The Unicorns, White Whales, And Rare Birds From The Upcoming Geneva Watch Auctio
Vintage & Auctions

The Unicorns, White Whales, And Rare Birds From The Upcoming Geneva Watch Auctions

From May 11 to 13, Geneva will turn into a bit of a zoo during Spring Watch Auction season.

By Rhonda Riche

Over the course of just three days in May, the world’s most dedicated watch enthusiasts and connected collectors will be in Geneva to bid on all kinds of unicorns, white whales, and rare birds. Those who can't be there in person will live stream the action like those watching a pay-per-view fight, Royal Wedding, or Coachella set.

During this time, the major auction houses (Antiquorum, Christie's, Sotheby's, and Phillips) will sell hundreds of watches and will (hopefully) rake in millions of dollars.

For the last few years, selling timepieces on the secondary market has become a big game hunt, and as a result, more and more of the lots feature modern pieces. And the hype was around celebrity-owned watches. But this season, the most sought after lots are pure vintage. Here is a house-by-house list of the highlights:

Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: Nine

Phillips’s Geneva Watch Auction: Nine, which takes place May 11 and 12, at La Réserve, is offering up a truly elusive Vacheron Constantin minute repeater with a retrograde calendar that, until recently, only existed in a single black-and-white photograph.

Not only is this a fantastic complication, the watch features fine deco-inspired details such as a tonneau case and Breguet hands. The signature of luxury retailers Brooking Madrid on the dial plus a retrograde calendar and day-of-the-week indicator. Couple with the fact it has a fascinating provenance as well.

According to a statement from Aurel Bacs of Bacs & Russo and Alex Ghotbi, Phillips’ Head of Sales in Geneva, “There was, in the 1930s, no other calendar wristwatch with retrograde date and minute repeater, so it was a revolutionary watch, made to measure for a very important patron.”

That customer was Madrid-born businessman, Francisco Martinez Llano, aka “Don Pancho.” Llano commissioned the piece from Vacheron in late 1935, but the watch was not delivered until 1940. Llano died in 1947, and the watch vanished. It was recently rediscovered in the Llano family vault, well worn but unpolished.

The vault, however, was not protected against humidity, so Phillips and Vacheron teamed up to restore the movement. Another interesting detail: The Don Pancho was meant to be delivered with two dials, but only came with one. This lot will come with the time-worn original dial, but the buyer will also have the option to have a new dial mounted.

Christie's Important Watches

Christie’s Luxury Week returns to the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva on May 13th. The highlight of this year’s catalog is a super rare ‘The Pink Stelline’ Rolex ref. 6062.

What makes it so rare? Rediscovered by the original owner's family in 2015, this unique timepiece is one of the best preserved and most exceptional 6062s to come up for auction ever.

Made between 1950 and 1953, this model has an interesting history. At the time, Rolex ordered around 180 pink gold ref. 6062 cases, the backs marked at the time 6063. But according to historians, it seems that only 50 examples were eventually used and sold of which today some 20 examples have been rediscovered.

And it's believed that this particular timepiece is one of less than ten versions with the iconic luminous Star Dial. The Rolex reference 6062 triple calendar moon phase with “Star Dial” (“Stelline” is Italian for “little star”) is also one of the most instantly recognizable vintage Rolexes which makes it even more desirable.

The dial itself was most likely produced by Beyeler and delivered and mounted by Stern Frères. What makes this face exquisite is its "grainé" silvered finish, blue date scale and pink gold stars with separate luminous dots next to the stars. Stern Frères supplied the moon phase of blue champlevé enamel on a gold plate.

When the watch came to light in 2015, the owners took it to Rolex Geneva for an authenticity check. It was revealed that at some point since its manufacture, large luminous dots had been applied to the dial and two extra lumes were added next to the quarter indexes.

The owner chose to have those large and inappropriate lumes professionally removed, and original period radium lume reapplied. This perfectly applied lume enhances the overall appearance of the exceptionally well-preserved dial with its original grainé base, the printing in absolutely unrestored and untouched condition.

What else? The "SWISS" designation below 6 o'clock shows three different fonts for each "S," a system, a style believed impossible to fake. The calendar is in French, its printing, as well as that of the rest of the dial, is still very well preserved.

This particular Pink Stelline has a flawless provenance. Rolex used an illustration of an identical watch with "Type 453" dial in their contemporary advertisements for the reference 6062. For historical context, it's also refreshing to see the original leather strap (not a metal bracelet)in this advertisement.

This model is also noteworthy because it was only produced for approximately 10 years between 1950 and 1960, it is one of only two Rolex models to feature a triple calendar (the other being the so-called “Padellone” reference 8171 — a model that is also up for bids at this auction), and these models were Rolex’s only moon phases manufactured until the introduction of the Cellini reference 50535 in 2017.

Adding to the Pink Stelline’s star power is the fact that this ref. 6062 will be prominently displayed in the forthcoming book "Rolex Starry Complication" by Pucci Papaleo. The winning bidder will receive a personally signed copy of the book.

Sotheby’s Important Watches

For its May 12 auction, Sotheby's is offering up some of the finest timepieces from the 16th to the 21st centuries, including pocket watches, wristwatches, tourbillons, and perpetual calendars but with an emphasis on more modern timepieces.

Take for example this 1992 Patek Phillipe Nautilus ref. 3800. Then again, this sporty and expensive steel mechanical automatic was considered a risky business for the company when it was introduced in 1976s. Now the Gérald Genta-designed watch is an integral part of Patek Philippe's identity.

What makes this particular timepiece a highlight of the spring auction season is its excellent overall condition and the fact that it comes complete with its original accessories, including the Patek Philippe Certificate of Origin, booklets and Extract from the Archives confirming date of sale on June 15th, 1996.

This lot has some history, but the watch itself is timeless, and buyers are especially attracted to pre-owned models. This is an investment piece that you can still get away with wearing.

Antiquorum Important Modern & Vintage Timepieces

This season, Antiquorum is offering up a treasure trove of IWC watches. And since IWC is renowned for its aviation watches, it's fitting that the highlight of the May 11 session is this elegant, extremely rare, large (55mm), manual wind, World War II pilot’s wristwatch with center-seconds.

These watches are a draw for horolophiles as well as collectors of military memorabilia, and the Big Pilot is especially attractive to both groups.

First of all this model is was famous for being accurate, robust, and easy to read during missions. Although some collectors will be put off by the fact that these Grosse Fliegeuhrs were made for the Luftwaffe and first used in the Battle of Britain.

This timepiece's problematic history is writ large on the watch itself. The inside case back is engraved - B-Uhr: Beobachtungs-Uhr (German for Navigation Watch) - Bauart, (German for Manufacture): IWC - Werk Nr, (German for Movement No.): 1014295 - (Anforderz, German for Classification Number -- only movement numbers between 1.013.801 and 1.015.000 and case numbers between 1.033.201 and 1.034.200 are considered correct for the 1940 Grosse Fliegeruhr).

It’s also marked with FL 23883, indicating the watch's assignation. FL stands for flight-qualified; the first two numbers indicate the department the watch was assigned to. 22 was the flight control department, 25 was radio surveillance, and 23 was the code number for the navigation department. The following numbers were given by the D.V.L. (Deutsche Versuchsanstalt Luftfahart), the German Aviation Research Institute.

Furthermore, IWC produced only 1,200 examples of the Cal. 52 in this size — the largest caliber ever made by IWC. Of this number, only 1,000 examples were delivered to the IWC’s Berlin Agent Siegfried Heindorf. The remaining 200 were used for English deck watches.

Bought at the Antiquorum sale in June 2011 (lot 302), this watch was part of Dr. Konrad Knirim’s private collection. Knirim is a noted collector of watches, clocks and other military time measuring devices and published two books on the subject.

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