The Watches That Really Changed The Game At Phillips Game Changers
Vintage & Auctions

The Watches That Really Changed The Game At Phillips Game Changers

Last night’s Phillips Game Changers auction was one to remember. Featuring watches that belonged to exceptional people and groundbreaking innovators in their fields, the room was electric. Here are some of Watchonista's highlights.

By Thomas Hendricks
By Viviana Shanks

$20,169,875, that is precisely how much Phillips Game Changers auction raised yesterday. From the awaited big results to the ones that had us on the edge of our seat, Phillips kept the large crowd's full attention until the very end. With most of the profits going directly to charities, Game Changers was quite a success and marks the first time a US auction sold five watches above $1 million. Watchonista's editors Viviana and Thomas experienced the auction and here is a his and hers take on our favorite lots.

The auction

His (Thomas): I wanted a show, and I got one. Game Changers was a four-hour hurricane of warring bidders across every timezone vying for the rarest and wildest watches in the game today. How auctioneer Aurel Bacs stays so present through this marathon, I do not know, but his theatrical gestures, effortless polyglotism, and rapid-fire humor showed that he was born to play this role. As for the crowd at Phillips, before arriving, I had visions of the Illuminati going but soon found out the high-rollers dressed a lot like a stereotypical dad - mind you, a dad that could shake the entire watch market by raising their hand. As for me, I’ll be back next year with some scratch-off lottery tickets and a paddle just in case.

Hers (Viviana): Being my first auction in the US, I was not disappointed. Very much like Geneva, the room is packed, with paddles ready to bid. This auction was very special. With two exceptional watches in the top lots, we were all waiting for new records and records we got! After last night's auction, I can confirm that I want to be Aurel Bacs when I grow up. Indeed, he has quite a way of managing the room, switching languages as quickly as one changes gears, and having his eyes everywhere. Nothing stops him, and I'm sure that this charisma incites everyone to bid even higher.

Jack Nicklaus' Rolex Day-Date

His : The value for this piece is apparent - it’s the first and only watch that the legendary golfer wore, donning it every day for 50 years. “It was just a part of me,” Nicklaus says. Matching rarity with provenance, the “Golden Bear's” golden Day-Date is a true catch in the world of Rolex collecting, rounding up to a 1 million dollar hammer price. Plus, the charity aspect helps justify the purchase to the wife and maybe your accountant too.

Hers: It was probably the watch with the most touching story. Jack Nicklaus had us all in tears during the panel the day before the auction. After his 11-month-old daughter got sick, doctors could not identify the problem due to a lack of equipment. So he and his wife decided to come to the aid of children. Luckily, the story has a happy ending, as their daughter got better. Plus and their foundation just celebrated their 15 years anniversary. Today, through his foundation, he helps thousands of sick children and their families. The solid gold day-date, one of the first watches to present the entire day on the dial, was estimated to reach $100,000 – $200,000 but ended up hammering in at $1,000,000 ($1,220,000 all-in) with the profits (including Phillips’) all going to his charity.

Marlon Brando's Rolex GMT Master

His: Make me an offer I can’t refuse,” declared auctioneer Aurel Bacs. The bidding on this lot started at $250,000 and quickly surged. One bid alone jumped the price from $420,000 to $600,000. This would not last. After the 1 million dollar mark, the bids came in slow and low at $5,000 intervals (perhaps pointing to some psychological ceiling at seven figures). Bacs soon urged his staff working the phones, “It was good fun, but please tell your bidders to...accelerate.” After about 20 minutes of back and forth, the hammer dropped on the historical lot, and the room shared a collective sigh of relief.

Hers: While Marlon Brando is a well-known actor who will never be forgotten, his watch is another story. That's because, for years, it was believed to be lost forever. It was quite the surprise for Paul Boutros when Petra Brando Fischer, Marlon's adopted daughter, called him and said: "I have my father's Apocalypse Now watch." The whole auction room was waiting for a Paul Newman moment, with someone screaming "10 million" but we got a couple of quick first bids. Then, for about 20 minutes and with bids in increments of $5,000, they had the entire auction room on the edge of their seats until Aurel Bacs hammered the watch for 1,610,000 ($1,952,000 all-in). The result made the Brando watch the most expensive Rolex GMT Master ever sold. For this timepiece, a portion of the proceeds goes to The Brando Fischer Foundation. 

Urwerk Atomic Master Clock

Hers: Urwerk is one of those cutting edge watch companies that, in terms of design and function, seem to see further into the futureby taking full  advantage of evolving technologies to create their timepieces. This Atomic Master Clock is one-of-a-kind and is paired with a platinum wristwatch. This impressive clock is so precise that it has a margin of error of only one second over 317 years. The clock also winds and sets a platinum wristwatch that was included in the set. This lot smashed its estimate of $1,000,000-$2,000,000 and hammered in at $2,400,000, breaking the record for the brand.

John Glenn's Jaeger-LeCoultre Lucky 13

His: Watch collecting is supposed to be fun, and this piece has it in spades. This unusual LeCoultre was gifted to legendary astronaut John Glenn Jr. on Friday the 13th by the 13 Senators in the Anti-Superstition Society of Chicago, honoring the first American to orbit the earth. It’s a piece that immediately makes you smile and has a rich history and personal engraving to back it up. The watch ultimately went to one, shall we say, lucky bidder for the hammer price of $50,000 ($62,500 all-in).

Benrus DTU-2A/P MIL-W-38188 and Ultra-Deep 6088

His: Beneath the many Rolex and Patek Philippes of the evening was a pair of sleeper hits. The name Benrus might not raise many pulses, and the pre-auction estimate of $2,000-$4,000 echoed that. But bidding on this pair started fast and kept going, ending at $24,000 ($30,000 all-in), well above estimate. And with a history rooted in a soon-to-be hall of fame CIA agent’s active duty work in the United States’ largest (and previously unconfirmed) paramilitary operation during the Vietnam War, one can see why these watches shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated.

Rolex Triple Calendar "Padellone" 8171

Hers: There is always something very special about a watch that stays in the same family for over 70 years. This ultra-rare Rolex Triple Calendar 8171 "Padellone" belonged to the Verkade family for more than seven decades, and they took meticulous care of it. When we look at this watch, we can only imagine all the stories, milestones, and life accomplishments it has witnessed. The piece hammered for $220,000, and yours truly can only hope that it will share similar successes with its new owner.

Rolex Sea-Dweller 1665

His: This watch is densely impressive - extremely rare, well preserved, and historically important with a library of documents in tow. The Sea-Dweller 1665 is the first watch to feature a helium escape valve, and this particular example sports the rarest version of the Omani stamp, the “Golden Khanjar.” Gifted by the Sultan of Oman to a special forces diver, the watch comes with personal letters, photographs, the original guarantee, military service medals, and the dive log showing the specific missions that this watch helped execute. Not surprisingly, the bidding for this watch climbed well into the six-figures before settling at $462,500 all-in.

F.P.Journe No. Proto / 00A

Hers:  With an impressive $100,000 opening bid, this F.P.Journe prototype beat its own estimate of $60,000 from the start! The bidder didn't even wait to let Aurel Bacs to introduce the piece. After that, the bids came in so quickly you could barely blink before the next paddle was raised! Everyone seemed to want to have a piece of history in their collection. This unique F.P.Journe prototype was SOLD for $250,000 all-in! Bravo!

Phillips In 2020

The Game Changers auction amassaed a grand total of $20,169,875, most of which is heading straight for various charities. Auctions like this keep unearth passionate collectors and shine a brighter spotlight on the hobby of watch collecting. It also brings together collectors from 50 countries to bid on great watches for their wrists. Phillips is a master at breaking records, and after last night’s auction, it shows no signs of slowing down.

Even though we believe finding exceptional watches capable of selling for millions will get harder with time, there is no end in sight yet. The Marlon Brando watch is the perfect example. So what is next? We can only speculate, but we can expect the next New York Auction in 2020 to break records yet again.

(Images courtesy of Phillips)

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