It only happens once every two years (for the past 18 years), but when it does, the entire watch world rallies. This past weekend in Geneva, the ninth edition of the Only Watch charity auction took place under the patronage of H.S.H. Prince Albert II in one of the largest efforts to support research against Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This year, more than 50 watch brands created unique timepieces for the auction and donated them to the cause.
Easily one of the most emotional auctions in the watch world because of the charity component, watch brands spend months developing one-off timepieces that boast unusual colorways or totally new configurations. This year’s watches, and a couple of great clocks, commanded bid prices that left some people in the room breathless. Five timepieces went for well over $1m each (with one garnering $10m), and some of the watches not expected to perform as strongly ended up being head turners. Here are a few of the top takeaways.
The Look of Charity
The color orange was definitely a theme this year, with more than 20 brands incorporating the bold hue into its visible movement parts, dials, straps and other design elements. While beloved blue also surfaced on some watches, black was the secondary dominant color for cases and dials this year. Additionally, most of the lots were round watches, but a few standouts surprised and delighted the buying crowd. Among them: ArtyA’s guitar-shaped ArtyA X John Mc Laughlin, Is That So? Watch, complete with four crowns (two on either side of the case) that resemble tuning machine heads, and metal “strings” on the dial. This watch sold for CHF 55,000 ($60,200).
The Panda-bear shaped MB&F HM10 Panda Only Watch, which sold for CHF 620,000 ($678,600) (four to six times its estimated price) is another shaped watch that had hearts thumping. The unique piece was crafted in stainless steel and titanium with black and white lacquer on the case. The dome-shaped panda head showcases the time domes, and the watch was finished with black lacquered panda ears and a tail. There were also a few tonneau-, rectangular-, and cushion-corner shaped pieces.
The most expensive watch in the 53-lot auction may come as no surprise to true watch lovers who are in the know. Lot 41 was a Patek Philippe complicated desk clock that sold for CHF 9.5 million ($10.4m). Estimated to sell for just about $500,000, the exquisite clock is crafted of sterling silver with vermeil accents and walnut insets. The gold opaline dial offers a perpetual calendar with moonphase indications.
The other pieces that received multi-million-dollar bids were the F.P. Journe X Francis Ford Coppola FFC Blue watch, with bold blue hand automaton in the center of the dial that points to the instantaneous jump hours. Accented with a bright orange strap, the specially developed case for Only Watch is made of tantalum. The watch sold for CHF 4.5 million ($4.9m).
A very plain looking Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Only Watch was the third highest fetch of the day, selling for CHF 3.1 million ($3.4m). Estimated to sell for a maximum of $350,000, it over-achieved. Crafted in sandblasted titanium with a somewhat simple gray Petite Tapisserie patterned dial, it wasn’t the watch’s looks that had bidders vying to own it. Instead, it was the fact that this is the last unique piece of the thin automatic self-winding movement that was first introduced in 1972. The Ref. 15202 is a deft combination of the brand’s new era of titanium with polished Bulk Metallic Glass matched with a dial that recalls the original aesthetic codes of the model.
The Richard Mille RM 67-02 Charles Leclerc prototype watch sold for CHF 2.1 million ($2.3m), and the De Bethune x Kari Voutilainen Kind of Magic watch came in at CHF 1.3 million ($1.42m).
As with all auctions, this one was not without its surprises. For instance, the Ulysse Nardin UFO clock that was supposed to fetch about CHF 60,000 ($65,600) sold for an incredible CHF 380,000 ($416,000). With an orange domed base that allows the clock to “float” and certain orange clock parts, the manually wound piece consists of an incredible 675 components. The clock was first released in blue in April of this year in a limited edition of 75 pieces, which quickly sold out. The orange aluminum base for the Only Watch clock was specially made.
Lot 50, a Tudor Black Bay GMT One Watch was another surprise – mostly because of the fact that it was estimated to sell for between CHF 4,000 and CHF 8,000 and it actually sold for CHF 650,000 ($711,000) – blowing way past all “expert” estimates. The 41mm stainless steel watch has an “aged” look to it thanks to the aged stainless steel bezel and case back.
Similarly, the TAG Heuer Only Watch Carbon Monaco Watch, which was estimated to sell for CHF 50,000 to 100,000 went for triple its estimates, selling for CHF 290,000 ($317,000). The watch held higher-than-normal estimates for a TAG Heuer because it is crafted in forged carbon and is a re-edition of the iconic and very rare Dark Lord Monaco watch. It also has an exceptional Heuer 02 movement inside that boasts a newly developed high-tech carbon hairspring. The 10 different finishing techniques yield a checkered flag effect on the chronograph.
This year’s Only Watch auction brings the total raised for Duchenne muscular dystrophy research to an estimated $109.5m.