Following up last month’s piece at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Important Watches Auction, Highsnobiety market director and jewelry expert Malaika Crawford now turns her eye to the Phillips Geneva auction XIV.
The Geneva watch auction season is upon us, which means it’s time for the serious collectors to play ball. Ahead of the Phillips Geneva Auction XIV, I had a tête-a-tête with Paul Boutros, Head of Americas for Phillips Watches, about some of the most noteworthy pieces on show.
Cards on the table, this auction is the one I've been most excited about. I struggled, quite frankly, to make a concise selection. How on earth was I going to whittle this down to five? So instead, I afforded myself the luxury of seven.
Having seen the watches in person at a preview last month, I felt a deep emotional attachment to many of these precious babies. Phillips sets the bar extremely high, and having an aficionado like Boutros — the “beautiful mind” of watches — navigate me through the sale while dropping knowledge bombs was a moment to be treasured.
Friends and watch lovers, I present you with my very wide and rainbow-like selection. It comes with the caveat that, while there’s something for everybody in this rundown, this is my fantasy watch league that isn’t aimed at the first-time buyer. Instead, sit back and enjoy the big leagues in action.
Richard Mille RM 67-02 LOT 226 — sold for CHf 529,200 (about $579k)
We're starting off on a patriotic foot. It’s hard to go there in the current political climate, but consider this watch a red, white, and blue of many nations. A choose your own Richard Mille adventure of sorts.
This specific color combination was made for French Ski Champion Alexis Pinault (the RM 67-02 was also created in other national colors for the brand’s athlete partners in F1 and track and field). “The size is great for all wrist types, it’s very thin despite its height and width on the wrist so it’s super easy to wear for both men and women,” points out Boutros.
I’m really here for a woman in a Richard Mille. I push for gender equality with all watches but sometimes it comes down to the size of the thing.
The Richard Mille ethos is not dissimilar to an F1 race car that is “built to withstand shock, extremely rigid and able to be used in all sorts of conditions.” His philosophy of combining advanced materials with traditional watchmaking makes him, in my opinion, the poster boy of 21st-century watchmaking.
AP Royal Oak 25829 LOT 245 sold for CHf 390,600 (about $427k)
I may have mentioned that I’m sick of Royal Oak coverage to more than a few people, but I'm back on side now because this 25829 really is the ultimate. It’s also unlike me to hate on a classic, so I’m here to show this cultural touchstone some love.
Owning a platinum Royal Oak is true luxury, and although it may be hefty in size, if you own this, I’m sure you can afford to slip into something lighter from your extensive collection.
“This is watchmaking at its very best”, claims Boutros. “Hand engraved movements, plates, and bridges were carved out to their skeletal remains which were then hand engraved.” In other words, under the radar wealth of the most absurd kind.
Rolex Deep Sea Special LOT 248 sold for CHf 1,058,500 (about $1.1 million)
This Rolex will blow your mind.
It’s not exactly wearable, but it’s historically important. This commemorative model is a carbon copy of the watch that was taken on a dive to the Mariana Trench, or the deepest location on Earth (close to 11,000 meters below sea level). It was advanced technology for the ‘60s, with the dome built to withstand pressure, and ensure that you could read the time without moisture fogging up the case.
The design makes me think of Pierre Cardin’s bubble houses. “It kinda reminds me of the Jetsons,” says Boutros.
Cartier Tank à Guichets LOT 34 sold for CHf 100,800 (about $110k)
“The Tank is the best of Cartier,” says Boutros. I fully agree. I love a man in a Cartier watch, and this variation on the classic tank is elegant, even stately.
This specific model is a recreation of the original design that dates back to 1928. “This is the playfulness of Cartier,” says Boutros of the jumping hour mechanism. “They were experimenting with different ways to display time during the Art Deco period.”
Cartier is the OG of Art Deco jewelry design, but let’s consider this watch an important player in the evolution of watch design as a whole. Slightly more masculine than a classic tank, it was revolutionary for its time. You could describe it as a “mechanical-digital” hybrid before digital even existed.
De Bethune DB25 “Starry Sky” LOT 86 sold for CHf 88,200 (about $96.5k)
I’d like to refer to this section, as Boutros so charmingly phrased it, as “the flight of the independents.”
De Bethune is a hugely important player making giant strides in the independent arena. The brand lines up with the recent rise of independents — think Richard Mille and F.P. Journe in the early aughts. De Bethune differs in that it had its moment last year.
“The watches are much better than people realize,” says Boutros. “They’re exquisitely crafted, built completely in-house, rooted in exceptional traditional watchmaking with a 21st-century aesthetic.”
An ode to space travel, the titanium-treated blue dial is what got me hooked. Blue has always been an evocative color, a trope among artists such as Picasso and Yves Klein. It’s an emotional color to say the least — author Maggie Nelson claims to have “fallen in love with a color, in this case blue.” I’ve fallen in love with this galaxy dial and 3D spherical moon phase.
Patek Phillipe 2497 LOT 122 sold for CHf 2,813,000 (just over $3m)
Whisper the words “Vintage Patek Perpetual calendar” in my ear and I can feel shivers down my spine.
One of only three known white gold watches made in this reference, it’s a beauty and a rarity. Made in 1954, Boutros superlatively describes this as “a product of post-war exuberance... bigger and a little bit more flamboyant, the size is perfect for today.”
Earlier versions produced during the war in the ‘40s were a lot smaller — typically 34mm, which is tiny by the modern tastes of today. This watch was also born and delivered with a velvety white gold bracelet.
I have a particular affinity for watch and jewelry hybrids, so this specific reference bracelet combo speaks to me. The style evokes an Elvis cool guy type of ‘50s glamor. “It’s a lost art, they don’t make bracelets like this anymore,” exclaims Boutros. White gold is seemingly understated when put next to rose or yellow, but this watch was definitely purchased by somebody bold with a bank balance to match.
Philippe Dufour Grande & Petite sonnerie 1992 LOT 14 sold for CHf 4,749,000 (about $5.2m)
I asked Boutros to pick his highlight of the auction, and naturally, he opted for the Phillippe Dufour Grande & petite sonnerie. “It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he laughs. “It’s a minute clock with chiming plus a minute repeater, the first wristwatch ever made in history with those compilations across any brand across any era and serial 1 of its kind.” For me, it’s as good as it gets for modern watchmaking.
This Philipe DuFour is basically the apex of watchmaking for anybody in the know. Do not be fooled by the grandfather-like aesthetics: if you were to rock up with this watch in a room of watch savants you would come out on top and then some.
I was sad to leave the preview; I could have tried on watches all day, but there were serious people in the room previewing serious timepieces and Mr. Boutros was a man in demand.
There’s something about the end of an important auction that feels like finishing an important school paper or exam: mixed emotions. I hope these special creations go to special homes, but I really have to stop getting so attached. On to the next!