Vintage Watches

15 Startlingly Great Watches at Phillips’s Geneva Watch Auction

As watch auction season inches closer, catalogs are piling up. Great watches abound, none more exciting than at Phillips's Geneva Watch Auction Two. The highlights are unbelievable, and many of the duller lots would merit coverage if they were appearing in other auctions. Here are just 15 of the lots you absolutely need to know about. The sale takes place in two sessions on Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 in Geneva, and the watches are on preview at Phillips's New York gallery through Oct. 20. If you like watches at all, you don't want to miss this.

  1. Rolex Steel Triple Calendar Ref. 8171 (Lot 167)
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    Rolex Steel Triple Calendar Ref. 8171 (Lot 167)

    Sport watches dominate vintage Rolex collecting, but the really seasoned collectors seek out the early complicated watches, too. This ref. 8171 shows the month and day of the week in French, plus the date around the edge and the moonphase at 6 o'clock. That it's stainless steel and in perfect condition makes it truly drool-worthy. Estimate: $358,000 to $715,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  2. Rolex Paul Newman Daytona for Hermès (Lot 222)
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    Rolex Paul Newman Daytona for Hermès (Lot 222)

    Long before it was teaming with Apple, Hermès sold some of the world's top watches at its retail stores. Case in point: This solid gold Paul Newman Daytona is stamped Hermès on the caseback. The watch fetched more than $500,000 at Christie's in May 2013 and should bring in a comparable sum this time. Estimate: $307,000 to $613,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  3. Rolex Sub Aqua (Lot 292)
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    Rolex Sub Aqua (Lot 292)

    Before the iconic Submariner there was the Sub-Aqua. This watch is a little smaller than the first Subs and came a year earlier, in 1953. It's unknown just how many were made, but we're talking a handful or two, tops. These are extremely rare and represent a major turning point in the history of Rolex. Plus, just look at this thing. Estimate: $61,600 to $103,000

     

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  4. Patek Philippe Dragon Enamel Pocket Watch (Lot 164)
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    Patek Philippe Dragon Enamel Pocket Watch (Lot 164)

    There's still a big community of pocket watch collectors; any reading this are already trying to calm racing hearts. This is the only known Patek Philippe pocket watch to depict a dragon, and it's one of two world time pocket watches from Patek to show anything other than a world map. If you know, you know. Estimate: $510,000 to $1,020,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  5. Patek Philippe Nautilus "Lucky Thirteen" (Lot 214)
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    Patek Philippe Nautilus "Lucky Thirteen" (Lot 214)

    Spot the mistake ... keep looking ... I'll wait. Where VIII should be to show 8 o'clock, there is instead XIII. (Thirteen, in case Roman numerals aren't your thing). The customer who ordered this custom creation from Patek liked the number thirteen and wanted it close by at all times. Considering the estimate, this could be a relatively affordable way to own what is likely a one-of-a-kind Patek you could actually wear. Estimate: $25,500 to $51,100

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  6. Patek Philippe Champagne Dial ref. 2499 (Lot 254)
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    Patek Philippe Champagne Dial ref. 2499 (Lot 254)

    The Patek Philippe 2499 is a perpetual calendar chronograph, the Holy Grail for many vintage watch collectors. The watch was made in four different series and this is from the first, dating to 1952. It's the only example known to combine a yellow gold case with a Champagne dial, both of which are original to this watch. It also has an early model case with smoother lines and longer lugs than came later. Estimate: $821,000 to $1,440,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  7. Cartier Platinum Tortue Minute Repeater (Lot 233)
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    Cartier Platinum Tortue Minute Repeater (Lot 233)

    This 1929 Tortue watch was originally purchased by the son of Popular Mechanics's founder and packs a tiny complication inside. The slim lever on the left side activates the tiny minute repeater inside, made for Cartier by Audemars Piguet, expert at miniature repeaters. It's a great combination of elegant, historic, and rare. Estimate: $307,000 to $613,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  8. Vacheron & Constantin "Cornes de Vache" (Lot 131)
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    Vacheron & Constantin "Cornes de Vache" (Lot 131)

    This watch gets its name from the cowhorn-shaped lugs, which are extremely long and works of art all in themselves. The dial of this chronograph is in top condition, and the printing is even throughout. If the watch said "Patek Philippe" on the dial, the estimate would easily triple. This is a real watch guy's watch. Estimate: $51,100 to $102,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  9. Patek Philippe Steel Split-Seconds ref. 1463 (Lot 169)
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    Patek Philippe Steel Split-Seconds ref. 1463 (Lot 169)

    This is the auction's top lot and one of the last pieces offered on the first day. Any early steel Patek Philippe watch is noteworthy, but this is only one of two known split-seconds chronographs made in the metal. this watch is in incredible condition and could easily fetch a few million dollars if the right collectors are motivated. Estimate: $1,530,000 to $3,070,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  10. F.P. Journe Early Tourbillon Souverain (Lot 112)
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    F.P. Journe Early Tourbillon Souverain (Lot 112)

    This is a piece of modern watchmaking history. In F.P. Journe's first series of tourbillon wristwatches, each piece was individually numbered right on the gold dial. This piece is number 9/20, as you can clearly see. The watch dates to 1999; in the ensuing decade and a half, very few originals have come to the open market. If you're a Journe nut, this could be a rare chance to snatch one up. Estimate: $81,600 to $122,00

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  11. Breguet Dress Watch (Lot 248)
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    Breguet Dress Watch (Lot 248)

    It's remarkable how much this Breguet from 1941 looks like a watch you could find from the manufacturer today. The fluted caseband, engine turned dial, and slim, blued hands are all nearly identical. The two-tone treatment on the dial is remarkable to behold in person, and the movement inside has the familiar architecture of 19th century pocket watches. Estimate: $30,700 to $51,100

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  12. Rolex Submariner Worn by 007 (Lot 290)
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    Rolex Submariner Worn by 007 (Lot 290)

    Yes, this is an actual James Bond watch. This Submariner was customized by production designer Syd Cain and worn by Roger Moore in Live and Let Die. The watch's buzzsaw bezel is a key plot device, and the watch comes with original sketches and paperwork to prove its provenance, not to mention the inside caseback signed by Moore. The watch doesn't work—the movement was removed for the film—but it's a true piece of 007 history. Estimate: $154,000 to $256,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  13. Rolex Black Stelline (Lot 158)
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    Rolex Black Stelline (Lot 158)

    One of the quirkier watches in the sale, the 1953 watch is 18 karat yellow gold and shows only the time, but there are also eight tiny stars on the dial. Rolex did this for just a few years in the 1950s, and some collectors seek these "star-dial" watches. The glossy black dial is a perfect ground for the stars and while you might not see them from across a room, the additional charm is obvious, close-up. Estimate: $102,000 to $204,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  14. Rolex Caravel Enamel Watch (Lot 162)
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    Rolex Caravel Enamel Watch (Lot 162)

    I'm always suspicious when someone tells me a watch is "new old stock" condition. Usually the watch is nice but not truly mint. Then there's this watch, a history lesson for the wrist. It looks just as it must have when finished in 1953, down to the different brushing on the caseback and the edges of the lugs. The caravel-style enamel on the dial is bright and really shines against the gold case. Estimate: $357,000 to $714,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

  15. Rolex White Gold Datejust (Lot 153)
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    Rolex White Gold Datejust (Lot 153)

    How cool can a Datejust get? This cool. The white gold case and bracelet are paired with a rare grey dial that has a sloped edge and relatively subtle diamond markers. The date wheel also shows red numerals, adding a small touch. This Rolex straddles the line, being both over-the-top and subtle at the same time. It's the rare diamond watch I'd want to wear. Estimate: $51,000 to $102,000

    Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg