Six Lessons Learned From Phillips' $42 Million USD Weekend Watch Auction

Beyond the fact that people go crazy for Rolex and Patek Philippe.

Watches
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Phillips‘ Geneva Watch Auction XIII took place this weekend with the star lot, an incredible rare Patek Philippe Ref. 2523 with ‘Silk Road’ cloisonné enamel dial, achieving $7.8m USD including premiums.

But other than the fact that this was the highest sum ever paid for a yellow gold Patek wristwatch at auction, what else can be learned from the sale?

Line Jumping

Auctions houses were once only interested in vintage watches, but in recent months consignees have been putting forward, not just modern watches, but the kind of unicorn pieces that either have never-ending waiting lists or have sold out entirely, looking for the best possible return on their rare pieces.

Geneva XIII was the sale that saw the practice go mainstream. A 2019 stainless steel, white-dialed Rolex Daytona sold for CHF 40,320 ($44,800 USD) which is more than three times its list price, while a nearly new 2020 Rolex GMT-Master II with Pepsi bezel more than doubled its list price, selling for CHF 22,680 ($25,200 USD).

But it wasn’t just Rolex blazing a trail with its results, with much smaller brands achieving similarly impressive returns such as MING’s Ref 18.01 H41, a limited edition diving watch that cost CHF 3,250 ($3,600 USD) when it sold-out last summer, but sold at the weekend for CHF 13,860 ($15,400 USD). Louis Erard also proved the strength its new collaboration-focused business model with its Vianney Halter watch, which sold-out in November priced CHF 3,500 ($3,900 USD) achieving CHF 9,450 ($10,500 USD).

Nautilus Still Riding High

Prices for Patek Philippe’s 5711/A1 Nautilus spiked when the brand announced the model would be discontinued back in January. Four months later they show no signs of cooling with Lot 7, a clean example from 2008 with box and papers, achieving CHF 138,600 or $153,900 USD.

Rise of the Independents

F.P. Journe and Philippe Dufour were once the only independent watchmakers who could be depended upon to bring in the kind of bids usually reserved for vintage Rolex and Patek Philippe, but that’s starting to change. A Series 1 ‘Onely Theo Fennell’ from Roger W Smith, who makes some of the most sought-after watches in the world on the Isle of Man, sold for CHF 541,800 ($602,600 USD) while one of ten examples of the MB&F Legacy Machine 101 for Hodinkee from 2015 sold for CHF 94,500 ($105,000 USD) doubling its $52,000 USD price when new.

Grand Seiko Joins the Club

In the same way that it took years for the insular Swiss industry to allow Japan’s Seiko into the halls of the now-defunct trade show, Baselworld, the company’s Grand Seiko marque has been conspicuously absent from the big Genevan auctions. That showed signs of changing at Geneva Watch Auction XIII with a 2016 platinum Spring Drive Grand Seiko selling for CHF 88,200 ($98,100 USD) and a 1972 Grand Seiko VFA, achieving CHF 44,100 ($49,000 USD).

Cartier Prices Continue to Climb

Despite its undeniable history and unrivalled elegance, Cartier prices at auction have always seemed slightly muted (apart from that time Kim Kardashian bought Jackie O’s Cartier Tank for $380,000 USD.) One bidder helped blow that notion out of the water once and for all with a CHF 403,200 ($448,300 USD) winning bid on an ultra-rare 1972 yellow gold “Baseball” model while a 2003 Cartier Tortue Monopusher, made as part of the brand’s sought-after CPCP project, sold for CHF 52,920.

There’s more to Vacheron Constantin than the 222

Vacheron Constantin might be part of the so-called Holy Trinity of watchmaking (along with Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet,) but the brand hasn’t been able to match the kind of results achieved by Patek or AP at auction in recent years. Its Ref. 222 is often the exception to that rule, as illustrated by an example from 1977 which sold for CHF 100,800 ($112,100 USD) at the weekend. But this wasn’t the only big ticket Vacheron to sell, with a 2008 platinum perpetual calendar American 1921 reaching CHF 113,400 ($126,000 USD).

In other watch news, French Navy joins forces with a second watch brand.

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