The following timepiece auction analysis post is by Chris Meisenzahl. He is a long-time watch enthusiast and daily Speedmaster Pro wearer. He blogs at The Pretense of Knowledge and can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/speedmaster.
It's just about that time again, for the 2011 Only Watch Auction. The auction, managed by Antiquorum, bills itself as: "40 Of The World's Greatest Watchmakers Together For Research On Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy." When they say " World's Greatest Watchmakers" that's not just hyperbole (as is too often present in the superlative watch industry). This is the real-deal. The Only Watch Auction really is a who's who of the finest brands (e.g. Audemars Piguet, De Bethune, Glashütte Original, MB&F, Patek Philippe, and many more). The auction and the timepieces are too involved to run every year, so the charity event is held every other year, dating back to 2005. Frankly, some of these pieces are so amazing it's impressive that it can be pulled-off even every other year. (pictured at right is Lot #29, the Montblanc "Collection Villeret 1858")
The auction is held in Monaco at the Hotel Hermitage; it would be hard to conceive of a more exclusive place to bring the finest contemporary manufacturers and watches together. Each manufacturer is invited to present and donate a unique timepiece for the auction. Manufacturers get fantastic exposure and goodwill, the charity gets needed funds, us fans get to drool over the timepieces. Everyone wins. Worth noting, 100% of the proceeds from the auction go to research.
Let's take a quick look at three of the items that really interest me. The official list of watches and descriptions is a good place to go, after seeing how Ariel documented all of the 2011 watches (with pics) back in May. Some of the timepieces are feats of engineering, some are works of art, some are both. I say timepieces and not watches if for no other reason than the always iconoclastic Ikepod is presenting an hourglass (lot #23) for 2011! It's a limited edition of one (see non-limited flavor). It's fantastic. Something a little different from one of my favorite brands. The "Wish Price" for this item is 15,000 - 25,000. Compared to the other items in this auction the hourglass is a steal. And you'll never need to get it serviced as long as you never drop it.
There's no way to do this collection justice without mentioning the Bernhard Lederer Gagarin Tourbillon (lot #4). It's over-the-top, extremely cool, and guaranteed to get scraped on every door jam you walk past. But you won't care. The theme is a commemoration of Yuri Gagarin's famous trip. The movement of course is a tourbillon that seems to hang precariously over the rest of the dial, and is visible through a magnifying glass. The ring holding the magnifying glass is intended to be reminiscent of the hatch on the Vostok-1 spacecraft. [Oh, and the video is not to be missed.] Imagine if someone took the famous Rolex cyclops window and got carried away with it. On to the tourbillon itself. This is the fun part; the tourbillon rotates not twice an hour, not every sixty minutes, it rotates once every 108 minutes! Why? Because, Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth in 108 minutes. Clever. The details: manual wind, three mainspring barrels, and 35 jewels. The "Wish Price" for this item is EUR 200,000 - 300,000.
There are other watches in this auction that interest me, most of them actually. But there's no denying the sex appeal and wow-factor of Lot #28, the MB&F, Horological Machine No.4 Thunderbolt “Flying Panda.” This MB&F might be one of the few that is more visually striking than the Gagarin watch above. The name seems fairly straightforward. The two large horizontal cones/tubes that are the displays remind the wearer of the A-10 Thunderbolt warplane. The two pods look like jet turbines. And the "Flying Panda" angle? Well, there's a small panda sitting atop the watch holding reigns, not unlike Ben-Hur on his chariot, or even Santa on his sleigh. Make no mistake, it's an odd combo, but if anyone has the horological street-cred to pull it off, MB&F does. The details: manual wind, twin mainspring barrels, and 50 jewels. The "Wish Price" for this item is EUR 170,000 - 230,000.
Those are the three pieces that most catch my eye from an aesthetic point of view. And if you are buying to keep an item that you find compelling and plan to keep for the long-haul, do just that. But if you're buying with an eye to "invest" and possibly flip one of these watches in the next couple of years, you might need to take a different tack. The truth is, there is a decent chance that with the hourglass or Gagarin tourbillon you might have a tough time recouping your money. If you want to help the charity and still have an opportunity to make this event an investment, there could be better choices. The reality is that we watch
nuts aficionados are a very small percentage of the population. Everyone twenty minutes out of the womb knows what a Rolex is, but most people aren't familiar with Ikepod or Bernhard Lederer. The aforementioned MB&F “Flying Panda” will be appreciated by horological cognoscenti everywhere. I would also recommend that investors take a serious look at the offering from Patek: Lot #30. The only thing less enticing about the name ("Patek Philippe, Ref. 3939") of this piece is the look. To the unappreciative there's nothing exciting going on here. But look a little deeper and consider ... not only is this a Patek (that's enough to do it for most of us) it's also a tourbillon and a minute repeater! That's the trifecta. If anything in this auction will hold value and appreciate, I bet it's this Patek. The "Wish Price" for this dream piece is EUR 450,000 - 650,000. One slightly peculiar note with this Patek is that it's stainless steel and not a precious metal. And the case is only 33.3mm, rather diminutive for a modern man's wristwatch.
While the Patek is a dream piece the price of entry is nothing to sneeze at. There are other options that are a bit more reasonable. For instance, the De Bethune "DB25 Special Edition" (Lot #13) is a beauty to look at. De Bethune is one of the finest and most-exclusive manufactures. In my opinion thye produce the finest astronomical/moonphase complications available. The "Wish Price" for the DB25 Special Edition is EUR 100,000 - 150,000.
What I love most about this event is that the manufacturers pull out all the stops. They're really not afraid to push the envelope and do something a little crazy because it's not as though they'll be stuck with a supply-chain of thousands of unsold pieces if the design is not a large commercial success. And as this is a rare bi-annual auction, and the pieces are indeed unique, it's quite difficult to make any kind of reasonable guesses as to the hammer prices of these pieces. Not only are there no other watches quite like them, there's no solid history of similar items bought/sold, and people will be bidding with charity in mind. But frankly, that's not what this event is about. It's more about celebrating the finest watches from some of the finest sources, and helping out a charity. So unless you plan to bid on some of these pieces (and I truly hope you do), don't sweat the auction prices, just sit back and enjoy the watches.