What We Learned From the Watches at Sotheby’s Latest Luxury Week Auctions

Three distinct sales are part of the overall event that is sure to excite hardcore collectors — and the watch curious

June 21, 2022 5:00 am
Icon of Time
First draft for the prototype of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, circa 1972 and Original prototype design of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, circa 1972, on display at the Geneva edition of this event.
Robert Hradil/Getty Images for Sotheby's

This week, Sotheby’s is holding a series of live and online auctions dubbed Luxury Week. The scope of the week in question is, as you might surmise, vast indeed — encompassing everything from decades-old Japanese whiskey to some highly desirable Air Force 1s. But Luxury Week also abounds with watches — including the recently-concluded Important Watches (more on that in a moment) and Fine Watches, which is being held online through June 22.

If that’s not enough, there’s also an auction dedicated to the life and work of horologist Gérald Genta, whose designs include the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus collection. An earlier auction, also focusing on Genta’s work, took place in Geneva earlier this year.

So whether you’re looking for a piece of watchmaking history or a singular accessory, there’s plenty to explore here. The recently-concluded portion of the auction also serves as a good bellwether of what models are increasingly in-demand — and which ones might be underperforming.

“Important Watches”: What We Learned

The phrase “possibly unique” in the description of a watch can herald plenty of demand for that timepiece. Such was the case for an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Grand Complication made “upon special request” around 2020, which was estimated to sell for between $200,000 and $400,000. In the end, it sold for almost three times the high estimate — $1.134 million. As Sotheby’s notes on the watch make clear, the “Grand Complication” designation refers to “split-second chronograph, perpetual calendar, and minute repeater.” Throw in an understated yet forceful design and it’s not hard to see the appeal.

Looking over the list of watches in this auction, the bulk of them sold for around what Sotheby’s predicted. There were a few cases where demand for a particular watch was lower than they believed — this 1964 Rolex Daytona ‘Solo’ sold for $75,600 — just over half of the low estimate. 

A number of F.P. Journe watches made good showings as well. An evocatively-designed 1999 Tourbillon Souverain à Remontoir d’Egalite sold the highest amounts at the auction — $​​882,000. A 2000 Chronomètre à Résonance exceeded the high estimate of $300,000 by a substantial amount, eventually selling for $453,600.

Rainbow Rolexes continue to be in demand. A 2018 ‘Rainbow’ Daytona sold for $630,000 — another instance where the high estimate (here, $500,000) was eclipsed.

A substantial number of Patek Philippe watches also sold for more than the high estimate — including a white gold Celestial (selling for $529,200), a London Edition chronograph (selling for $579,600) and a platinum perpetual calendar chronograph (selling for $504,000). In all three cases, the sale price exceeded the high estimate by $100,000, if not more.

“Gérald Genta: Icon of Time”: Prototypes Abound

If you’re a watch collector looking to branch out into the history of your favorite accessory, this auction has plenty to offer. Many of the items up for sale are Genta’s watch designs — which, in most cases, means a watercolor illustration of a particular watch.

Among these designs is an illustration of the Gérald Genta Gefica, which holds a significant place in horological history due to its innovative use of bronze. If the degree of intricacy that Genta applied to his designs is of interest, a circa-1981 prototype of a skeletonized watch has a lot to recommend it.

As of this writing, one of the higher bids in the auction is for a prototype completed around 1978, which looks like a precursor to his work on the Seiko Credor Locomotive. A Bulgari Roma prototype design from 1976 has drawn an even higher bid.

“Fine Watches”: A Paul Newman Rolex is One Highlight

Looking down the list of watches (along with a few accessories) available as part of the “Fine Watches” online auction, you’ll see plenty of familiar names — and a wide range of prices, with watches estimated to sell within a host of price ranges.

There are a few heavy hitters in here — including a 1968 Rolex ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona. (You know, the one a song has been written about.) As of this writing, no one has submitted a bid — we’ll see if that ends up changing before the auction closes.

The high estimate has already been exceeded for this Patek Philippe World Time ‘New York Edition.’ That bid is a bit less than the one for the Rolex mentioned above — as of this writing, it’s at $55,000 — but the level of design and detail in this one are elegantly done.

Another Patek Philippe, a pink gold ref. 5980 Nautilus, is estimated to sell for between $220,000 and $420,000. If your tastes lean towards gold in your watches, that’s not the only standout here — a 1992 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jubilee, yellow gold in color, is predicted to sell in the $80,000 – $120,000 range. 

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