When the art of watchmaking embraces that of fine jewellery, the results can be sensational, as demonstrated by a ravishing Art Déco diamond ring watch designed by Cartier circa 1937 which almost tripled estimate and sold for CHF 149,000 ($167,582) (lot 180, est. CHF 30,000-50,000 / $34,100- 57,000).

Previous record for a Panerai Watch: A very rare stainless steel cushion-shaped diver's wristwatch made for the Egyptian Navy Signed Radiomir Panerai, REF. 6154, small egiziano model, case signed Rolex, no. 997'603, movement signed Rolex, circa 1954 Sold for $326,500 at Christie’s New York in December 2012

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