The Phillips Watches Geneva Watch Auction XVII on 13-14 May is the auction house’s most tightly curated sale, featuring just over 200 lots representing the rarest, best and most highly coveted watches from the 20th and 21st century.
We asked two experts from Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo to go one step further – and narrow it down to five prized timepieces.
Alexandre Ghotbi, Head of Watches, Continental Europe and the Middle East Director, kicks us off with two very different watches but each equally collectable. And then Marcello De Marco, Specialist and Business Development Associate, follows up with some all-time classics…
By Alexandre Ghotbi
Lot 124: Greubel Forsey X Urwerk X Dominique Buser X Cyrano Devanthey: Naissance d’Une Montre 2
The Naissance d’Une Montre project stems from the desire to preserve traditional watchmaking techniques and skills that are unfortunately no longer taught in watchmaking schools.
Under the aegis of the Time Aeon Foundation and mentorship of Greubel Forsey and Urwerk, two brilliant young watchmakers: Dominique Buser and Cyrano Devanthey set out to create a watch made only using traditional techniques and by hand.
The result is nothing short of spectacular as the movement with constant force system has been switched to the dial side.
The Naissance d’Une Montre 2 is proof that traditional watchmaking does not mean passé – and a fully handmade watch can have a very contemporary and even futuristic appearance.
All the proceeds from the sale of this watch will go to Time Aeon Foundation to help preserve traditional watchmaking arts.
Lot 206: Audemars Piguet Triple Calendar Chronograph
This watch is made of the same fabric as dreams. It is rare – only 8 known, superbly well balanced and in excellent condition.
Audemars Piguet timepieces from the mid-twentieth century are often considered by collectors as icons owing to their exquisite quality, superb – sometimes revolutionary – aesthetics, technical ingenuity, and extremely limited production numbers.
The design of the watch is a gem of equilibrium and balance. The short thick lugs and large opening to the dial give it definitive wrist presence whereas the three-tone dial with its cream main plate, salmon chronograph indicators and silver calendar section provide an incredible theatrical and charismatic effect.
By Marcello De Marco
Lots 10-13: Patek Philippe Ref 5970
The Patek Philippe Ref. 5970 is for me as close as it gets to the "perfect watch". Aesthetically, it is an example of perfectly balanced design and a true "trait d'union" between vintage and modern Patek Philippe production.
Technically, it is the last model to feature the historical Lemania movement, truly the end of an era. In terms of rarity and collectability, it features one of the most unusual production runs of the company: the pink and white models were in production for four years, then the yellow one for just one year and finally the platinum version was in production for the last two years.
Such an unusual production history makes each version of the model extremely rare, in fact more so than its predecessor ref. 3970.
Choosing a version is an arduous task as each one has merits of its own: the versatility of the white version, the warmth of the pink one, the sporty elegance of the platinum and the vintage vibe and rarity of the yellow case.
Thus my apologies for cheating a little but I will leave this choice to the collector and limit myself to say that any 5970 is a dream watch and at the top of my fantasy wishlist.
Lot 69: Patek Philippe Ref 2526 black first series enamel dial
Since I first approached the world of vintage watches I had an incredible fascination for Patek Philippe’s ref. 2526.
While admittedly it is not the most "loud" of Patek’s models, its understatement is part of its appeal, and once one spends a few minutes to study this time-only automatic model one understands why this truly is a monumental reference.
It is powered by cal. 12-600, widely considered one of the best, if not the best, automatic movements ever devised. Having decided to wait for Rolex's patent on the automatic winding rotor to expire, Patek spent a good couple of decades to perfect this movement. The result is a technical masterpiece and decorated to an absurdly high standard.
Aesthetically, The waterproof screw-back case shows mastery of the design language in its simplicity and conveys a sense of stately importance and solidity. The same impression is conveyed by the elegant and eminently legible dial.
Thus any 2526 is for me an "endgame timepiece" but the present black First Series enamel dial version goes well above and beyond a "standard" 2526.
Already a white enamel dial version is an incredibly attractive, rare and important timepiece. A black enamel dial version - furthermore confirmed by the extract - not only is absurdly rare, but it furthermore completely alters the looks of the watch making it a sort of sport /evening hybrid which highly resonates with modern tastes.
Lot 205: Vacheron “222” ref. 44018/44518
Vacheron Constantin 222 was the vintage sports offering of the brand, launched in 1977 and competing with the Royal Oak and the Nautilus.
It was discontinued in the early 1980s, making it by far the rarest vintage sport’s watch among the “Holy Trinity” of Patek, Vacheron and Audemars. It is estimated that about 500 pieces were made in steel, 150 in yellow gold and less than 100 in steel and gold.
Furthermore, the Jörg Hysek-designed case, while maintaining the defining canons of a 1970s sports watch (faceted lugs, satin finish, prominent bezel), offers a fresh approach thanks to the highly unusual “cogwheel” bezel. The flat dial is also a departure from what is seen in the Royal Oak and Nautilus, granting the piece increased legibility.
Thus, I consider any 222 a watch absolutely worth collecting, but the present unique white-gold example is without a doubt one of the most important examples – if not the most important example outright – of the model.
Its genesis is found in a special commission and is as intriguing as the case metal. According to Vacheron, it was originally intended to be a gem-set piece. Indeed, the case is stamped 44518 - according to the company a unique reference number indicating a gem-set model.
However, eventually the buyer changed his mind and decided to leave it without setting, resulting in the present unique 44018 - as it is recorded in the Vacheron Archives.
To see all the lots at the Geneva Watch Auction: XVII, head to phillips.com