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The Geneva Watch Auction Four: world record for a wristwatch and other highlights

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“The Geneva Watch Auction: Four” held by Phillips, Watches on 12 and 13 November 2016 established the world record for any wristwatch sold at an auction with the ultra-rare Patek Philippe Reference 1518 in stainless steel that we presented last July here.


There was great expectation for lot 38 due to the rarity of this Patek Philippe model. It was the first time in over a decade that a stainless steel 1518 was offered at an auction. In fact, only 281 examples of Reference 1518 were ever produced, the majority of them in yellow gold with only a few in pink gold, but only four Reference 1518 watches in stainless steel are known to exist. To remark how rare this steel model is, just consider that there isn’t an example in the world’s most important and complete collection of Patek Philippe watches: the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.

Reference 1518 was a breakthrough for the watchmaking industry as it was the first perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch ever manufactured in series by any brand.


Produced in 1943, the example on sale was the first reference 1518 in stainless steel ever made. It features an elegant and perfectly balanced dial with applied Arabic numerals, outer railway five minute divisions and tachymetre scale, three subsidiary dials for constant seconds, 30 minutes register and moon phases with date and two windows for day and month at 12 o’clock.



The high expectations were not disappointed as the lot was sold for the impressive amount of Swiss Francs 11,002,000 achieving the highest price ever paid at an auction for a wristwatch (the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication pocket watch was sold by Sotheby’s for the amount of Swiss Francs 23.2 million at the end of 2014).


Another Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 (lot 196) - this one in pink gold - was sold for the amount of Swiss Francs 1,474,000. Other seven lots exceeded the sale price of Swiss Francs 500,000.

We highlight below a few other interesting lots.


Lot 37, a "Big Crown" Rolex Submariner Ref. 6538 made in 1959 featuring a 37 mm stainless steel case which frames a tropical brown "four liner" dial, reached Swiss Francs 562,000, the highest price ever realized at auction for a Submariner.


The reference 6538 is known by two nick names, the "James Bond" due to its appearance on Sean Connery’s wrist in Dr. No, and also by the Italian name for "big crown" or "Coroncione".


This example is also nick-named "four liner" because of its four lines on the dial.


While most earlier examples of the Submariner 6538 featured two lines, "200m = 660ft" and "SUBMARINER", the present watch displays the words "OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED CHRONOMETER", on two additional lines below "SUBMARINER" with the four lines printed in different fonts and colours.


Despite an initial estimate of Swiss Francs 80,000 - 120,000, a triple calendar chronograph in stainless steel (lot 123) manufactured by Breguet in 1948 was sold for the much higher amount of Swiss Francs 286,000.


Breguet manufactured many superlative chronographs over its long history - from the collectible and sought after Type XX, made for the French navy in the 1950s, to more complicated chronograph models with triple calendar functions.

This example in stainless steel is a rarity in Breguet’s mid-20th century wristwatches since most known examples of Breguet chronographs with calendar and moonphase are cased in gold.


The watch is powered by a Valjoux calibre 88, which is a modified 72C calibre (the same housed in the Rolex’s Dato Compax model, aka the "Jean-Claude Killy") with additional moonphase complication.

The 37 mm case with strong lugs and convex bezel is fitted with a sporty dial with blue tachometer scale and red calendar indications as well as luminous markers and hands.


Considered by some collectors the "holy grail" Speedmaster, an Omega Speedmaster Professional, "Alaska II" Project prototype watch (lot 34) created for NASA in 1970, realised Swiss Francs 156,250, one of the highest paid Speedster model ever.


Formerly part of the Omega Museum, where it resided from 1970 until 2007 when it was sold during the Omegamania Auction, this prototype Speedmaster is housed in a reference 145.022-69 case, featuring "lyra" style twisted lugs with an asymmetric case incorporating crown guards and a tachymeter scale on the bezel.

The movement inside is the Omega’s calibre 861, a robust, highly regarded manually-wound chronograph movement protected by an anti-magnetic protective inner case.

The watch comes accompanied with an additional very large, red anodized aluminium case which serves as a protective heat shield.


The matte white dial features black racing hands and "Apollo" style register hands. The dial was made white, to reflect light rather than using the Speedmaster’s traditional black dial which absorbs light, and would therefore retain heat.


Additionally, the dial was coated with zinc oxide, a material known for being highly resistant to solar radiation. These "Alaska" project prototype watches were the first Speedmasters ever to be fitted with white dials.

To make it even rarer, this Speedmaster is fitted with a tachymeter bezel that was produced for only a few months in 1970 due to an erroneous inclusion of '220' in the scale.

The detailed results of the auction can be found here.

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