Hammer Time: What to Look For in the November Auctions


The year’s blockbuster jewelry and watch auctions are upon us. I never get excited for these things, but the season is filled with an unusual amount of high-profile sales, especially when it comes to watches. Here’s a rundown of which pieces to keep your eyes on when the hammer falls at the season’s key sales.

Antiquorum, Nov. 8–9: Important Modern & Vintage Timepieces, Geneva

When Antiquorum stages its big November watch sale at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Geneva, the top lot among the nearly 1,000-lot sale is expected to be an extremely rare Singing Bird Cage Clock attributed to Jaquet Droz. Made circa 1785, the gilded-brass clock features an automaton jumping bird—complete with automated beak, wings, and tail—and automaton waterfall, which can be activated at will or by the clock every three hours. Collectors in the Far East have gone mad for these uniquely Swiss specialties over the years, so don’t be surprised if the buyer ends up hailing from mainland China.

Courtesy Antiquorum Auctioneers

The Singing Bird Cage Clock by Jaquet Droz

Christie’s, Nov. 9: Patek Philippe 175, Geneva

In honor of the Geneva watchmaker’s 175th anniversary celebration this fall, Christie’s has assembled 100 timepieces from the mid-19th century to the 1990s in an unusual auction taking place on Sunday, Nov. 9, at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva.

“Unlike any other auction in watch world, we’re not selling what’s been consigned,” says John Reardon, international head of the Christie’s watch department. “It’s the other way around. We asked ourselves, ‘What 100 pieces best tell the history of Patek Philippe?’ We actually created a list of the most iconic and important pieces in the development of Patek Philippe’s history—essentially a wish list is where it all began.”

The resulting collection of vintage pocket watches and wristwatches, with estimates ranging from $1,000 to $1.6 million, includes 58 pieces that have never before appeared at auction. The piece to watch is a rare and unique 18k gold wristwatch with single button split-seconds chronograph retailed by Cartier and made for the aviation pioneer William E. Boeing in 1930. It is expected to fetch at least $418,325 but could go as high as $836,649.

“After Boeing made his money in the timber business in Seattle, his passion turned to aviation,” Reardon says. “In the late 1930s, he purchased a single-button Patek Philippe chronograph from Cartier. It also has on the minute hand three red stripes we’ve never seen in the watch world. The ‘Red Striped Theory’ is in the catalog. In my opinion, it was for horse racing. He owned more than 38 thoroughbreds. I expect the three red stripes relate to his horse-racing years. If you’re an American in the late-19th century and you owned horses, you owned a split-seconds chronograph. But three red stripes could also be related to Boeing.”

Courtesy Christies.com

The Patek Philippe split-seconds chronograph owned by William Boeing

Christie’s, Nov. 11: Magnificent Jewels, Geneva

The Mag Jewels sales, as we call them, are always the most glamorous. The highlights of the Christie’s mid-November auction in Geneva include an antique diamond Feuilles de Groseillier brooch by Bapst and two yellow diamond tiger jewels by Cartier once owned by the Duchess of Windsor (at the high end, they’re estimated to sell for $2.5 million!). The sale also includes a legendary cushion-shape sapphire of 392.52 carats, known as the Blue Belle of Asia. Meow!

Sotheby’s, Nov. 11: Important Watches, Geneva

This is the mack daddy of all watch auctions. The sale features the most famous watch in the world, the Henry Graves Supercomplication by Patek Philippe, a pocket watch with 33 complications, made for the New York City banking heir in 1933, and famously sold at auction in 1999 for the record-breaking sum of $11 million.

On the block again—its 1999 buyer, a sheikh from Qatar, was considered a wild card when he outbid Patek Philippe for the piece—the sale is timed to coincide with the brand’s 175th anniversary celebration. When I spoke to Daryn Schnipper, head of Sotheby’s International Watch Division, a few weeks ago, she had this to say about the $15.8 million estimate.

“How do you come up with an estimate?” says Schnipper. “It’s priceless. It is truly a masterpiece. When you factor everything in, how do you figure that out? It was difficult the first time and difficult the second time, and the watch market has changed so dramatically in the last 15 years, we’re not even in the same ballpark anymore. We think that’s a very conservative estimate.”

Courtesy Sothebys.com

The Henry Graves Supercomplication

Sotheby’s, Nov. 20–21: Property from the Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon: Jewels & Objects of Vertu, New York City

You can’t go wrong with jewels once owned by Bunny Mellon. The philanthropist and art collector, who was 103 years old when she died on March 17 of this year, was close with the 20th century’s best designers—Fulco di Verdura, Jean Schlumberger, Hubert de Givenchy—and their works appear in the sale, alongside period pieces from Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Black Starr & Frost.

The sale is highlighted by a pair of striking blue diamonds, a rare 9.75 ct. fancy vivid blue pear-shape diamond pendant ($15 million at its high estimate) and an important 9.15 ct. fancy blue diamond pendant ($1.5 million at its high estimate). But don’t overlook a stunning diamond rivière necklace by Cartier or a wide array of daytime jewels, gold accessories, and objects of vertu, like the charming Verdura rhino below!

Courtesy Sothebys.com

The gold, gem-set, rock crystal and sodalite rhinoceros by Fulco di Verdura is expected to sell for $15,000–$20,000 at the Sotheby’s Nov. 20–21 auction of jewels from the estate of Bunny Mellon.

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