There are 52 watchmakers donating unique timepieces to this year’s Only Watch charity auction, all of which are masterpieces in their own right. All deserve to go for top dollar, and we hope there is a battle at auction for each one. Tom Mulraney takes a look at ten to consider at the November sale.
If you’ve ever had cause to question the creative and philanthropic spirit of the luxury watch industry, look no further than Only Watch for reassurance. Established in 2005, this biennial auction offers an eye-watering selection of unique timepieces from some of the world’s finest watch brands. All in the name of charity. The first seven editions have already raised a combined total of over CHF 40 million to fund research on Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Making it, without question, the premier international watchmaking charity event.
That total is set to increase substantially come this November, when the eighth edition of Only Watch gets underway at the Four Seasons Hôtel des Bergues, in Geneva. With 52 companies participating, picking our favourite entries has proven a challenging task. After much reflection and debate, we’ve managed to whittle our list down to a respectable top ten. Read on to discover what we picked and why, as well as to learn more about this incredible charity event.
The Only Watch charity auction is the brainchild of Luc Pettavino, co-founder of the Association Monégasque contre les Myopathies (AMM) and former CEO and shareholder of the Monaco Yacht Show. AMM was set up in 2003 to raise funds to support scientific and medical research on Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Pettavino’s son suffered from this genetic disorder and sadly passed away in November 2016 at the age of 21.
The first edition of Only Watch took place in Monaco in 2005 under the patronage of HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco. Since then, the biennial event has continued to grow in size and popularity, with 50 unique pieces on offer this year. (Although 52 brands are participating, MB&F has teamed up with L’epée 1839 on the Tom & T-Rex table clock, while independent brands De Bethune and Urwerk are co-creating a wristwatch). Christie’s has volunteered its services as auctioneer for the second edition running and will not charge any buyer’s premium on sold lots. An impressive 99% of the proceeds raised from the sale will go directly to funding research projects.
It really is a fantastic initiative but the more cynical among us have to wonder, what’s in it for the brands that participate? Certainly, there’s the philanthropic aspect, doing good because it feels good and is the right thing to do. The fact that Only Watch generates exceptional global publicity and gives the brands exposure to a broader audience than they might otherwise reach are also added benefits. Not to mention the fact that every lot is just about guaranteed to sell. This is for charity after all.
Of course, some entries sell far above their estimates. Tudor, a mid-market maker of dive watches that retail in the low four figures, has proven to be a particularly strong performer. In 2015, the Heritage Black Bay One, a homage piece to the Submariner 7923 of the 1950s, hammered at an astonishing CHF 375,000. 100 times over its low estimate. At the next edition in 2017, Tudor followed this up with a Black Bay Bronze, offered in a unique configuration with the winding crown on the left and a khaki green dial. That watch again blitzed its estimates, hammering for CHF 350,000. Prices that simply could not be achieved by the brand at a normal auction. Whether Tudor can continue its unprecedented run this year remains to be seen.
Tudor is not the only entry we’ll be keeping an eye out for at the eighth edition of the Only Watch charity auction this year. Here’s our suggested top ten (in alphabetical order):
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked
Audemars Piguet’s Code 11.59 collection received a mixed response from the market when it made its debut earlier this year at SIHH 2019. A strong performance at Only Watch 2019 won’t change that, but it could go some way towards framing the models in a more positive light.
To highlight the architectural complexity of the Code 11.59, this unique model features a two-tone case. An 18-carat pink gold octagonal middle case stands out in contrast to the extra-thin bezel, lugs and caseback in 18-carat white gold. Pink gold has also been used for some of the bridges on the entirely open-worked, hand-wound Manufacture calibre 2948 complete with tourbillon.
Frederique Constant Meteorite Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture
Frederique Constant is on a mission to democratize haute horology, making exceptional pieces more accessible to a wider audience. The brand’s latest triumph comes in the form of the Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Manufacture watch. To further draw attention to this piece, a unique version has been created for Only Watch 2019.
Distinguishing it from the production version is a stunning, skeletonized blue tint meteorite dial. This four-billion-year-old material fell to Earth 80’000 years ago and was found in Namibia, Africa in 1839.
F.P. Journe Astronomic Blue
A red-hot favourite with collectors and a strong performer at Only Watch, F.P. Journe stands out for its extraordinary efforts to consistently create something truly special for the charity auction. At the last event, the brand’s Chronograph Monopoussoir Rattrapante hammered for an exceptional CHF 1,150,000.
This year’s entry may well go for even more than that.
The Astronomic Blue boasts an Astronomic prototype movement in 18k rose gold, a unique 44mm tantalum case and a blue chrome dial, all developed especially for Only Watch.
The movement incorporates a staggering 18 complications, including a minute repeater, dead-beat second and a tourbillon with Remontoir d’égalité.
Girard-Perregaux Laureato Absolute Chronograph
Girard-Perregaux unveiled several new additions to its red-hot Laureato collection at SIHH earlier this year, including the Laureato Absolute Chronograph. Offered in a contemporary 44mm case and rated water resistant to 300m, it offers a modern twist on the classic design from the 1970s.
Not yet available to the broader market, the first piece to issue forth from the GP workshops in La Chaux-de-Fonds has been reserved exclusively for the Only Watch auction.
Presented in a polished and satin-brushed black PVD-coated titanium case, it’s paired with an anthracite sunburst dial, featuring blue hour-markers, hands and second hand.
Even the edging on the push-pieces is in the same Pantone shade chosen by Only Watch as the official colour of the eighth edition. Inside is a self-winding manufacture movement, GP03300-1058.
Hublot Classic Fusion Tourbillon Sapphire Orlinski
Hublot is no stranger to making watches that turn heads, and its latest effort for Only Watch 2019 is certainly no exception.
A partner of the charity auction since its inception in 2005, the Swiss watch manufacturer has ensured it will once again stand out from the crowd with a bejewelled watch created in collaboration with contemporary artist Richard Orlinski.
Presented in a 45mm Classic Fusion case hewn entirely from sapphire, it is topped with a white gold bezel, set with 54 baguette-cut topazes.
Sculpted into the sapphire, are the signature edges, bevels and facets synonymous with Orlinski’s work, who the new owner will have the opportunity to meet with at his art gallery in Paris.
Maurice Lacroix AIKON Mercury
Earlier this year Maurice Lacroix debuted its patented “free hand” system, a whimsical complication that allows the hour and minute hands to spin freely when not in use. As soon as the watch is held upright, however, the hands spring back as if by magic into their rightful positions to indicate the current time.
For Only Watch 2019, this mischievous little timekeeper will be offered for the first time in a titanium case, paired with a leather strap.
To ensure it is easily recognizable on the wrist, the hands and some parts of the movement are finished in this year’s Only Watch theme color of blue.
Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime
As one of the most coveted names in watch collecting, the Patek Philippe entry is always hotly anticipated.
In the 2017 edition, the titanium-cased Ref 5208T-010 hammered for a staggering CHF 6,200,000 (or roughly 58% of the total money raised).
For the eight edition of Only Watch, Patek Philippe has pulled out all the stops, offering its breathtakingly complex Grandmaster Chime timepiece in a steel case, for the first and only time.
And if that wasn’t enough, the winning bidder will also be invited (along with a guest of their choosing) to visit the workshops of Patek Philippe and have a private lunch with Company President, Thiery Stern. Expect the bidding to be red-hot on this one.
Tudor Black Bay Ceramic One
As one of the stand-out performers at the past two-editions running, all eyes will be on the entry from Tudor this year to see if it once again rockets past its high estimate.
If the brand is feeling any pressure though, they’re not letting on. In fact, this year they’ve gone full stealth mode. Literally.
The Tudor Black Bay Ceramic One is entirely mat black, from the case (which is a blend of ceramic, steel and titanium) to the dial and hands that are filled with black luminescent material, as well as the hybrid rubber and matte alligator strap.
This unique variation certainly puts the ‘black’ in Black Bay.
Ulysse Nardin Exo-Skeleton X
Truly embodying the spirit of Only Watch, for its unique piece Ulysse Nardin has taken inspiration from Autonomyo, a walking exoskeleton that enables people with degenerative muscular diseases to have more freedom.
The titanium Exo-Skeleton X sports a carapace giving it a bionic look and accentuating its ergonomic design.
The flexible double blade is attached with two screws, one on the case and the other on the lug, enhancing the flexibility of the piece by allowing some movement between the lug bar and the case.
Zenith El Primero A386
Zenith is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its fabled El Primero chronograph movement this year, which is very good news for one lucky buyer.
On offer is a unique remake of the original A386, complete with a distinctive turquoise blue sub-dial at 3 o’clock in tribute to this year’s Only Watch theme colour. Presented in a 38mm white gold case, it comes complete with its own one-of-a-kind Only Watch collector’s box and a lifetime warranty.
But that’s not all. As part of the 50th anniversary festivities, the winning bidder will be invited to visit the Monde étoile de Zenith and the famous grenier of its Manufacture in Le Locle, the attic where Charles Vermot hid the famous tools for the El Primero movement that was to revolutionise Zenith’s future.
Last but definitely not least, the new owner will also be a guest at the closing event of the El Primero 50th anniversary “Le Grenier Club” tour in Geneva.
From the 25 September to 9 November, the organizers of Only Watch, in collaboration with Christie’s, will be taking all 50 entries on a world tour. It starts at the Monaco Yacht Show and ends at the Four Seasons Hôtel des Bergues in Geneva, where the auction will take place at 2pm Geneva time on the 9th of November.