Watchonista Staff Picks: May Auction Lots
From hypebeasts to historically significant timepieces, today, Team Watchonista picks their favorite auction lots from the past month.
While wait lists get longer and longer and supply chain interruptions continue to delay watch deliveries, the role of the secondary market as a major driver in the watch business has become even more significant. And thus, the 2022 watch auction season has taken on dramatic new energy.
As a result, May (the traditional first month of the auction season) saw catalogues selling out and record-setting bids – even despite plunging stock markets, rising inflation, and, more recently, the threat of a monkeypox outbreak.
However, wait lists and supply chain issues alone can’t explain the bidding frenzy at auctions this past month. No, another driving factor has been the surprising quality of watches offered during the May 2022 auctions. For instance, my favorite auction lot of the month – a Cartier London Crash from 1967 – is the perfect representation of how high-quality lots have driven the May auction frenzy.
Sold on the online auction site Loupe This on May 4th, this manual-wind, 18K yellow gold Cartier London Crash circa 1967 was estimated to sell between $500,000 and $800,000, which would have been impressive enough.
However, by the time bidding closed, it sold for an astonishing $1.5 million, doubling the previous hammer price and setting a new auction record for this iconic watch. And while money isn’t everything, it’s nice to see a design-driven, time-only model like this one get the recognition it deserves with such a high hammer price.
So, without further ado, here’s a list of Team Watchonista’s favorite auction lots from May.
Team Watchonista’s Favorite Releases: May Auction Lots
Estimated to sell between CHF 250,000 and CHF 500,000, Simon Wiesenthal’s Patek Philippe Ref. 1503 was finally auctioned for CHF 1,361,000 by Phillips in Geneva.
Once owned by the Holocaust survivor, Nazi hunter, and human rights campaigner Simon Wiesenthal – who was, without a doubt, one of the rare universal heroes of humanity – the historical value of the lot is not why I’ve chosen it. Instead, with only two known examples of this lot’s exact configuration, I was immediately drawn to the purity of this time-only watch’s minimalistic design.
And while its broader historical importance may not be why it’s my pick for this month, I am glad to see at least some collectors in today’s crazy market putting money behind a watch of such significant social and cultural value instead of falling for mere hype.
Everybody knows that the Omega Speedmaster was the first watch worn on the Moon, but that is not where the Speedmaster’s story with space ends. Indeed, NASA astronauts still wear Speedies to this day.
However, after Apollo 11 successfully landed on the Moon in 1969, Omega continued trying to build a better space watch that was more legible via secret R&D programs codenamed “ALASKA Project.” There were four different Alaska Projects in all, and each yielded a new Speedmaster prototype (all with subtle differences) that were then submitted to NASA for testing and validation.
With that history in mind, for my favorite May auction lot, I chose this real-deal, NASA-purchased “ALASKA II” Omega Speedmaster sold at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: XV. The lot even came complete with documentation from Omega showing it was delivered to NASA in Houston (where else?) in 1970. Speedmasters with NASA connections rarely come up for sale, never mind prototype level pieces, so while a sale price of CHF 529,200 may seem steep, it may be a decade before another one surfaces.
At first glance, it may look like a mere steel chrono from 2011, but the colorways of the gorgeously textured tapisserie dial could easily place it on the wrist of a race car driver as a diplomat or business leader. With a starting bid set at CHF 40,000 and an estimate topping out at CHF 45,000, this bold beauty could go for significantly more with an adventurous new owner.
With hundreds of watches to choose from, my clear favorite is the Rolex GMT-Master II “Batman” Ref. 16710BLNR.
Lot 6 in Christie’s “Rare Watches: Featuring the Kairos Collection Part I” from Monday, May 9th, I’ve long dreamed of owning a Batman of my very own. Unfortunately, after selling for CHF 30,240 earlier this month, I don’t think that dream will become a reality anytime soon.
This stellar Reference 1518 from 1947 is one of the rarest and most referential timepieces a watch collector could ever hope to own. Moreover, only 14 Patek Philippe Ref. 1518s featuring a pink gold case combined with a salmon pink dial are still known to exist. The warmth of the pink, the rarity of the configuration, and the historical appeal of the watch make it outstandingly attractive.
Earlier in 2022, Sotheby’s sold much of Karl Lagerfeld’s estate, but not his timepieces. And after years of hearing rumors and stories about his “Blacked Out” Royal Oak, I was curious to see with which auction house his notable watch collection, which included a Rolex Ref. 6062, would land.
Ever since I discovered the architecture of this timepiece, I’ve wanted to own one (in all honesty, my true grail is the DB28GS Yellow Submarine, but I would have “settled” for this one). The design language of this piece represents everything I like: thinking outside the box, innovation, and the use of modern materials while still respecting the tradition of watchmaking.
May’s auctions haven’t just been about record-breaking blockbusters: There have also been some hidden gems up for grabs, accessible to collectors operating on more modest budgets. Hence, my pick is the Erwin LAB01 Bronze by Habring2 x Massena Lab, featuring jumping seconds, a bronze case, and a gorgeous glossy black sector dial with gilded numerals.
As lot 144 at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: XV, this numbered 01 of 50 hammered for CHF 11,970, nearly CHF 4,000 above its upper estimate, in another demonstration of collectors’ increasing appetite for and appreciation of independent brands at all levels.
(Photography by Watchonista)