The way people sell watches has changed a lot in 2020, even at the very high end. Phillips has proven to have a robust retail business in its Perpetual platform, helmed by the great James Marks, but they also continue to consign, organize, and market watches into flagship sales in the major markets of Geneva, Hong Kong, and New York. The results prove that the best watches will continue to bring exceptional prices, and Paul Boutros’s “Racing Pulse” sale next month will be one any watch lover will be looking forward to, no matter if they plan to bid or not.
The other two big players in auctions, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, have taken different tacks, and are now running regular (weekly, really) sales online in the auction platform, even sometimes running different sales from different offices at the same time. As I write this, for example, you have the option of bidding on watches in no fewer than five different Sotheby’s watch auctions, with the option to view, but not bid on, a sixth. You’re also notified of a seventh and eighth watch sale, but you can’t view or bid just yet.
I don’t mention this as a bad idea at all – Sotheby’s continues to sell watches well here, but as someone who loves watch auctions and all the drama that they involve, it’s hard to keep up. Christie’s lays somewhere between Phillips and Sotheby’s in that, over the summer, they included several high end watches in a larger multi-category sale, will be hosting the annual December NY sale online only, but will have a live auction for their Important Watches sale in Hong Kong coming up on November 28th. With all this scattered signaling around some very good and some very average watches for sale, it’s very easy to miss the fact that some exceptional watches might be offered. And that’s why we’re here today.
Patek Philippe 3448 In White Gold
Christie’s has spent most of its ink talking about the “Ruby Collection” of Patek Philippes, which indeed does include a reference 3448 in yellow gold with ruby dial. I’ve never seen another and it’s no doubt a very cool thing. It’s important to note that the watch is from 1965, but the dial was made and installed by Patek in 1990. Clearly the work was done for a very important client and what’s even cooler, the bezel has been factory modified to account for the raised ruby hour markers. Very cool, but not the 3448 I’m most excited about. Still, our colleagues in Japan did a nice photo report on the collection here. No, the lot that comes just four before is another 3448, but it’s in white gold. And it looks absolutely stunning.
The 3448 is one of the most wearable and, to me, beautiful vintage Patek Philippes ever made. It is large in diameter – complicated, but self-winding. It was Patek’s first self-winding perpetual calendar and is a thoroughly modern vintage watch, in the best of ways. It is also one of the few complicated vintage watches made by Patek ever to be cased from the factory in white gold.
They are watches that are adored by serious collectors the world over, and to find any 3448 in white gold is quite a feat. To find one in seemingly robust and original condition is something else entirely. These watches have sat around the $ 500,000 mark for many years now, but when a superlative example comes to market, anything is possible. In June 2019, Christie’s sold what I thought was the very best example of a 3448 white I’d ever seen. They sold it for $ 1.155 million against an estimate of $ 300,000 to $ 500,000. Christie’s, for this example, states it is one of about 50 known, one of just 25 of the first series style watch. And beyond that, they say that this is likely one of the best three known examples in the world. They go on to provide such detail about the first series dials, such as the fact that early dials feature engraved, enameled inscriptions and scales – where only the “Swiss” at the bottom is black painted – a neat little way to know if you’re looking at an early or late 3448. The dial, on the rear, reads “1119045”, which, if you look at the extract, is the watch’s movement number. Christie’s has done an excellent job giving viewers a look at all the key pieces of a 3448 that one would want to see, if they were considering paying a world record price for a watch. Which, by the way, is exactly what Christie’s is suggesting this watch warrants with an estimate of $ 932,864 – $ 1,554,774.
I will not speak to how this watch compares to the watch that sold in June 2019 because, while I did see that one in the metal, I’ve not had a chance to see this one in person. I will say it does look wonderful, and though the white gold bracelet was not born on the watch, it does fit it very well and adds to the charm of the watch. Of course, you can take it off the white gold Patek bracelet and wear it any way you want. The 3448 white has long been a personal grail of mine, and I missed the chance to own one, but that makes me no less a fan of seeing these beautiful, great quality watches coming to market. To find out more about this 3448 perpetual calendar available at Christie’s Hong Kong on November 28, click here.
Patek Philippe 2526 In White Gold With Confirmed Enamel Dial
In the very same sale exists another holy grail of vintage Patek collecting – a 2526 in white gold. Look, I won’t give you the whole song and dance about why I love the 2526 so much again – if you want it, here’s 5,000 words on it from four and a half years ago. In summary, it features likely the highest quality self-winding movement ever created, one of the most beautiful case shapes, and, when lucky, a peerless enamel dial. Any 2526 is great; white metal is the dream. I’m lucky enough to have been able to purchase one many years ago and it remains one of the best watches to come through my hands. But understanding the nuance of white metal 2526s requires some scholarship unto itself. The majority of white metal 2526s, of which we know of less than 50, between both platinum and white gold, featured metal dials with diamond indices. I happen to love those too, as kind of a hyper opulent, peak of 1950s style type of thing. Remember this incredible Serpico Y Laino white gold watch with diamond markers that sold for $ 325,000 in 2017? What a thing.
I’m not saying the enamel dials are better in any way than the metal dials – an argument could be made for the opposite: that metal dials make them far more daily-wearable. That’s an argument I would buy. But I will say the enamel dial watches just feel more special to me. Because who else was doing an enamel dial on a time-only watch back then? Further to finding a 2526 in platinum or white gold, you should try to find one that features an extract confirming the enamel dial was actually born in that watch. Patek did, for a time, offer the opportunity to swap dials. Beyond that, some watches that were born with enamel dials may not benefit from extracts that explicitly say so, and is less than ideal (but not bad). Further still, because the 2526’s dial has become so lauded, there exists an option of a new enamel dial made to replace those that have broken. We ran a story on this service in October of 2016.
The lot note from Christie’s here gives you the details of what makes a white gold 2526 so special. “Around 2400 pieces were made in yellow gold, 360 in pink gold, 70 in white gold and 70 in platinum. According to research, although the same quantity were made of each in white gold and platinum, the white gold version is actually rarer than the platinum cased version today. Only around 20 white gold examples have been so far discovered whereas 24 platinum watches are now known publicly.” They do not mention how many of those 20 discovered have enamel dials versus metallic, but one has to assume less than half, making this a very rare find, indeed, with the extract confirming it was born enamel and no visible cracks to the dial.
Christie’s has again done a nice job showing the various items of the watch that any 2526 collector would want to see, including the caliber, inside of the caseback, and more. What’s interesting is that, at least from viewing online, neither the 2526 nor the 3448 have any service markings on the inside of their casebacks. That’s a great thing for an originality freak. The estimate here is $ 310,955 to $ 414,606. This is a lot of money, clearly, but it’s hard to put a price on something this rare. I can’t remember the last time a white gold 2526 with confirmed enamel dial came on the market publicly – I’m not sure one has since I’ve been around. Over five years ago, we saw a nice platinum example sell at Phillips for $ 227,000, but it’s hard to use something from half-a-decade ago as a comp. Since then, the diamond dial mentioned above sold for $ 325,000 in 2017, and the remarkable platinum, Tiffany signed watch brought in $ 642,000 over 30 months ago – those are the two high quality examples of white metal 2526s to sell within the last five years.
No matter the outcome of the sale, after twelve years of doing this, I’m simply thrilled to see watches that are genuinely exciting still coming to market. You can read more about this Patek Philippe 2526 white gold right here.