Previewing Sotheby's Important Watches Auction

On November 13, Sotheby’s will be holding one of the biggest events of the horological auction year, the Sotheby’s Important Watches Auction in Geneva. With over 250 lots – all beautiful and important watches in their own right – there’s a lot to talk about. Compared to the auctions happening at Phillips and Christies’ the same weekend, Sotheby’s also landed some of the biggest ticket items. Here, we’re highlighting not only the most important pieces of the “Important Watches” auction, but also the most interesting ones. Because a good story shouldn’t have to cost a lot of money, should it? Although in this case it still will, as the lowest lots still have estimates above $2,000.


Patek Phillipe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 2499

 A Patek Phillipe Perpetual Calendar Ref. 2499 in yellow gold, with a potentially unique Asprey signature on the date sub dial.

A Patek Phillipe Perpetual Calendar Ref. 2499 in yellow gold, with a potentially unique Asprey signature on the date sub dial.

At the top of the estimate list is Lot 220, a Patek Phillipe 2499 in yellow gold. If you read our recent guide to Patek Phillipe, which focused on the watchmaker’s perpetual calendar chronographs through the years, then you know this is a special piece. Its estimate sits at $2 million to $4 million, but don’t be surprised if this potentially unique timepiece hammers at the upper end of (or even above) that band. As we wrote, only 349 pieces of this reference were made over its 35-year history, most in the yellow gold seen here. The “Asprey” signature on the date indication subdial is what makes this piece potentially unique and worthy of the estimates that are at least double what a typical yellow gold Ref. 2499 might see. Asprey is an historic jewelery and timepiece boutique based in London.


Richard Mille 57-02 Falcon

 Richard Mille 57-02 Falcon

Richard Mille 57-02 Falcon

From the quintessential vintage timepiece to something thoroughly modern: Lot 228, a unique white gold Richard Mille 57–02 Falcon, with an estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. Sotheby’s has gone to great lengths to highlight watch, creating a hype video touting the RM 57-02 as a symbol of “strength and speed.” It’s a white gold and sapphire-set case, featuring a tourbillon among other technical achievements within the movement. But all of this is overshadowed by the diamond-set falcon flying across the middle of the “dial.”

Rolex Daytonas Galore

 Three Rolex Daytonas up for auction at Sotheby’s on Nov. 13: 1) a Ref. 2) Ref. 6263 3) Ref. 6263

Three Rolex Daytonas up for auction at Sotheby’s on Nov. 13: 1) a Ref. 2) Ref. 6263 3) Ref. 6263

After that, of course, are the requisite Rolex Daytonas. First up, three extremely desirable models. There’s Lot 216, a Reference 6239 “pulsometer” (referring to the pulsation measurements on the edge of the dil). Christie’s sold a similar Daytona in 2013 for CHF 761,000, right in the middle of the estimated range of $500,000–$1 million for this timepiece.

Then there’s Lot 248, a Paul Newman dial Ref. 6263 (screw-down pusher reference) with a “reverse panda” dial. It’s signed with the extremely desirable Rolex Cosmograph Oyster (“RCO” dial), playing a large part in this watch’s $500,000-$1,000,000 estimated selling price.

Next is Lot 194, another Ref. 6263 with a Paul Newman panda dial. It’s estimate is slightly lower than the others ($300,000–$600,000), but it’s completely possible a hot vintage watch market means it’ll hammer for above this price.

Further down the list are some “less desirable” 6239s, 6240s, 6263s and 6264s, all with estimates in the lower- to mid-six figures.

Rolex ‘Khanjar No. 9’ Day-Date

 A Rolex Day-Date in Oysterquartz case, built at the request of the Shah of Iran.

A Rolex Day-Date in Oysterquartz case, built at the request of the Shah of Iran.

Here’s a piece different from the standard Patek Phillipes and Rolex Daytonas that seem to dominate auctions these days: Lot 243. It’s a Rolex Day-Date (yes, the typical automatic movement) in a platinum and diamond-set Oysterquartz case. These watches have been seen at auction before, but only in eight instances, so numbered on the case back. Well, here’s No. 9, and it’s a beauty indeed, bearing the emblem of the Sultanate of Oman on the dial, produced at the request of the Shah of Iran. It’s estimated to hammer between $40,000–$80,000, and provides a rare opportunity to obtain a Rolex with such limited production.

Rolex GMT-Master Ref 6542

 A Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 6542, the first GMT-Master reference.

A Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 6542, the first GMT-Master reference.

To this day, the Rolex GMT-Master endures as one of is most popular sports watches, especially among enthusiasts. In Lot 209, Sotheby’s has a beautiful example of a Reference 6542, the first GMT-Master reference. The beautiful Bakelite bezel insert adds a depth lacking in later models, and finding one like this with the original Bakelite is increasingly rare. In addition, the dial has aged into a warm, tropic hue, only increasing the presence of the watch. It’s expected to hammer from $80,000–$120,000.

Rolex ‘Milsub’ Submariner Ref. 5517

 A Rolex Ref. 5517 Submariner, made for the British Armed Forces

A Rolex Ref. 5517 Submariner, made for the British Armed Forces

Next up is Lot 238, a truly rare Rolex ‘Milsub’ Submariner, Ref. 5517. What makes this particular model so rare is that it was manufactured for the British Armed Forces. It’s estimated 1,200 pieces were made for the military during the 1970s, and this watch has all the signifiers that it was so manufactured. It’s marked with a letter T above the depth rating, the lugs feature fixed bars, and the case back is engraved with a military issue number, supply date and the famous ‘Broad Arrow’. Finally, it’s fitted wider ‘Sword’ hands and a new bezel calibrated in its entirety to 60 units (instead of the typical 10 units). It’s estimated to hammer between $150,000–$300,000.

Patek Phillipe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 1518

 A Ref. 1518 Patek Phillip in yellow gold, estimated at $300,000–$500,000

A Ref. 1518 Patek Phillip in yellow gold, estimated at $300,000–$500,000

Slightly farther down than the uniquely stamped Ref. 1518 “Asprey” is another rare Patek Phillipe – and the precursor to the Ref. 2499 – a yellow-gold Ref. 1518. Approximately 215 of these pieces were made in yellow gold, so it’s a rare watch indeed, this particular one having been sold in 1952, near the end of the 1518’s run. And it’s got the estimate to prove it, with an expected hammer price of $300,000–$500,000.

 Omega Chronograph from 1945

Omega Chronograph from 1945

Omega Yellow Gold Chronograph from 1945

And of course, we have to highlight the lowest estimated watch at the auction, a yellow gold Omega chronograph from 1945. With an estimate of $2,000-$3,000, it feels like a bargain compared to the plethora of rare chronographs in this auction. Considering a Rolex pre-Daytona chronograph from roughly the same era goes for several multiples of this, it’s not a bad under-the-radar pickup for the budget conscious among us. But, it does ring in at a mere 32.5mm, reflecting its era.

In general, with the Rolex and Patek markets as hot as they are, a lot of interesting pieces can be found further down the catalog’s estimate list, where trend-follower’s eyes may not wander. There are tons of interesting vintage Speedmasters, clean Vacheron Constantin 1970s dress watches, and vintage Heuer chronographs under $6,000 to be found if you do a bit of digging.