The key takeaway from the NY auctions in June is simply this: the importance of quality and rarity prevails. The fact remains that the best examples of the most important references are locked away in the best collections across the world and are seldom offered for sale. In contrast, mediocre examples struggled to find buyers, barring attractive reserves.
Christie’s sold a great example of the first self-winding perpetual calendar wristwatch reference ever made by Patek Philippe - the 3448 - this month. Consigned by the granddaughter of the original owner, it is possibly the best example of the reference in white gold ever seen on the market. Virtually unique, the watch, an early example made in 1969, is one of only four white gold 3448s known with engraved hard enamel dials, and is the only one of the four with flat, instead of pointed, indices. Out of a total of 586 examples of the reference Patek Philippe made over two decades from the early/mid 1960’s to the early 1980’s, approximately 130 examples were produced in white gold, out of which 50 examples have been identified. The vast majority of the 50 known specimen in white gold were made after 1970, at which time Patek went from engraving and firing the dials with hard enamel - a laborious and costly process only specialized craftsmen of the past could perfect - to simply printing the dials, an obvious cost saving measure. Accompanied by its original archive-confirmed detachable white gold bracelet, the perfect condition of the watch drew in fierce bidding from all over the world, with the price ultimately reaching USD$1,155,000.
The rest of the Christie’s sale was uneventful, with many watches from dealers’ unsold stocks failing to find buyers, including the cover lot - a heavily restored pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 2481 with cloisonné enamel dial. A nice yellow gold Vacheron & Constantin reference 4261 made in 1954, the brand’s rare and very beautiful mid-century minute repeating wristwatch with “tear drop” shaped lugs, sold for $356,250. A rare white gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ref. 5402 B-series sold for $118,750.
The Sotheby’s sale in NY included a nice selection of Patek Philippe wrist and pocket watches, though very few were of great quality. Two examples of the fourth series ref. 2499 were sold in the same auction, both late examples made in 1984, towards the end of the reference’s production. In comparable condition, the one double signed Tiffany & Co. on the dial sold for $800,000, while the other “standard” example sold for $450,000, reflecting the large “Tiffany premium”. To the discerning connoisseur, the 4th series 2499s, with their almost “industrial” printed dials and modern sapphire crystals, are the least collectible specimen of the reference. The relatively large supply on the market in recent times perhaps reflects this. In the same auction, a Patek Philippe ref. 2497 in pink gold from 1954, in mediocre condition, sold for $412,500, about 40% of the price achieved by a top quality example just last month in Geneva, which sold for $980,000. Two other noteworthy lots were a first series Patek Philippe ref. 3970 in yellow gold from 1987, with snap back, selling for $156,250, and an Art Deco Cartier “Comet Clock” made in 1925, achieving $350,000.
Given the grim reality that truly great watches are becoming increasingly difficult to find, expect “Quality Premium” - the price difference between the best and middling examples - particularly of the most important references of the most important brands, to increase even further in the foreseeable future, even as the worldwide political and economic backdrop remains volatile.