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Sotheby's Geneva Important Watches sale to offer antique pocket watches and modern wristwatches
Patek Philippe 1972 yellow gold wristwatch. Photo: Sotheby's.

GENEVA.- Sotheby’s auction of Important Watches in Geneva on 13 May 2015 will present a broad selection of timepieces combining the finest workmanship and innovation in watchmaking. Setting the scene will be an ensemble of wonderful pocket watches: chronometrical masterpieces by Patek Philippe. The spring sale will also offer a selection of remarkable vintage wristwatches with fascinating histories, alongside a group of sensational watches illustrating the most innovative complications of today. Connoisseurs of the art of timekeeping will no doubt be captivated by stunning examples from the most prestigious watchmakers, including Patek Philippe, Rolex, Breguet, Cartier and Vacheron Constantin.

Speaking ahead of the sale, Tim Bourne, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Watches, commented: “Our upcoming auction of Important Watches in Geneva has at its heart the most refined traditions and values of watchmaking art. The sale will present exceptional timepieces: magnificent pocket watches which rose to meet the exacting examination standards of the Geneva Observatory; a selection of superb vintage wristwatches, and the cutting-edge sophistication of modern complications. The event includes an impressive range of fascinating objects, created by illustrious manufacturers including Patek Philippe, Rolex, Cartier and Breguet.”

The sale in May will offer collectors an impressive selection of fascinatingly complicated pocket watches. These include an exceptional, very handsome and possibly unique open-faced watch in yellow gold by Patek Philippe, never before seen at auction. This reference 926/1 Pellaton style one-minute tourbillon “Bulletin d’Observatoire” was made in 1929 – but only encased in 1984. This extraordinary watch passed the famously rigorous 40-day evaluation of the Geneva Observatory no fewer than 11 times, and was twice awarded the ‘A’ rating (LOT 135, estimate : CHF 150,000 – 250,000 / US$ 154,000 – 256,000).

Another noteworthy piece among the pocket watches on offer in May is a timepiece whose story is intertwined with that of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated musicians: the SwissFrench classical pianist, Alfred Cortot. In 1925, the virtuoso made the world’s first-ever electrical recording of classical music.

This beautiful and very rare ultra-slim open-faced minute repeating watch in white gold, with perpetual calendar and moon phases was specially made for Cortot by the boutique L’Emeraude, in Lausanne (LOT 186, estimate : CHF 15,000 – 20,000 / US$ 15,400 – 20,500).

Dated 1909, a third pocket watch in the May selection will also no doubt prove fascinating to scholars of 20th century history: a stunning yellow gold open-faced minute repeating split seconds chronograph watch by Patek Philippe belonged to American railway entrepreneur Theodore P. Shonts (1852-1919). In 1905 Shonts was chosen by President Theodore Roosevelt to lead the construction of the Panama Canal, and later played a key role in the development of the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), which would later become the iconic New York City Subway system (LOT 127, estimate : CHF 35,000 – 45,000 / US$ 35,800 – 46,000).

The spring sale at Sotheby’s Geneva will also showcase exceptional and rare vintage wristwatches. In production from 1950 onwards, Patek Philipe’s reference 2499 is widely recognised as one of the most important in the history of the manufacturer. The prestigious Geneva watchmaker produced only 349 examples, averaging just nine watches per year. In May, collectors will be able to discover an extremely rare example of this reference in yellow gold, with perpetual calendar and moon phases. This exceptional piece was delivered in 1972 and has never been offered at auction before; it also stands out thanks to the signature of iconic Italian retailer Gobbi on the dial – the only example from the third series of this famous model with this feature (LOT 332, estimate : CHF 200,000 – 300,000 / US$ 205,000 – 307,000).

Vintage timepieces are also represented by a fine and very rare example in stainless steel of Rolex’s celebrated chronograph wristwatch reference 6036, “Jean-Claude Killy”, with triple calendar, day date and registers. This stunning watch, dating from 1952, is named after the celebrated ski champion and Rolex ambassador, who grew up in the Alpine resort of Val d-Isère – it is said to be his favourite Rolex (LOT 285, estimate : CHF 80,000 – 120,000 / US$ 82,000 – 123,000).

Among the finest wristwatches on offer during the auction, this piece is the reflection of the exacting standards of one of the greatest watch collectors of our time: legendary guitarist Eric Clapton. This exquisite and possibly unique pink gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phases, reference, 5970, was in production for only six years, in contrast with the Geneva manufacturer’s previous three models, whose production averaged 20 years. This watch is also noteworthy for its probably unique dial, featuring Breguet numerals: according to our research, this is the first time a 5970 with this configuration is offered at auction. This remarkable feature, along with a gold brick bracelet which enhances the unique modern appearance of the watch, were both probably special requests from Clapton (LOT 200, estimate: CHF 120,000 – 220,000 / US$ 123,000 – 225,000).

Collectors with a passion for the finest diving watches will no doubt be intrigued by a rare stainless steel centre seconds wristwatch by Rolex, specially developed for COMEX (Compagnie Maritime d’Expertise), a company specialised in underwater engineering and deep-diving operations. Our research suggests that only around 300 examples of the Sea-Dweller reference 1665 with gas escape were supplied to COMEX (LOT 90, estimate: CHF 40,000 – 60,000 / US$ 40,900 – 61,500).

The most exacting standards are also on display with a rare and special-order centre seconds wristwatch, reference 116610, made for the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SSR), a special forces unit of the British Armed Forces. This Rolex Submariner is one of just 66 delivered by Rolex to the regiment, and offers collectors the opportunity to acquire one of the rare examples illustrating the long-standing relationship between the brand and the British army’s elite regiments (LOT 94, estimate CHF 15,000 – 25,000 / US$ 15,400 – 25,600).

The most exquisite modern wristwatches, showcasing the enduring craftsmanship and innovation, will be at the forefront on May 13th. Among standout examples is an extremely fine and rare platinum and pink gold automatic minute repeating semisskeletonised perpetual calendar wristwatch by Patek Philippe, with retrograde date, moon phases and leap year indication. This very impressive reference 5104P, launched in Basel in 2006, is unlike any other wristwatch produced by the manufacturer: it is Patek Philippe’s only grand complication with the movement visible through the dial (LOT 316, estimate: CHF 450,000 – 550,000 / US$ 460,000 – 565,000).

The elegance and technical sophistication of Patek Philippe are also showcased in an extremely rare and important platinum minute repeating instantaneous perpetual calendar tourbillon wristwatch. This stunning example of the reference 5207P, which took Patek Philippe’s top calibre engineers five years to develop, features an impressive movement composed of 549 parts (LOT 123, estimate: CHF 570,000 – 670,000 / US$ 585,000 – 685,000).

Experienced collectors will recognise the importance of another modern timepiece by Patek Philippe: an extremely fine and rare white gold automatic astronomical wristwatch with sky chart phases and position of the moon, reference 5102G. Known as the “Celestial”, this reference ranks among the most important complications ever developed, and allows the owner to gaze at the progression of stars in the northern hemisphere, relative to the passage of Sirius, the brightest star of the night sky. This example of the highly sought-after reference is in excellent condition, and has never been offered at auction before (LOT 122, estimate: CHF 150,000 – 250,000 / US$ 154,000 – 256,000).

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