Only Time Will Tell: Christie’s New York auctions rare timepieces

For their fall sale, Christie’s New York will be auctioning roughly 360 lots of exquisite and rare timepieces

By Sara Neff
Photos courtesy of Christie’s
Images LTD. 2007


 With the historically significant pocket watches and wristwatches creating excitement around the auction, a watchmaker is generating hype with the auction of a modern timepiece.

As the summer months come to a close, the weather begins to cool and the leaves turn to bright colors of auburn and gold. Along with a change of season, fall brings a change of time. For the annual fall sale at Christie’s New York, some of the world’s most extraordinarily rare pocket watches and wristwatches will be exchanged into the hands of new owners.

On October 17, nearly four hundred lots of exceptional timepieces will be auctioned at Christie’s New York. Each of the watches is either extremely rare, historically significant, new to the market, or some combination of the three. Both modern watches, including pieces from Benguet, and vintage watches, with pieces from Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, will be featured. Among the vast lineup of important and valuable watches for auction are four timepieces that are expected to lead the sale.

Patek Philippe, one of the most highly reputable watchmakers in the world, is well represented in Christie’s auction. Standing out as a decidedly valued timepiece in the auction is a rare pink gold version of Patek Philippe’s 1941 Reference 1526. At the time, this wristwatch was the solitary perpetual calendar available on the market. Of the 210 examples of this watch, very few were in pink gold, making this item extremely precious to collectors. It is estimated to sell for $150,000-300,000.

Since 1839 Patek Philippe has crafted extraordinary timepieces. Now, not only are they the only remaining independent family-owned Genevan watchmaker, but they are also the only manufacturer to construct all of its mechanical movements according to the stringent specifications of the Geneva Seal. The platinum Reference 3939H epitomizes that expertise. Set to sell for an estimated $250,000-350,000, this piece is extremely complicated and consists of 336 parts, and has minute repeating and tourbillon functions all amazingly contained within a small case. Only one hundred examples of this piece were produced, with 30-40 being made in platinum. The impeccable and refined features of this piece will make it incredibly desirable at auction.

“Do better if possible and that is always possible,” is the motto of Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin. The stunning pink 18-carat gold 1943 Reference 4293 is one of the highest priced pieces in the sale, complete with an estimated selling price of $250,000-500,000. Perhaps the most historically important Vacheron Constantin piece, the unique wristwatch is being sold by the family of the original owner. Complete with minute repeating, full calendar, and phases of the moon, this Vacheron Constantin will arguably be one of the most sought after timepieces at the auction.

With the historically significant pocket watches and wristwatches creating excitement around the auction, a watchmaker is generating hype with the auction of a modern timepiece. Swiss watchmaker Breguet acquired its fame shortly after its 1775 founding. Queen Marie Antoinette had a passionate interest in Breguet watches, but she is only one of the many celebrated patrons of the manufacturer. Napoleon Bonaparte, Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, and Sir Winston Churchill have also claimed their love of the extraordinaire Breguet timepieces. For the Christie’s fall auction, a limited edition platinum Breguet Reference 1801 will be sold. This timepiece is part of the special edition pieces created to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Breguet’s invention of the tourbillon in 1801. A small 66 examples of the Reference 1801 were produced. With 28 made in white gold, 28 in pink gold, and 10 in platinum, the platinum versions are the most rare and sought-after. This special timepiece exemplifies the rich history and tradition of Breguet while being modern in style.

While it is obvious that the pocket watches and wristwatches being sold at this auction are of great value and importance, the magnitude of the auction is not yet known. Only time will tell the final selling price of each pocket watch or wristwatch. Our prediction, though, is that the prices will be well above the estimates.