Top Lots: 5 Watches to Watch from Phillips’ The Geneva Watch Auction XVII
Vintage & Auctions

Top Lots: 5 Watches to Watch from Phillips’ The Geneva Watch Auction XVII

From watches so accessible that you can practically see them in your collection to pieces you can only dream of owning, here are some of the top lots from The Geneva Watch Auction: XVII hosted by Phillips, which begins on Saturday, May 13th, at 14:00 CEST.

By Andrea Casalegno

Although it may be hard for some people to remember, Phillips hasn’t always made it to the list of auction highlights. In fact, before Aurel Bacs’ uncanny ability to attract attention, produce results, and gather masterpieces, Phillips’ watch auctions were more geared toward in-the-know collectors and people with money to spend. Now, Phillips’ auction catalogs attract a much wider audience, adding appeal to watch auction week in Geneva.

Of course, it is no surprise that Phillips’ catalog for The Geneva Watch Auction: XVII is filled with very high-end lots. To many observers, this catalog makes it seem like Phillips is only trying to get the attention of top (read: profligate) collectors from around the world. However, if your eye is good enough, you’ll see that some lots are still very much attainable for many. Luckily, almost every lot is of either historical interest, collecting interest, or both.

That is why today I want to highlight some of The Geneva Watch Auction: XVII’s top lots, all of which I am eager to get a look at during the viewing days at La Réserve Genève before the bidding opens for lots 1 through 103 at 2:00 pm CEST on the Saturday, May 13th, and lots 104 to 207 of Sunday, May 14th, also at 2:00 pm CEST.

Lot 21: A “Possibly Unique” Patek Philippe Ref. 3424 Designed by Gilbert Albert

Patek Philippe is (and always will be) one of the finest names in watchmaking. My personal Patek journey started with Roni Madhvani (a.k.a. @Roni_m_29 on Instagram) and his love for unusual watches.

And while most think of the Nautilus or the Calatrava when conjuring images of the brand’s timepieces, its history is filled with odd and quirky creations, some of which are beyond desirable. I am very much a fan of this creative side, and Lot 21’s Ref. 3424, designed by Gilbert Albert, is no exception.

Beyond being the most wearable and easiest to like watches of all the designs Gilbert Albert did Patek, in my opinion, the asymmetric timepiece on offer at The Geneva Watch Auction: XVII has a cherry on top of its quirky cake: As Phillips’ catalog essay states, “According to our research, only a handful of the present reference in white gold has appeared in public; however, each was fitted with dials featuring black sector lines. The present watch is the only known example in white gold to feature black ‘baton’ indices.”

Estimate: CHF 80,000 – CHF 120,000

Lot 37: A Cartier Tank Asymétrique “Milan Limited Edition”

If there is one watch in this auction that practically runs in my veins, then it is Lot 37’s Cartier Tank Asymétrique made for the Milan boutique.

Not only is Cartier my favorite brand, but this numbered 02 of 16 limited edition piece celebrates the re-opening of the brand’s boutique in my home city of Milan in 2021. And I’ve spent hours and hours in the Milanese boutique, learning, talking, looking at new and vintage watches, and, sometimes, even buying. So, how does this Asymétrique celebrate the Milan boutique?

Cleverly, Cartier used the boutique’s street address: Via Montenapoleone 16. As you no doubt have noticed, the boutique’s street number (16) matches the limited run of this piece. Moreover, this platinum-encased limited edition features a red “1” in the 12 o’clock index and a red “6” at the bottom of the dial.

Given its estimate, Lot 37 is one of the watches in this auction that approaches more general affordability. And although it is still no doubt expensive, I think this piece is worth it because it represents one of Cartier’s best design executions while also being associated with a city that is starting to leave its mark on the horological map.

Estimate: CHF 40,000 – CHF 80,000

Lot 82: A Rare Breguet Diver from 1962 with Bakelite Bezel

When discussing Breguet, people usually fall into one of two camps: Some believe it’s a niche brand, while others consider it to be more widely relevant due to its tremendous historical importance. But no matter the camp you belong to, we can all agree that dive watches from Breguet are not your average “tool” watches.

And by “dive watches,” we mean true 1960s examples like, for instance, Lot 82’s incredibly rare 37mm steel dive watch made by Breguet circa 1962 featuring a black glossy dial, a black Bakelite bezel, and lots of radium on its indices and hands.

As you can see, this lot is in extraordinarily excellent condition, and with less than 60 examples in existence, this lot could easily be the crown jewel in a collection of vintage divers. However, be wary of the low estimate. In 2018, Phillips, in Association with Bacs & Russo, sold another example of this watch that was very close to Lot 82’s serial number, setting a then record for CHF 131,250.

Estimate: CHF 40,000 – CHF 80,000

Lot 102: A Rolex Daytona Ref. 6270 Owned by the Sultan of Oman

When done well, gem-set executions of the Rolex Daytona can be among the finest, most elegant watches you will ever see. There are, of course, countless exceptions floating around out there. Luckily, Lot 102 is an example of the former, not the latter.

Before I discuss the specifics of this lot, let’s state the obvious: Manual-winding Daytonas are among the finest watches Rolex has ever released on the market. What is the wellspring of their appeal? Who knows. It could be anything from their back story to their size to their overall design and charm. So, with those self-evident truths out of the way, I ask you: Given that vintage gem-set versions of this iconic sports watch are hard to find, which references should I search auction catalogs for?

For me, two gem-set Daytona references represent the absolute best money can buy because they not only offer the best model but also vintage beauty and impeccable savoir-faire in gem-setting: References 6270 and 6269.

These are amazingly attractive, intelligently designed twins and are incredible in every aspect. However, the Ref. 6270 Phillips is selling in lot 102 is the absolute best, in my estimation. Once owned by His Highness Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman (1940-2020), Lot 102 features baguette-cut diamonds on the bezel instead of the brilliant-cut typical of the 6269, which makes this reference rarer, more aesthetically please, and something I’d be happy to frame and hang in my bedroom.

Estimate: CHF 1,200,000 – CHF 2,400,000

Lot 177: A Vacheron Constantin Mercator Prototype

For me, the Vacheron Constantin rarity comprising Lot 177 is THE watch of this auction. In fact, the first time I came across one was on Instagram, and I fell so entirely under its thrall that it became the first post I ever saved. What else can I say?

Tremendously underrated, this prototype is similar to all the other Mercator watches you see – featuring bi-retrograde hours in the form of a compass – but it’s slightly better because Switzerland is pictured on its cloisonné enamel dial.

Tremendously underrated, this prototype is similar to all the other Mercator watches you see – featuring bi-retrograde hours in the form of a compass – but it’s slightly better because Switzerland is pictured on its cloisonné enamel dial.

Other Mercator examples have Germany, Italy, Eurasia, and maybe a few other countries on the dial, but the Switzerland version is arguably the most interesting. Moreover, Lot 177 is from a series of only seven prototypes, with this being number 3, which also makes it attractive for collectors. Now we only have to find the other six!

Estimate: CHF 20,000 – CHF 40,000

Final Thoughts

Finally, with a healthy mix of modern, independent, and, most importantly, vintage watches, I would like to say bravo to the entire Phillips team for putting together what could be considered May 2023’s top catalog thus far.

I’m looking forward to the lot viewing at La Réserve Genève today, Wednesday, May 10th, from 14:00 to 19:00 CEST. But if you can’t make it to La Réserve Genève today, viewings will also be held there Thursday, May 11th, and Friday, May 12th, from 10:00 to 19:00 CEST and before the auction sessions from 9:00 to 12:30 CEST on Saturday, May 13th, and Sunday, May 14th.

The Geneva Watch Auction: XVII, hosted by Phillips (in association with Bacs & Russo), will be held at Hôtel La Réserve (301 Route de Lausanne, Geneva, Switzerland). Session I, which includes lots 1 through 103, begins at 14:00 CEST on Saturday, May 13th, and Session II, which features lots 104 – 207, starts at 14:00 CEST on Sunday, May 15th. Register now to place advance bids or to bid live in Phillips’ digital salesroom.

(Images © Phillips)

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