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Auction Report: Christie’s Timepieces Sale Fast & Frenetic

by David Mycko (06/30/11).

The top lot in Christie’s sale of Important Watches, held on June 15, was this Vacheron Constantin clockwatch from the J. W. Ward Packard Collection, which brought $1.5 million, blowing past the pre-estimate was of $250,000-$500,000.

Christie’s sale of Important Watches, held on June 15, was like a tornado blowing through a hapless mid-western town. The collectible watch world will never be the same, as 416 wrist and pocket watches—many highly important and downright fabulous watches, including two unique, one-of-a-kind pocket watches from the famous James Ward Packard Collection—sold for prices ranging from as little as $1,000 and for as much as $1.5 million.

This sale, held at the acclaimed Christie’s auction house located at New York’s Rockefeller Center, was an event that will not be eclipsed for many a year to come. Nearly all the well-known and celebrated watch houses—past and present—were well represented in this sale.

The relationship between man and his machine was gloriously displayed, pictured and sold to the highest bidder—one watch at a time—in a fast-paced but well-organized high class auction. Christie’s team of auctioneers had their work cut out for them, and they ran through an enormous conglomeration of wrist and pocket watches dating from the 16th to the 21st century with nary a hitch!

The sale commenced with a stainless steel gent’s Cartier wristwatch with a pre-estimate of $1,500-$2,000, realizing $1,750, and ended with a gent’s 18-karat-gold Patek Philippe Wrist Chronograph hammering down at $175,000. Prices realized throughout the sale were high, with several upset bids on the more desirable and rare watches, both wrist and pocket. Rolex seems to have leveled off from a high of a few years ago, but is still very strong in the steel Sport Model area. Patek and V&C are as strong as ever, with many upset bids.

Nearly every watch in the sale brought the minimum pre-estimate set by Christie’s, and nearly 80 percent went well over the high estimate.

The top sale in the auction was the J. W. Ward Packard Vacheron Constantin clockwatch, which brought $1.5 million, blowing past the pre-estimate was of $250,000-$500,000. This watch was cheap at twice the price!

Four notable watch collections were sold in this fine sale:

• Racing enthusiast G. Garvin Brown III (1943-2010), lots 198-244, of modern and vintage sport model wrist chronographs, tourboulions and complicated watches, including Rolex, Jaeger LeCoultre, Breguet, V&C, Hublot, IWC, Longines, A. Lange, Paneri, Frank Muller, and several Porche design watches.

• Buck A. Mickel, collector of fine art, photography, rare timepieces and fast cars. Lots 283-306. Buck was an enthusiastic collector of modern and vintage Sport Model wrist watches including Rolex, Bell and Ross, Paneri and Patek Philippe. His Rolex Paul Newman 6239 wrist chrono brought a record-breaking $100,000. His Patek Philippe ref. 5970 realized $110,000.

• The Kronos Collection, lots 128-197; including a rare and early Oval Verge watch constructed in ivory (circa 1650), several early and rare Champlevé Dial pocket watches (circa 1680-1790), a few French Verge Oignons, several early complicated watches, repeaters, Automatons, early enamels, a Breguet Souscription, a Breguet enamel Montre a Tact, several fabulous chatelaine-watch combinations, culminating with a fantastic and rare musical gold, enamel and pearl set Automaton for the Chinese market, estimated at $50,000-$70,000, realizing $290,500.

• The James Ward Packard Collection, including a rare, one-of-a-kind Patek Philippe minute repeater with power reserve indicator (pre-sale estimated at $200,000-$400,000) realizing a whopping $820,000. A one-of-a-kind V&C 20-karat minute repeating clockwatch with chronograph emblazoned with J. W. Packard’s monogram pre-estimated at $250,000-$500,000, realizing a paltry $1.5 million.

A rare minute repeating Patek Philippe day-date moon phase with split chrono ref. 862 pocket watch ca. 1967 brought $220,000 (est. $100,000-$150,000).

This author had the distinct and honorable pleasure of handling and closely examining many of these fine watches, including the Packard watches. This was an incredible experience . . . a once in a lifetime experience! The Packard watches were all in incredible nearly unused condition; their intricate and highly complex mechanisms are finished to the nth degree. High-grade sweeping nickel bridges with gold jewel settings, polished and camphered chronograph mechanisms, all designed per J. Ward’s specific instructions and details. These watches are truly the epitome of the watchmaker’s art!

These fabulous collections were a just part of this unbelievable sale of high-grade, rare and complicated watches, which included myriad assortment of Sport Model wristwatches, built by the masters of timekeeping, the Swiss. But I shall not omit the wonderful and complicated timepieces produced by the French, German, Swedish and even the American makers represented in this once-in-a-lifetime sale. There were several chronometers by English makers Arnold, Frodsham and Dent, including a rare minute repeating perpetual chronograph pocket watch by Frodsham, sold for $28,000.

The French were represented by Breguet, Verger Frères and many wrist and pocket watches by the celebrated Louis Cartier of Paris.

The Germans were represented by A. Lange and Shone, with several antique and complicated pocket watches and modern wristwatches in gold platinum and stainless steel.

The Swedes were represented by Jules Jurgensen, including several rare and complicated pocket watches such as a split-second minute repeating 18K pocket watch that gaveled for $26,250 (pre-sale est. of $8,000-$12,000).

The American makers included several rare Walthams, and many scored upset prices. A Premier Maximus, boxed, with a pre-sale estimated of $1,500-$2,000 realized $12,500. A Riverside Maximus with power reserve, ($500-$700) sold for $6,875. An Edward Howard ($1,000-$1,500) brought $10,625. A Gruen 50th Anniversary ($1,500-$2,000), sold for $5,250. And finally, a Fasoldt ($15,000-$20,000) picked up a tidy $52,500.

A rare 18k pink gold Jules Jüregnsen hunter case minute repeating split-seconds chronograph keyless lever pocket watch with original box and certificate sold for $26,250.

Cartier watches—both wrist and pocket, including several of their famous and fabulous desk clocks—were well represented in this sale and brought very good prices for both
modern and antique timepieces. A Cartier 18K gold, diamond and nephrite petite Sonnerie astronomical alarm desk clock with day, date and moon phase (which held a pre-sale estimate of $150,000-$250,000) realized $290,500, while a Cartier 14K gold, diamond and turquoise Grand and Petit Sonnierie Minute repeating alarm desk clock, (est. at $60,000-$80,000) nailed down $110,500. A fabulous Cartier ladies’ 18K white gold, diamonds and rubies wristwatch (est. at $80,000-$120,000) sold for $98,500 and a gent’s 18K gold rectangular tank (est. at $1,500-$2,000), realized $3,250.

Paneri was well represented at this sale with several offerings: A black ceramic cusion shape driver’s watch realized $8,500. A stainless steel Ferrari auto with chrono realized $4,000. A limited-edition stainless steel auto with date with concealed dial realized $18,750, well past the pre-sale estimate of $8,000-$12,000

Rolex was as strong as ever with many sport models offered: Paul Newman 6239 in stainless steel realized $100,000 (est. $40,000-$60,000). A fine stainless steel Explorer 1655 ca. 1970 brought $14,375 (est. $7,000-$9,000). A stainless steel early GMT ref. 6542 (est. $20,000-$30,000) brought $43,750. A stainless steel Submariner ref. 6536 ca. 1951 (est. $10,000-$15,000) brought $13,750. A stainless steel Submariner ref. 5512 ca. 1965 (est. $2,500-$3,500) brought $6,250

Patek Philippe was also well represented in this fine sale, and proved to be the best investment in a vintage or antique watch, as there were many more than 50 wristwatches and nearly the same number in pockets, at 37 pieces, along with eight rare P.P. Clocks. A rare stainless steel Antimagnetic wristwatch (est. $10,000-$15,000) brought $24,000. A 2003 ref. 5125 18K white gold wristwatch brought $50,000 (pre-sale est. of $40,000-$60,000). A rare 18K white gold perpetual wristwatch ref. 5970 brought $110,000 (est. $80,000-$120,000). A rare minute repeating day-date moon phase with split chrono ref. 862 pocket watch ca. 1967 brought $220,000 (est. $100,000-$150,000). An extremely fine and rare P.P., ref. 773 pocket watch with cloisonné dial and enamel case in 18K gold, brought $962,500 (est. $40,000-$60,000). A very fine and late P.P. enamel pocket watch in 18K gold brought $110,500 (est. $50,000-$80,000). An 18K day-date moon phase minute repeating pocket watch ca. 1947, ref. 844 brought $105,000 (est. $60,000-$80,000). A star of the P.P offerings was ref. 2499, an 18K day-date moon phase wrist watch with chromo brought $902,500 (est. $600,000-$1,000,000).

This Waltham 18k gold openface keyless lever pocket watch with up-and-down and original box gaveled for $12,500.

American watches at this sale numbered less than a dozen, but were well represented with a Gruen 50th Anniversary hammering down at $5,250, two Edward Howards sold in the $10,600 range, a Premiere Maximus brought $12,500 and a Fasoldt Chronometer hammered at $52,500. Included were two Walthams from the Packard estate. These heirloom Walthams brought $2,750 for the silver and gold model ’72 and $2,200 for the model ’59 key wind key set pocket watch in 18K gold. These prices were in line with what the watches would bring without the provenance of Packard.

I could write a separate article on three dozen of the watches listed for sale in this auction. The Kronos Collection is nothing short of fabulous; a collection of museum-quality watches rarely seen anywhere, let alone for sale to the highest bidder! Prices realized on these unique, one-of-a-kind museum-quality watches were high. Collector interest was strong, bidding was fast and frenetic, in the sale room, on the telephone and on the Internet bidding system. Christie’s auction team was polite, professional, fast and even had moments of comedy as the auctioneer made quips about the bid numbers and confusion among the phone and Internet bidders. But all went well, and nary a neither bid nor bidder was lost.

Information about this sale is readily available online here.

Christie’s has a wonderful surfer-friendly website with lots of detailed pictures and full descriptions of the watches offered for sale at this auction, with prices realized. It makes me wonder why I had to go to New York and spend $60 for a catalog. Maybe because this was a perfect excuse to traipse all over midtown Manhattan, through the Jeweler’s Row on 47th Street, Rockefeller Plaza, Radio City Music Hall, Times Square, the Theater District and on to the West Side for dinner at any one of more ethnic restaurants that I can possibly choose from in one place, like no other! New York, New York, what a wonderful place!

David Mycko is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in antique and vintage watches.

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