The Phillips sale of 196 total lots includes items as inexpensive as several thousand dollars and as costly as a stainless steel Patek Philippe reference 1518, which will begin bidding at $3 million. Meanwhile, a (less rare) pink-gold model of the same reference will start at $1.2 million, and a yellow gold reference 1518 is expected to take as much as $500,000. Paul Boutros, the head of watches for Phillips in the Americas, said this will be the first time the three 1518 references of different case types will be offered together in a single sale.
They’re expected to follow the strong precedent set in May, when Phillips achieved nearly $53 million in its Spring 2016 auction season. Boutros said the early strong sales bode well for the autumnal haul.
“We are never immune to macro-economic forces, but we believe that the vintage market is pretty healthy,” he said recently in New York. “Vintage collectors behave differently than modern collectors. They want something special that nobody else can have.”
Read through the slide show to see some of the top items on offer in November.
Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Wristwatch
Lot: 38 Ref: 1518 Made: 1943 Est: $3 million
One of the rarest Patek Philippe watches in the world because of its early-made complications and steel case (the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva doesn’t even have one), the watch is the world’s first perpetual chronograph wristwatch ever to be produced in a series by any manufacturer. It was considered a radical breakthrough at the time. Of the 281 made, the majority came in yellow-gold cases, and some came in pink gold. Only four were made in stainless steel; this is No.1, with a Gay Frères rice-bead-style bracelet and a 35 mm case. (Patek didn’t start producing bigger numbers of steel cases until the 1970s—30 years later.) This is the first time in more than 10 years that a stainless steel 1518 has come to auction. Phillips experts say to expect another decade to pass before another appears again.
“It was so ahead of its time that it set the architecture for all future perpetual calendar watches by Patek Philippe. So if you look at these from the 1940s and you look at one from 2010, you see a similar layout of the day, the date, the month, the moon phase. … It did not change.”
Rolex Unique and Highly Unusual Asymmetrical Gold Wristwatch
Lot: 97 Ref: 79412 Made: 1965 Est: 40,000–60,000 Swiss francs ($40,414–$60,621)
Even the guys at Phillips describe this watch as a unicorn: Boutros said he has not seen one before or since finding it. It comes with a 18K yellow-gold pin buckle and case that is 33mm in width. There were four of these made total.
Patek Philippe Yellow-Gold Wristwatch via Gübelin
Lot: 64 Ref: 2597 Made: 1960 Est: 80,000–140,000 Swiss francs
The watch comes in a very rare 18K yellow-gold mesh bracelet and 18K yellow-gold encasement. It was sold by Gübelin, a prestigious Swiss retailer founded in 1854 whose signature sits above the seconds counter. This is the only reference 2597 to have the double signature of Patek Philippe + Gübelin. This one in particular is impeccable, and it likely has never been worn.
Movado Oversize Stainless-Steel Wristwatch With Three-Tone Dial and Center Seconds
Lot: 40 Ref: 37'876 Made: 1938 Est: 7,000–10,000 Swiss francs
This lot is more affordable than some in this list, but that doesn’t make it any less special. It was made from the house founded by a 19-year-old watchmaker in 1881; it has a 40mm “non-magnetic” steel case that is highly unusual for something from the 1930s.
Patek Philippe Solar-Powered Clock With Full Perpetual Calendar
Lot: 94 Ref: 503 Made: 1964 Est: 25,000–35,000 Swiss francs
You might be surprised to know that solar power goes far back in high-end watchmaking history. This clock merged progressive technology of the time with elite mechanical watchmaking (it also has a battery system that will power it if the sun don’t shine, as it were). The retailer who sold it, Tiffany & Co., placed its signature on the dial at 6 o’clock.
“It is really rare,” Boutros said. “What it also implies is that somebody with great taste went to Tiffany, did not get any discount, and just bought it on the spot. That is very special.” Often, clocks such as this were specially ordered as gifts.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Stainless-Steel Chronograph Wristwatch
Lot: 17 Ref: E168 Made: 1958 Est: 15,000–25,000 Swiss francs
This Jaeger comes with a 35mm steel case and the original alligator strap and was made with the hope that explorers and scientists would use its soft iron anti-magnetic inner case in ultra-cold climates at polar bases, in laboratories, and inside submarines. The lot has hardly been worn, and the auction house says it is the finest example of this reference ever appearing on the market.
Omega Stainless Steel Prototype “ALASKA” Speedmaster Wristwatch With White Dial and Tachometer Bezel
Lot: 34 Ref: 145.022-69 Made: 1970 Est: 100,000–200,000 Swiss francs
The watch was made for space, literally: NASA chose it to be the official timekeeper of its missions. The dial was white to reflect light and heat (normal Omega dials were famously black); it was also covered in zinc oxide to resist solar radiation. These “ALASKA” project prototype watches were the first Speedmasters ever to be fitted with white dials. The watch comes with a red thermal-protective case made for NASA (the case went unused when engineers realized the standard watch itself could undergo any space trip just fine).
Omega Stainless Steel Prototype “ALASKA” Speedmaster Wristwatch With White Dial and Tachometer Bezel
(Continued from above.) It also has rocketship-shaped hands and is in immaculate condition, Boutros said. “This was once property of the Omega Museum—and now it’s here, and we are thrilled to have it. ... It was fitted with a very rare bezel—it should have a tach scale of 200, but it says 220. That was only made for a period of three or four months when Omega realized the error and stopped production. The vast majority of Omega Speedmasters have a black dial, so having a white dial from the 1970s is something really exciting.”
Patek Philippe Lady’s Lapis Lazuli Wristwatch
Lot: 9 Ref: 4399/1 Made: 1977 Est: 30,000–40,000 Swiss francs
There is only one other example in the world of this style from Patek: It has 280 brilliant diamonds and lapis lazulis, plus matching diamond earrings and accompanying ring. The style is completely unique but follows in the tradition of Patek's stunning ladies' products, from 19th century enamel and diamond-set pendant watches to elegant diamond timepieces from the 1920s and 1930s.
Rolex Extremely Rare Pink-Gold Antimagnetic Chronograph Wristwatch With Salmon Colored Dial
Lot: 55 Ref: 3330 Made: 1941 Est: 300,000–600,000 Swiss francs
This is an extremely rare example of an 18K pink-gold Rolex with an oversize 12-hour registry; Boutros said that it is the world’s most beautiful and best preserved example of the reference number. It is completely unworn, having been kept in a safe for decades The salmon dial and black tachymeter scale and indexes are immaculate. It comes with the original Rolex lizard strap and a 37mm case.
“Because we are searching for the best, the people who really want the best are coming to our sales,” Butros said. “To be honest we can’t get enough property to satisfy the demand.”
Blancpain Steel Prototype ‘Milspec 1’ Wristwatch with Center Seconds and Humidity Indicator
Lot: 70 Ref: 3205 Made: 1970 Est: 20,000–40,000 Swiss francs
This watch was made for U.S. Navy use, able to go under water to the deepest point humans could dive. It has water resistance to 50 fathoms, an antimagnetic case with unidirectional rotating bezel, and a double O-ring crown system. The case is 41mm wide and comes with a canvas NATO strap. It is the only known example in the world to have a screw-down crown.
Vacheron Constantin Gold Coin Medallion Watch
Lot: 83 Ref: 7945 Made: 1970 Est: 8,000–10,000 Swiss francs
The coin watch is a standard in horology, and it dates back to 1850, when the brand made a watch inside a Russian coin. This one was made for the Royal Court of Iran, probably as gifts for Iranian officials and dignities, according to the auction catalogue.
Vacheron Constantin Gold Coin Medallion Watch (Reverse)
The coin is made in 18K yellow gold with a 30mm diameter and commemorates the Iranian “White Revolution.” Butros says it's perfect for a collector of rare and unique Persian art.
Rolex Stainless Steel “Big Crown Submariner” Wristwatch With Center Seconds and Tropical Brown Dial
Lot: 37 Ref: 6538 Made: 1959 Est: 300,000–600,000 Swiss francs
Tropicalization is the term used to describe when an original black lacquer dial such as this has aged to a warm brown or chocolate color. This one is uniquely uniform and in mint condition. This model is known by two nicknames: the "James Bond,” thanks to Sean Connery wearing it in the film
Dr. No, and also by “Coroncione,” which is Italian for Big Crown. According to Phillips, this one holds the record for the highest price ever realized at auction for a Submariner. It comes with a stainless-steel bracelet and 37mm diameter case.
“We don’t have that many clients, so our secret sauce is our decadeslong relationships,” Butros said. “Our clients may have unlimited means, but we are always looking out in their best interests. So in turn, sellers come to us because they know we have clients that nobody else has.”
Rolex Yellow Gold Wristwatch With Dragon Cloisonné Enamel Dial
Lot: 157 Ref: 6085 Made: 1952 Est: 500,000–1,000,000 Swiss francs
Cloisonné enamel is one of the most difficult processes in watchmaking; it requires the creator to outline designs in fine gold wire, apply multiple enamel layers, and fire it in a kiln several times. Each firing is risky, because the heat affects the enamel differently; many dials break before they’re even finished. There are only five Dragon dial Rolex models to date. This one has a 33mm dial and 18K yellow-gold clasp and strap.
Patek Philippe Pink Gold Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Wristwatch With Moonphases and Tachymeter Scale
Lot: 196 Ref: 1518 Made: 1948 Est: 600,000–1,200,000 Swiss francs
This is one of the other 1518 models in this sale—it’s more prevalent than the stainless-steel example, but it’s still so extremely rare that it requires a big price tag. It is made in 18K pink gold and has a 35mm case.
Patek Philippe Pink-Gold Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Wristwatch With Moonphases and Tachymeter Scale
(Continued from above.) Most examples in pink gold came with a silvered dial; this one has a hard enamel tachymeter scale and applied Arabic hour markers, a crystal magnifying lens over the day and month apertures, and black hard enamel used for the signature and sub-dial printing. It has never been restored.