Arthur & Frank: two “vintage” tick-tock authentic fanatics

Watchmaking auctions are taking the lead in a growing market and conquering collectors’ and amateurs’ hearts and wrists. To be interested in fine watchmaking auctions means to ferret out treasures, discover new models and listen to beautiful stories.

By Arthur Frydman

Here is the first video of a new rendez-vous on Frank Sans C’s YouTube Channel! In this monthly series, we will try to find out why we tend to buy the beautiful inner workings that go under the hammer, both analysing great Maisons like Christie’s, Sotheby’s or Antiquorum and observing auctions in Drouot or in the French province. All sorts of places where the greatest (vintage) tick-tock fanatics can easily achieve some really good deals and find real gems… only if they know where to go, what to buy and how to buy it.

Some great finds

On March 19th, we watched a sale unfold at the Bordeaux Quinconces Enchères. The house had previously organised 14 auctions dedicated to watchmaking.

Heuer Pasadena Date “Full Black”

Under the hammer, a 1982 HEUER pilot chronograph, with a similar feel to that of Porsche Design watches. This brand-new piece was estimated at €3,500 and sold for €3,600. A contemporary iteration of a Montblanc Exo Tourbillon Minutes Chronograph – Winner of the Tourbillon Watch Prize at the 2016’s GPHG – left the auction room for €25,000. That is almost €15,000 less than a new model’s worth.

Montblanc Exo Tourbillon Minutes Chronographe

When vintage pieces and new pieces cross paths

According to experts, second-hand watches have been ticking for at least two decades on average. The recent entry of brand-new watches in auctions, such as a Rolex Tiffany Blue – very recently sold at Sotherby’s in Paris for approximately €17,000, which is more than €10,000 over the market price for new pieces – puts the notion of second-hand into perspective. However, it would be very difficult – not to say impossible – to find such a watch easily available for sale in shops. That explains the usefulness of stepping in the vintage market.

Vintage is an Eldorado for brands. Notice the arrival of second-hand in-house programs in several watchmaking Maisons, such as Jaeger-Lecoultre, Cartier, Zenith and last but not least, Rolex. The announcement by the crowned brand of its upcoming official program Certified Pre-Owned was no less than an earthquake within the small world of fine watchmaking. Pre-owned pieces are obviously not as reassuring as new ones regarding matters such as origin or authenticity, which all buyers of expensive pieces are concerned about. Besides the quality and scarcity of the pieces, collectors usually check these criteria closely and often turn to second-hand as they cannot purchase new watches in shops. Rolex, the most copied watchmaking star brand in the world, is no exception. To secure its watchmaking heritage and reassure its clients, the crowned manufacture has just announced the launch of the Rolex Certified Pre-Owned (RCPO) in-house program. In other words, an official system of reselling second-hand certified watches, and a new way to regulate the market and prevent speculation.

A 35-billion-euro market by 2030

Watches are the best-selling pieces of art on the internet. They are a sure value, a social attribute and a currency that knows no cultural or generational barrier. In a way, to sell a watch is to sell a dream. Recent numbers show that this is a bubble bound to explode. By 2030, the pre-owned watch market should grow to €35 billion and make up more than half of the primary market. These estimations come from the ninth study conducted by the Deloitte cabinet on the watchmaking industry. Moreover, experts expect the second-hand watch market to outperform that of new watches by 2033, as stated by Founder of LuxeConsult Olivier Müller.

According to the Mercury Project annual report, global watch auctions from Antiquorum, Bonhams, Christie’s, Sotherby’s and Philips reached a total value of over €700 million in 2022. Sales rose 11% compared to 2021 and were up 80% compared to 2019. Some other surprising data: according to a Morgan Stanley report, Swiss Made turned out to be more profitable than cryptocurrency in 2022. Need I say more?

Focus: past auctions

The Niton Genève watch, top vintage.

On March 12th, we spotted a curious, yellow gold, men wristwatch at the Le Floc’h Study in Saint Cloud. It boasted a golden dial with a jumping hour display, a rotating disk for the minutes and a sub-dial for the seconds. A 1920 piece by a small Genevese watchmaking manufacturer called Niton. The Maison was created in 1919 by two craftsmen from Vacheron Constantin. They produced different kinds of calibres and sold them directly to shops. The model we have here is a perfect example of an Art Deco style watch. Its lines are inherited from World War I, with a bracelet that emulates Cartier’s “Tank” model inspired by tank tracks. The rectangular case is reminiscent of stretchers then used to carry the injured. Estimated at €2,000-€3,000, it finally left the auction room for €24,375. Which shows that sometimes, originality is enough, and it pays.

Patek Philippe’s Heures Universelles World Time Moon

On February 14th, still in Drouot, Olivier Doutrebente’s sale included a rare and beautiful Patek PhilippeHeure Universelle” World Time Moon, ref. 7175R-001. This gold and diamond vintage wristwatch displayed a “175e anniversaire 1839 – 2014” (“175th anniversary 1839 –2014”) engraving. It boasted a silver dial as well as rotating moon phases in the centre. The watch came from a limited edition of 450 pieces, specially made for the brand’s 175th anniversary in 2014. This is now only its second appearance in auction, and the first in France. Estimated at €80,000-€120,000, this Patek Philippe watch was sold for only €70,000. It unfortunately did not reach the moon.

Still at Olivier Doutrebente’s, we found a specimen of Lange 1 Time Zone watches from Maison A. Lange & Söhne. This platinum reference from 2005-2006 displays a dual time zone and a silver dial. It houses a mechanical movement and a balance spring with micro spring calibration. There were bids from €30,000 to €50,000 for the watch. It proudly left the auction room after the hammer hit at €37,800.

Lastly, on March 16th, a beautiful auction at Philips’s in Geneva honored independent watchmakers. One of them, Daniel Roth, is currently quite active. He was celebrated with a near-legendary watch, the Daniel Roth Quantième Perpétuel ref. C117 made in 1996 with the help of watchmaker Philippe Dufour. Estimated at €25,500-€50,000, this first-of-its-kind instant quantum movement piece rose above expectations as it was sold for more than €90,000. That is not surprising though, given the recent revival of the brand with the production of new, limited pieces, with help from La Fabrique du Temps by Louis Vuitton.

Daniel Roth’s Quantième Perpétuel, ref. C117

Focus: upcoming auctions

The first will take place at Antiquorum in Geneva, next May 14th and 15th. We cannot leave out Rolex and a certain vintage Daytona Chronograph with manual winding, which makes every collector go crazy. A “Paul Newman” version known by all Rolex aficionados for its two-to-three-colours dial. It is the most coveted reference by the manufacture, especially since the real “Daytona” by Paul Newman was auctioned in New York City for more than €15 million euros on October 26th, 2017. A little history: the chronograph was created in 1963 and was then worth only $210. In limited production at first, a few references were created until 1987, called the “Paul Newman” watches. This is an unofficial name not recognised by Rolex for the references 6239, 6262, 6263, 6264, 6265 or 6241. The one we have here is a 1968, 6241 reference, currently up for auction with its exotic tricolour dial in black (sub-dial) and white (dial). Its expected price ranks somewhere between €130,000 and €230,000, but its value will probably go up by a lot. To be continued.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Deep Sea ref. E857.

At that same auction, a very rare, almost invisible reference will also resurface on the market: a Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea ref. E857. The Maison produced the watch for only three years between 1959 and 1962, in 1061 pieces. That is even fewer than the Polaris, later manufactured in 1714 pieces. It was produced in two lots: one for the European market and the other for the American market. Experts agree that about 800 pieces were for the American market (with a completely different dial), and about 200 pieces for the European market. As the first reckoned Jaeger-LeCoultre diving wristwatch, but also the first mechanical alarm diving watch, the expected price for this piece ranks somewhere between €20,000 and €30,000.

F.P. Journe watches from the Christie’s auction.

On May 12th, in Geneva, Christie’s will celebrate the art of F.P. Journe. This auction will be the most important sale of F.P. Journe watches ever held to this day. With a catalogue of 40 F.P. Journe timepieces, this great sale will highlight François-Paul Journe’s genius with a selection of emblematic references, from early days to now. First, it will include an exclusive piece from 2010, a platinum sovereign Centigraphe ergonomic chronograph with registers for a 100th of a second, a 20th of a second and 10 minutes, as well as a red chromed dial and a platinum bracelet. This piece is only available on special demand and shows off F.P. Journe’s emblematic red Ferrari dial. If you want it, prepare to spend €400,000 to €600,000. Then, the sale will include a wonderful platinum Chronomètre à Résonance ‘Pré-souscription’” from 2000 with an expected price between €500,000 and €1,000,000.

Today’s storytime

Let’s focus on a real discovery, since no one knew the existence of the watch we are about to introduce. Before announcing an official date for the sale, the Maison Philips revealed a platinum Patek Philippe Calatrava ref. 96 Quantième Lune. A piece that belonged to Aisin-Giro Puyi – also known as Xuan Tong, his regnal name – the twelfth and last Chinese emperor of the Qing dynasty. The sovereign lived a complicated life in China, inheriting the throne of the Qing dynasty when he was only 2 years old but having to abdicate four years later. His life actually inspired the Oscar-winning movie The Last Emperor by Bertolucci (1987).

Patek Philippe’s Reference 96 Quantième Lune.

This legendary reference piece is of capital importance for Patek Philippe’s heritage since it is one of the main pieces that have never resurfaced. Although we knew the existence of only seven Patek Philippe 96 references with this complication, this particular piece is new on the market, and the eighth one to have come to light. Only two other examples with the exact same dial configuration – an enamel “Roulette” configuration of Arabic numerals – have resurfaced to this day. One of them has now joined the Patek Philippe Museum collection, whereas the other was sold in 1996 to a private collector. The auction house has not estimated a price yet, but the expected price is of at least €1,000,000.

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