Only Watch 2021 © Gregory Maillot Photography
Vintage & Auctions

Only Watch 2021: All The Top Lots, Plus Reactions From Thierry Stern, Rexhep Rexhepi, And Kari Voutilainen

The charity auction enjoyed another bumper edition, raising CHF 30 million. While Patek Philippe topped the lots again, all 54 participating brands played their part, with five lots hammering for over CHF 1 million.

By Steven Rogers

Only Watch has only gone and done it again. The biennial charity auction of unique timepieces for research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy and one of the highlights of Geneva’s watch auction week reached fantastic new heights as its 2021 edition took place at the Swiss city’s Palexpo exhibition center this past weekend.

The sale proceeds may not have beaten the historic total set by the previous installment – a tall order given Only Watch 2019 saw the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A, at CHF 31 million, become the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction. But the CHF 29,740,000 raised at this year’s edition, topped up to CHF 30 million by one of the generous bidders, is still a stunning effort and represents the second highest result ever at the event.

Patek Philippe once again delivered the auction’s highest-grossing lot, with its Complicated Desk Clock Ref. 27001M selling for CHF 9.5 million. But Only Watch 2021 was a story of all 54 participating brands playing their part. Four other lots – proposed by F.P.Journe, Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, and De Bethune x Voutilainen – each fetched over a million Swiss francs, some in the multi-millions. Meanwhile, more than 20 brands comprising big players and niche independents saw their one-of-a-kind watches go for over CHF 100,000.

At every level across the 53 lots, nearly all the hammer prices realized were well above the upper estimate. Sometimes they were even triple the appraisal (and in many cases even more) as the participating maisons were rewarded for upholding the auction’s mission: “Create beauty to do good.”

Likewise, the 650 registered bidders from all corners of the globe – bidding online, by phone, or as part of the 850 on-site attendees – embraced the charitable spirit of this ninth edition of the auction organized, as always, by founder Luc Pettavino whose son Paul was taken by Duchenne muscular dystrophy in 2016 at the age of 21.

Patek Philippe Top of the Lots Again

To a degree, Patek Philippe grabbed the headlines once more, as the Geneva brand’s reinterpretation of a complicated desk clock made for automotive tycoon James Ward Packard in 1923 proved, as expected, to be the top lot.

Listed as Lot 41 and presented halfway through the afternoon’s giddy proceedings, it opened with a bid of CHF 3 million. Then, the charismatic auctioneer Rahul Kadakia used all his podium experience and ability to “feel the room” and ratchet up the bidding over a tense and dramatic quarter-hour, with applause and cheers ringing out as each new million was reached.

In the end, it hammered for CHF 9.5 million, not quite the same level as the Grandmaster Chime two years ago, but still, a figure that puts it in the top five most expensive timepieces ever sold at auction.

Afterwards, Patek Philippe president Thierry Stern told Watchonista: “That a desk clock fetched this price is exceptional. It’s a unique object, and it’s the first time at auction that it was difficult for me to see a piece sold. It would have been nice to keep this one; it’s so beautiful!

He continued: “We’re lucky that we can propose special creations that will fetch high prices, but the other brands did likewise, donating some very special pieces. If you’re going to take part, you need to do things properly, so I’d like to say ‘bravo’ to all the watchmakers who participated.”

Stern concluded: “To have raised CHF 30 million overall is just fantastic. I am very proud of Luc because he deserves this. Now we have to keep on fighting and help the researchers to find a cure. Hopefully, within a few years, we will have a breakthrough for this disease.”

The Lots That Fetched Over a Million Swiss Francs

Patek Philippe didn’t do all the heavy lifting when it came to the staggering sales total. As at previous editions of the auction, F.P.Journe once again played its part with its FFC Blue. An intriguing “hand automaton” watch created with Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola, the FFC Blue sold for CHF 4.5 million after a frenzy of bids that jumped from one to two to three million francs more quickly than you could say, “The Godfather” – and breaking Journe’s auction record in the process.

There was a big shout of “Merci!” as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Only Watch went for CHF 3,100,000 relatively rapidly. And Richard Mille made a splash when its RM 67-02 Charles Leclerc Prototype hammered for a cool CHF 2,100,000.

However, one of the biggest rounds of applause was reserved for De Bethune CEO Pierre Jacques and Finnish watchmaker Kari Voutilainen, who shared a hug as their “two-watches-in-one” collaborative piece, the De Bethune x Voutilainen Kind of Magic for Only Watch 2021, went to a lucky bidder in New Jersey for CHF 1,300,000.

After the auction, Voutilainen told Watchonista: “We’re obviously very pleased, surprised even, by the final price. But this year in general, we saw far higher results than in previous years, much higher than expected.”

Voutilainen continued: “Making this collaborative piece was totally different to other collaborations because we were both working on the same mainplate. That means you have to collaborate in the true sense of the word: Share technical information, share challenges, and share risks. You have to be open and trust one another, and, for me, it was a very positive experience.”

The Lots That Fetched Over CHF 400,000

The expression “start as you mean to go on” came to mind when the very first lot of the auction set the tone for the afternoon’s bidding. There were gasps and whoops as Rexhep Rexhepi watched the first example of his newly revealed Akrivia Chronomètre Contemporain II fetch nearly ten times its estimate as Lot 1, securing a sale price of CHF 800,000.

Rexhepi told Watchonista: “I was delighted to be able to kick off the auction like this because it’s for a great cause, but I am also amazed. This price was totally unexpected. I find it quite exceptional.”

Fellow popular independents H. Moser & Cie. and MB&F also saw their watches hammer in the high hundreds of thousands, with the H. Moser’s Streamliner Cylindrical Tourbillon Only Watch selling for CHF 750,000 and the MB&F HM10 Panda Only Watch going for CHF 620,000.

And like in 2019, Tudor made a mockery of its upper estimate of CHF 8,000 when its Black Bay GMT One for Only Watch 2021 sold for CHF 650,000. Zenith capped off the auction in style when the final Lot 53, the Defy 21 Double Tourbillon Sapphire Felipe Pantone Unique Piece, went for CHF 480,000.

Other Honorable Mentions

Another 13 lots hammered for between CHF 200,000 to CHF 400,000, including imaginative contributions from big players Ulysse Nardin, Hublot, TAG Heuer, Chanel, Breguet, Bell & Ross, Bugalri, and Jaquet Droz, as well as highly creative independents Czapek, Urwerk, Krayon, and Konstantin Chaykin.

And a host of lots proposed by independent brands also sold for the CHF 100,000 mark or more: Bovet, Laurent Ferrier, David Candaux (with artist Miki Saturno), Ludovic Ballouard, Moritz Grossman, Andersen Genève, Romain Gauthier, and Trilobe (with artist Daniel Buren).

Final Thoughts from Luc Pettavino

The Only Watch 2021 total of CHF 30 million means the charity auction has now raised over CHF 100 million for the benefit of research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy since its first edition 16 years ago.

After the auction, Only Watch founder Luc Pettavino reflected on the hugely successful afternoon for his charity, the Association Monégasque contre les Myopathies, which benefits from the total sales proceeds.

He said: “I feel a lot of joy. The winning bids were marvelous, and the final result encourages us to carry on and give the Duchenne muscular dystrophy researchers the means to do their fine work.”

He continued: “Only Watch 2019 was fantastic, but this year the total was more spread out between the lots. Patek Philippe obviously contributed very strongly, but it had a sort of locomotive effect, and that helped a lot of other brands achieve some really high prices.”

Pettavino finished by saying: “I just try to put in place a framework, a space where we can all do good, show respect and goodwill, and I feel everyone bought into it. Everyone was united in their energy, and everyone really put their all into it.”

(Photography by Pierre Vogel)

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