Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

Watches, regardless of whether they were designed to be worn on one's wrist or carried in the pocket, can be unbelievably complicated, irresistibly desirable and, consequently, very expensive. The best of the best, one is often led to believe, are the ones fetching top prices either by selling well above the suggested retail price in stores, selling out online in a matter of hours, or fetching stratospheric prices at auctions. However, desirability and, hence, perceived value are just that: perceptions, and they can change rapidly – as was last testified when one of four ever Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication pocket watches quietly failed to sell a few days ago at the Sotheby's May 14th, 2017, "Important Watches" auction in Geneva.

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions
Images via: Sotheby's.

Normally, this wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary. After all, not all watches will find buyers at auctions but, then again, the Patek Philippe Caliber 89 is not an ordinary watch but one previously boasting innumerable records. Let us familiarize ourselves with it once again and then discuss some of the details on why it may have failed to change hands.

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

The Patek Philippe Caliber 89 pocket watch made its debut in 1989 to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary, following some 9 years of research and development. Patek Philippe only ever made 4 Caliber 89 watches, one in each precious metal; yellow gold, white gold, rose gold, and platinum. At the time of its conception, it was the most complicated watch in the world, a title it held for about 26 years until Vacheron Constantin introduced the Reference 57260 in 2015.

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

This Patek Philippe Caliber 89's massive, 88.2mm-wide yellow gold case weighs well over 2 pounds at around 1.1 kilograms and encapsulates a staggering total of 1,728 components to power its 33 complications. These are distributed over two dials and a number of pushers and sliders on the side of the case. Apart from the "usual complications" like a perpetual calendar, moon phase display, grande and petite sonnerie, a tourbillon, and a chronograph, the Caliber 89 also has more unusual complications like a star chart, seconds in meantime, sun hand, date of Easter (a world first, patented by Patek Philippe on December 13, 1985), and even a thermometer. It was and of course still very much is a marvel of fine mechanics.

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

There can be no question that this is one incredible watch, destined to forever remain among the finest ever produced – this much we have established. So, what could have possibly gone wrong to keep it from a successful sale at an auction where some other records – namely those for Rolex watches – have been greatly surpassed?

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

Patek Philippe has produced just one Caliber 89 in every precious metal – this one, obviously, is in yellow gold, while there are a total of three others in white and pink gold and platinum. This makes tracking the pieces even easier – though auction houses always provide individual serial numbers. When you see a yellow Caliber 89, it is always the exact same watch that you are seeing – unless another one gets miraculously discovered, as has happened with some other "mega-rare" Patek Philippe pieces in the past.

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

As such, this very watch exchanged hands when Christie's sold it back in 2009 for a hefty sum of CHF 5.12 million. That having been eight years ago, the Sotheby's estimate of CHF 6.5 million to CHF 10 million for the Patek Philippe Caliber 89 in yellow gold, might not have appeared too outrageous for many. When the time came, however, the Caliber 89 failed to sell, despite, again, many other records being set the same day. General buying interest, then, was there, but when bidding opened at CHF 5.9 million, the response was lackluster. The price was nudged upwards at increments of 50,000 Swiss francs by the auctioneer, but none came forward when the price finally reached 6.45 million Swiss francs, which was just shy of the low-end estimate placed by Sotheby’s of 6.5 million Swiss francs.

Interestingly, the Caliber 89 was also offered for sale almost exactly a year ago through Christie’s as a consignment, but a buyer apparently was never found for the $11 million asking price – though, reportedly, they were open to hearing offers on it.

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

Some of the factors to consider when contemplating the reasons behind this failed sale are as follows. First, this piece is no longer a record-holder. Its long reign as "the most complicated" timepiece of them all has ended. Second, although it is more complex than the "Supercomplication" that Patek Philippe produced some six decades earlier, the fact that four and not one of them exists also takes away some of its relative desirability – the Supercomplication was and is a one-time, unrepeatable effort.

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

Third (and this matters most), as amazing as this Caliber 89 may be, it has unquestionably been "shopped around." As we mentioned above, the power of perception is incredible, and when a piece of this caliber makes it onto the market this many times in a decade – yes, a decade is a relatively moderate time frame in these rare cases – it loses a lot of its desirability, and that is especially true if it fails to overcome its previous record, let alone not sell at all.

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

On this note, investors have to trust these vehicles for their investments. They, just like real money, can suffer severely from inflation when their availability on the market increases. While that estimate of 6.5 to 10 million Swiss francs sounds good, and would in some way fit into the pattern of most "blue chip" pieces constantly breaking records, because this Caliber 89 has been shopped around so much, investors knew that whoever ends up with it will not be able to put it on the market any time soon if and when he or she desired.

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

The Patek Philippe Supercomplication resurfaced after its 15-year hiatus from the spotlight (read that incredible story here, as it just shows another side of auctions when some are allowed to bid however much they want and can end up not paying for over a decade), and in 1999 it "sold" for $11,002,500. Then, upon its 2014 re-appearance, it went for way more than that at $23,984,106. Now, ask yourself what it would do to its value if the watch were to re-appear on the auction scene now, so soon after its previous exchange. How would that affect its value? For more thoughts on this fascinating, but also extremely volatile universe, check out Ariel's feature article from 2014, titled 10 Things You Should Know About Wrist Watch Auctions.

Patek Philippe Caliber 89 Grand Complication Pocket Watch Fails To Sell At Geneva Watch Auction Sales & Auctions

So, what is left for this and the other three Patek Philippe Caliber 89 pocket watches? From the looks of things, it doesn’t bode quite so well for the watch and seller. Having failed to sell this publicly in two consecutive years will no doubt affect the appeal of this watch, creating a new chance for opportunistic buyers to try and acquire a piece of watchmaking history by making an offer. However, it may be true that time heals, as we are so often told and, chances are, the Caliber 89 will be back setting records once more – just don't hold your breath.

  • Word Merchant

    Very Rich Person Finds That Life Sometimes Doesn’t Go Their Way

    Rest of world shrugs shoulders, moves on.

    • As in, “crap even a shitty CD would have had a greater return on investment”.

      • IG

        …or a £20 Seiko.

        • Do £20 Seiko watches go up in price? Even a little?

  • gerald_d

    Just to clarify one rather significant error in this article.

    There were no bids on this watch. Not one.

    The “bidding” that you refer to was all from the auctioneer, not from any third party seriously considering purchasing the watch.

  • Yan Fin

    Too complicated to sale

  • 100% Genuine Aviation Heritage

    Sorry you couldn’t make 30% on your investment, brah. Shoulda bought a shit-ton of palladium. Woulda made 60% in one year.

  • Phil leavell

    the watch is truly amazing what a beautiful peace of art and craftsmanship , main purpose was to show it to be done now that is done nobody wants it. Well the current owner who can’t sell it can keep it in his safe and say ooo look at my watch. As much money as it will have. So I truly hope the owner will enjoy it

  • 100% Genuine Aviation Heritage

    It was probably a tough private flight back to Bahrain after that auction.

    • TheChuphta

      Nothing a few dozen Eastern European prostitutes and little falconry can’t smooth over.

      • 100% Genuine Aviation Heritage

        That’s how big this dude’s plane is: in-flight falconry.

        • Oh no, falcon droppings on the quilt stitched merino leather and alcantara seats!

  • JF Schnell

    Couldn’t make it to the auction. I had a few meetings I couldn’t postpone. But if that guy wants to sell it he has to lower the price. Yesterday I was able to cover the offer but won’t be the same next time. 😀

  • The obvious mistake – trying to sell it when the ads clearly state that you merely hold a Patek for the next generation. I guess the owner’s son was not a bidder.Or he is sure that he will get it for free when the old man croaks.

    • Phil leavell

      First off High Mark. I agree with your comment but it’s genetics. Sometimes stupid doesn’t skip a generation. And thanks for the advice last week it was very profitable.

      • The VC you were looking into Phil?

        • Phil leavell

          Yes sir. A little bit to put towards my son’s wedding

          • So was it real or a fake? And congratulations to your son (and his bride).

          • Phil leavell

            It was real . Traded 2 and dumped it for cash I now have a very small collection. But everything is paid for

          • Very cool.

  • Thierry Lamberger


  • MEddie90

    Shame to see such an amazing watch fail to sell while the Rolex Bao Dai (a relatively mundane piece) sells easily in the same ball park.

    As the article states there are a few factors at play here, the fact that it was sold recently and failed to sell recently make it feel less scarce and and compared to the Graves it is common (4 made vs 1 made) and lacks the same historical background.

    I think in general pocket-watches sell for much less (a Breguet tourbillion from the era when the man himself was at the helm can be had for less than many vintage rolex offerings) and in the case of the cal 89 it is in need of servicing (not a run of the mill service either) and reworking (the date of Easter complication needs a new program wheel, sunrise and sunset plus the sky chart may need to be altered to the owners locality).

    • Gokart Mozart

      Granted it may have been on sale a couple of times in the last couple of years, but whoever can afford to spend 7 million on a watch is not gonna have to worry about making his mortgage payments.

      Give it 10 years and it will be making money again even if it is the least desirable of the 4.

      Not really a fan of this or the Rolex but no way would I consider buying the Rolex instead of the PP even if the PP is too big to fit in my pocket.

  • 100% Genuine Aviation Heritage

    This watch not selling is the first sign of the Hodinkpocalypse. The second sign is any Newman Daytona selling for less than 75k. Then the locusts.

    • TheChuphta

      The prophecy is coming true! The end times are upon us!!! Don’t let them take my curated handcrafted leather watch roll or my bespoke NATO straps!!! How can I be so adorably insouciant?!?

      • Chaz

        Time to buy a Royal Oak Offshore “End of Days”

    • Shinytoys

      Keep an eye on those locusts…they’re very angry and provided a formidable plague in Biblical times 🙂

  • If the owner had instead bought $6 million in gold in 2009, he’d have $7.2 million today, a 20 percent return on his investment. If he sold the gold in 2012, he’d have $9.6 million, a 60 percent return.

    The aphorism “More money than brains” exists for a reason.

    • 100% Genuine Aviation Heritage

      owns more yachts than pairs of pants

  • Bozzor

    Just to say, the minimum estimate given is not necessarily the reserve price…

  • SuperStrapper

    My plan is working. I knew I just had to bide my time on this piece. Phase one complete: no bids at recent auction. By this time next year it’ll be in the clearance section for $150, and I still have that $50 gift card nana gave me for Christmas. Yep, I’ll be snapping this puppy up for net $100 before anyone is the wiser.

    Based on looks, that’s about what its worth. I’d never discount what a technical marvel it is, but even mechanical turds still came from the wrong end of the deceptacon.

    Also, are all of the images in this article photos? Some of them look like renders, or heavily touched pictures.

    • DanW94

      I saw one of the four at a local second hand store but passed it up because they absolutely refused to throw in a Slayer CD that I had my eyes on….

      • SuperStrapper

        Which one? I have the entire discography (up to God Hates Us All) including many live recordings and domestic releases. I’ll never forget getting Undisputed Attitude on record store day and the feeling of simultaneous disappointment and excitement at the crossover style it displayed.

        Haven’t listened to any of it in many years, but those discs are well stored. I’ll make you a copy of whatever you want.

        • DanW94

          Just a reference to add to the joke. I’m not actually too familiar with them but remember some early stuff like Raining Blood or something like that. I could handle the thrash metal when I was younger but don’t think my old ears could take it now.

          • SuperStrapper

            It all lives carefully catalogued in a bin in my basement for similar reasons.

            Reign in blood. But you get a half point because although the title is reign, the lyric is “…raining blood, from a lascerated sky…”

            I’m secretly-not-so-secretly proud of myself for remembering that one, considering that last time I would have seriously listened to it would have been in an amp-up period in the locker room before a game.

          • I can’t wait for Google to index this post so that “Patek” and “Iron Maiden” when searched together produce a meaningful result.

          • Shinytoys

            give it time 🙂

          • Larry Holmack

            As I am closing in on turning 60….I find my taste in music still fall back to what I loved when I was in my late 20’s through my 30’s. I love heavy metal…Dokken, Judas Priest, and some of my new favorites…Disturbed, Daughtry, Evanesense. I get the strangest looks from people who are in parking lots when they see a grey beard listening to heavy metal cranked up to ear bleeding level in my SUV!!!

          • DanW94

            Larry’s a metal head, go figure : )

            You forgot to mention these guys…..


          • Larry Holmack

            Sure am…When I was working in the Phoenix AZ area in sales in the 1980’s, I used to look forward each week to MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball!! Some of my buddies and I would go to the concerts when Judas Priest, Metallica, Megadeth, the Scorpions, Dokken, and any other heavy metal bands would come to town. We were the guys with short hair and dressed in suits!!! We always got strange looks…like we were undercover cops looking to bust people smokin’ weed in the arena!!

            We’d always go crazy at JP concerts…especially when they played “Turbo Lover!!”

          • Shinytoys

            That’s the money right there 🙂

      • Lincolnshire Poacher

        Best concert I ever went to was Slayer. “Reign in Blood Tour”. Just a pip ahead of Moterhead and Metallica.

        • DanW94

          Another metal head! You guys are coming out of the woodwork on this post! I saw Priest back in the day. Not the best concert I’ve ever seen (not by far) but perhaps the loudest. Would have liked to see Lemmy in his heyday…..

          • Lincolnshire Poacher

            Back I the Day, is a long time ago for me. I think I saw all of the big 4 except Megadeath. ie Slayer, Anthrax, and Metallica. Never saw Maiden, But I did see Hawkwind many many times, usually in a field – make of that what you will.
            J Preist is really taking it back. But I’m old and boring now, I’ve really turned into my parents.

          • DanW94

            Funny you should mention Anthrax. Their lead guitarist actually became a renowned watchmaker.


      • I saw one of the other ones in my local second hand store but I wanted another color case (to match my bathroom door knob). So no sale – and they did not even try to locate one in the color I wanted. Even Home Depot tries harder than that.

    • And that’s $100 CAD no less!

      • SuperStrapper

        There you go. A mere 60-someodd US pesos.

        • Over 73 cents today.

          • SuperStrapper

            That’s a good recovery. I was in Vegas last week and bought at almost 41 cents.

  • Jerry Davis

    Owner should try Craigslist.

  • IanE

    Oh well, doubtless someone with awfully deep (and wide!) pockets will turn up to buy the thing! What, I wonder would a service cost!?

  • g0nz1

    Also the salmon dial stainless steel chronograph of Patek Philippe fails to sell at Christie’s on monday…

  • Mischa

    Try eBay?

  • Well what did the owner expect. The day of the week and month are in French!

  • Shinytoys

    ‘Tis Good to be The King ! Nice coverage Kenny Yeo…

  • simon

    To start I am not a fan of the Auction industry……any of them. What I will note is that if Patek Philippe watches start collapsing at auction like this, then Sotheby’s and Christies specifically are in big big trouble. They have built their whole platform around vintage Patek watches. Philips, while I am also not a fan, at least has diversified and come up with interesting themes to their auctions in order to generate buzz. Now, how their clients who purchased a early 1980;s day-date, for 6 figures, will feel when they cant sell it for 10k is another story.

  • CognacSocialist

    Apparently Flava Flav was one of the bidders … he had to pull out at USD5m

  • 100% Genuine Aviation Heritage

    No moonphases from Neptune complication?? Pass.

  • Beefalope

    I’m sure the jerkoffs at Hodinkee are immensely disappointed.

    • Jesus Christ

      What’s with the hate for Hodinkee?

  • Mark1884

    I was going to buy this…….. until I realized it was no longer the most complicated timepiece.
    Glad I read the description sheet prior to bidding.

  • JCRV

    That’s what can happen when you buy a watch as an investment. You might not get your money back.
    I more and more get the feeling that the vintage watch market is more and more becoming the domain of the less wealthy millionairs who can’t afford to buy art at todays prices. Watches are bought for the sole purpose of temporary bragging rights before selling them off again with the expectation of getting substantially more than what was originally paid, rather than actually enjoying the watch.
    But do keep reporting on these watches and provide background on them, because otherwise I might never know about them and what makes them special. I just don’t care whether someone made or lost a bundle on it.