A Patek Philippe ‘Grandmaster’ Watch Just Sold for an Astonishing $31 Million at Christie’s, Setting a New World Record
Patek Philippe's one-of-a-kind, stainless steel Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300 made history at the Only Watch auction in Geneva.
Over the weekend, history was made in a record-shattering watch auction in Geneva.
During the Saturday sale, Patek Philippe broke the record for the world’s most expensive watch with a hammer price of $31 million. An Audemars Piguet also sold for more than a million dollars for the first time, while watches by Hermès, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton all fetched six-figure hammer prices. Every lot was sold, with many more than doubling their pre-sale estimates.
There was an electric energy in the Christie’s salesroom at the Four Seasons Hôtel des Bergues, where the eighth edition of the biannual Only Watch auction was held. The room was jam-packed with some 300 watch brand executives, bidders armed with auction paddles, collectors, influencers, press, and seemingly every salesperson that Christie’s could manage to put at the end of a telephone line for bids coming in by phone.
In just over two hours, the auction had raised over $38 million by selling 50 timepieces—coming close to matching, in a single session, the total of $41 million raised in all seven prior editions of the sale combined.
Only Watch, a Biennial Auction Under Princely Patronage
Founded in 2005 by Luc Pettavino, president of the Monaco-based Association Monégasque Contre les Myopathies, the Only Watch auction had raised some $41 million prior to this year’s event, with all proceeds going to the charitable Association to benefit the fight against Duchenne muscular dystrophy, thanks to 50 participating watch brands who each donate a one-of-a-kind timepiece sold without commission or reserve price.
“The brands open their hearts by donating the fruit of their work,” Pettavino said at the start of the auction. “Only Watch is about creating beauty to do good.”
The auction has enjoyed the patronage of Prince Albert II of Monaco who, since its beginning, has generously supported the event. (In 2017, the prince even tried his hand at auctioneering by bringing down the hammer on the final lot.) Only Watch has also gained from occupying a prime spot on the Geneva fall calendar, just two days after the award ceremony of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, the annual so-called “Oscars of Watchmaking,” and ahead of the busy November watch and jewelry auctions.
Last week, building momentum for the auction, Pettavino was awarded the Grand Prix’s Special Jury Prize and given a standing ovation for his role as a unifying force in the industry.
For Pettavino, the cause animating Only Watch is deeply personal: his son Paul suffered from muscular dystrophy, ultimately dying of the disease in 2016, at age 20. Since 2005, the extraordinary energy and goodwill that Pettavino has brought to his charity auction has turned it into a major industry event.
A History-Making Patek Philippe Watch
In a sale marked with intense bidding and standing ovations from the start, it was somewhat unsurprising that the biggest winner of the afternoon was the one-of-a-kind timepiece from Patek Philippe.
The Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300 is the most complicated mechanical wristwatch the brand has produced, with two dials—a salmon-colored one that tells time, and another, ebony black, with a calendar function—that can be reversed thanks to a patented mechanism, with 20 special functions packed inside and five chiming modes, all within a 48mm case hand-guilloched in the tradition of rare handcrafts. It is the only Grandmaster Chime in stainless steel, hence the inscription “The Only One” on its dial.
The fierce bidding war ended with the Grandmaster Chime selling for over 10 times its high estimate, at an astonishing price of $31,244,094 to an anonymous bidder by phone. That hammer price wiped out every watch auction record out there, including the high-water mark for the world’s most expensive timepiece held by another Patek Philippe creation, the Henry Graves Supercomplication pocket watch, which sold in 2014 for $24 million. It also swept away the record held by the Rolex Paul Newman Daytona, sold in 2017 for $17.8 million, then the highest price ever paid for a wristwatch.
“We were expecting something around $15 million, maybe $20 million in our dreams,” said Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe. “But $31 million? No, I was not expecting that.” He added: “I did not think we would surpass the extraordinary Henry Graves.”
A Million-Dollar Audemars Piguet Timepiece
Audemars Piguet’s unique version of the Code 11.59, featuring an openwork tourbillon and produced in a two-tone gold finish, made a kind of history of its own by selling for $1,007,874 (est. $190,000 to $240,000).
“This is the first time that Audemars Piguet has passed the million-dollar bar in auction,” said the brand’s chief executive, François-Henry Bennahmias. “It is my personal pleasure, and that of our 2,000 employees, to have achieved this record price with the Code 11.59.”
Another crowning moment for Audemars Piguet had come two days earlier when it won the Aiguille d’Or—the most prestigious prize of the Grand Prix.
“It’s been a very good week,” Bennahmias said.
Hermès Over the Moon
It was an equally outstanding week for La Montre Hermès, winner of the Grand Prix’s top prize in the Calendar and Astronomy category for its Arceau L’Heure de la Lune Météorite. The originality of its moon-phase display, set on two mobile counters gravitating on a meteorite dial, was rewarded by a jury of industry personalities.
For Only Watch, Hermès had donated a blue-themed version of the award-winning timepiece that paid tribute to the blue color scheme of the auction. From a starting bid of $40,000, the bids escalated briskly to a hammer price of $211,654 (est. $35,000-$55,000).
“This was a wonderful surprise,” said Philippe Delhotal, artistic director of La Montre Hermès, adding, “We are thrilled to support the work that Luc has put into Only Watch.”
Chanel’s Iconic Duo
A longtime supporter of Only Watch, Chanel had donated a duo of unique but “inseparable” black and white matte ceramic J12 watches, with an automatic caliber made by Kenissi, a movement-maker that Chanel now co-owns with Tudor (a Rolex company).
Two days earlier, Chanel had won the Grand Prix’s top prize in the Ladies category for its new J12. As a show of support for Only Watch, both Frédéric Grangié, president of Chanel watches and fine jewelry, and Nicolas Beau, director of international business development for the same division, attended the auction. Their watch duo fetched $131,024 (est. $22,500-$27,000).
“We are thrilled to have achieved five times the presale estimate,” Beau said. “We have tremendous faith in the new J12. There was an alignment of the planets here.”
Louis Vuitton’s Tribute to Métiers d’Art
Louis Vuitton’s Escale Spin Time for Only Watch featured a delicately designed dial inspired by tattoo art, and made in a combination of miniature hand-painting and Grand Feu champlevé enameling by the renowned specialist, Anita Porchet. The watch was powered by an automatic movement developed by La Fabrique du Temps, Louis Vuitton’s in-house watchmakers.
In a nod to its tradition of luggage-making, the Escale was presented in a custom-made, hand-painted monogram canvas trunk, which helped to nearly triple its high estimate, when it sold for $282,205 to no other than Jean-Claude Biver, non-executive head of LVMH’s watch division.
“I bought this watch because it was sublime, and because I love and collect enamel,” Biver said. “Geneva is the capital of enamel as much as it is watchmaking, and this watch combines both.”
And with that, the Only Watch auction wrapped up its most stellar edition yet, bringing to about $80 million the total collected to support medical research in a spirit of watchmaking generosity.
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