As highly anticipated as watch fairs like Baselworld and SIHH may be, they sometimes rarely measure up to the fun factor that the biennial Only Watch auction offers. Especially if it’s unique timepieces created by some of the most important manufactures and independents are what you are after.
Organized by Christie’s and held under the patronage of Prince Albert of Monaco, Only Watch is a charity auction devoted to funding research into a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, an illness that afflicted the late son of Only Watch founder Luc Pettavino. Since the first auction in 2005, more than €25 million has been raised for the cause.
If that wasn’t enough, what makes Only Watch even more noteworthy is the fact that exclusively unique timepieces are produced for each Only Watch auction. The 2017 auction will take place in Geneva on 11 November, but before that, the 40-odd participating timepieces will go on a world tour, including a stop in Singapore.
Now let us look at the ten most astonishing pieces that Only Watch 2017 has on offer.
We’ll begin with a big one, in fact the watch that promises to be the most expensive of them all: the Patek Philippe reference 5208T-010. That reference number in and of itself is enough to excite the most serious of watch nerds. The “T” suffix refers to titanium, the lightweight alloy that is only ever used by Patek Philippe for one-off timepiece. Add to that the fact that the 5208T is a Grand Complication, sporting an instantaneous perpetual calendar, chronograph, as well as minute repeater – plus a unique blue guilloche dial – rendering the 900,000 to 1,100,000 Swiss franc estimate almost too conservative. Already the ordinary version of the ref. 5208 is a million francs.
Audemars Piguet enters with a perpetual calendar shrouded in a fancy, high-tech material as well. A blue grande tapisserie dial with high-contrast white sub-dials is set against the black ceramic case, unlike the regular edition that has a muted grey dial. Audemars Piguet is deservedly praised as one of the absolute best case makers in the watch industry and although they sure have taken their sweet time with it, they didn’t settle for anything but the best when it came to decorating the extremely hard surfaces of the black ceramic case – and bracelet too – of this unique Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar. The low estimate is right around the regular version’s retail price, at 80,000 to 120,000 Swiss francs.
One of the most stunning pieces for Only Watch 2017 would have to be the F.P. Journe Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante, the brand’s first-ever split-seconds chronograph. Set inside a 44mm tantalum case, this piece is a wonderful mix between traditional chronograph design elements and F.P. Journe’s contemporary style. Sublimely elegant Arabic indices complement Journe’s trademark hands, while the striking colours of red, yellow and blue on the chronograph scales propel this into a category of its own. This carries an amusingly wide estimate of 200,000 to 400,000 Swiss francs.
Hublot proudly participates with a unique Big Bang Unico Sapphire Usain Bolt, clad in the trademark colours of the world’s fastest man, featuring a sapphire crystal case with green, black and gold accents. Bolt may have just retired, but the flashy pieces that he created with Hublot will go on for much longer, and this specially engraved, unique version has a strong chance of finding a good home. With an estimate between 50,000 to 80,000 Swiss francs, this unusual sapphire case wristwatch can be had at a rather competitive price.
Arpal One is the name of a fantastic creation that’s the result of a most unexpected collaboration between two independent watchmaking stars, Urwerk and Laurent Ferrier. Everyone familiar with the history and watches of these two independents will know that the two couldn’t possibly be further apart in terms of style and mechanics and yet the Arpal One is a naturally stunning watch. Made with Ferrier’s genetic understanding of graceful case design and Urwerk’s outstanding satellite-based display, this is a watch we expect to see on a wristwatch. No estimate has been provided yet but expect some fierce bidding for this one.
MB&F has also stayed true to itself and surprised us all with a unique version of the HM8 that turns a teenager’s doodles into a one-of-a-kind timepiece. With a case in 18k white gold and grade 5 titanium, the sapphire crystal that covers the HM8 movement is engraved with a drawing by teenage artist Cassandra Legendre, and is further adorned with a miniature gold elephant hand-made by master engraver Olivier Kuhn that’s mounted right between the hour and minute prisms of the time display. Its estimate is between 80,000 and 100,000 Swiss francs.
Piaget’s Black Tie has a distinctive case design that tastefully mixes the confidently sleek cushion-shape with an interesting multi-tier bezel. Completed with a seamlessly integrated strap and crown, the case is a study in bold yet balanced design. For Only Watch 2017, Piaget has given it a hard stone dial in brown pietersite as a tribute to the colour theme of this year’s auction. The estimate is between 30,000 and 50,000 Swiss francs.
Breguet has created a unique version of the Classique Quantième Perpétuel En Ligne – literally linear perpetual calendar. The silvered 18k gold dial is engine turned by hand in a way that is typical Breguet, and typically impressive. The in-house calibre is entirely hand engraved and boasts a rarely seen linear display of the calendar, arranged vertically on the dial. Once part of the Breguet collection but now discontinued, the linear perpetual has been resurrected with a larger case just for Only Watch, with an estimate of between 80,000 and 100,000 Swiss francs.
Tudor has created a unique Black Bay Bronze One LHD in khaki green for Only Watch 2017. The LHD style is a recent one that made its debut with the Pelagos LHD in titanium, but to combine it with the retro Black Bay, and in bronze to boot, makes this a truly special offering. The khaki green for the bezel and dial reinforce the vintage and military inspired looks that work so well for Tudor’s Heritage line. An inexplicably low estimate of 4,500 to 5,500 Swiss francs is the official word, but expect that to be passed quickly.
Last, but definitely not least, the Zenith Defy El Primero 21. Made even more special with a black DLC titanium case and yellow accents, this model is based on the Defy El Primero 21 that Zenith launched just this year at Baselworld – setting the watch world on fire with its affordable price and technically impressive, 1/100th of a second chronograph movement. Equipped with two escapements, one beating at the El Primero’s famous 5 Hertz for timekeeping and the other ten times faster for the chronograph, Zenith offers one of the most impressive but also value-for-money watches in the event. Its conservative estimate is between 12,000 and 18,000 Swiss francs.
Be sure to mark November 11 on your calendar to see how these watches perform when they go under the hammer.
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Victor Toth – Czech Republic
Victor Toth is a Prague-based, professional photographer-turned-watch enthusiast and freelance journalist, whose journey into the complex world of fine watchmaking had begun a number of years ago. Over this time it has become his passion to share his understanding of the finer details of beautiful timepieces, all in an effort to encourage a more thorough appreciation of this wonderful and complex universe of fine mechanics.