A few weeks ago, a Philippe Dufour Simplicity “20th Anniversary” was the highlight of the Phillips “Retrospective 2000-2020” Geneva auction. The watch – marked 00/20 – hammered for over CHF 1.3 million. Admittedly, Philippe Dufour is one of the most respected craftsmen of the industry, and his watches are regarded as the ultimate expression of traditional hand-finishing. The story doesn’t end here, though. The introduction of the anniversary Simplicity watch was initiated with Claude Sfeir. One of the world’s foremost watch collectors, a long-time friend and supporter of Philippe Dufour, Claude Sfeir is now his commercial partner. Believe it or not, since the news broke Sfeir received over 10,000 emails from potential buyers interested in acquiring one of the 20 limited-edition anniversary Simplicity watches. Ten have been allocated already, and the remaining ten will be distributed following a random draw (more information below). Like many notable watch collectors, though, the skyrocketing value rare watches now attract is a secondary issue. Spend some time with Claude Sfeir, and you’ll understand that his fascination with watches and watchmaking runs really deep…
Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME – What is your story, Claude?
Claude Sfeir – I started from zero. My father was a taxi driver. At the age of 15, while studying in Lebanon, I worked during the summer holidays as a jeweller to pay for school. Then, at 18, I started working in the old gold souk of Dubai, where we retailed gold and diamonds. We then expanded to wholesale and created a large company with numerous shops. I started to get hooked into watches while travelling to Italy, Switzerland and New York for work. Before that, we were even disassembling watches to sell gold by weight… But I soon understood the value of watches. When I started buying watches in the 1980s, there was Rolex, Universal, Longines, Omega, to name those that first come to mind. I had very little knowledge. I then began to buy magazines, to read watch auction catalogues, to visit museums. I became passionate. I made many mistakes; some auction houses were not really honest back then, for instance, not providing the serial number of the watches. It also turned out that some did not have the original dial. I really understood that the focus should be on quality, not quantity. I tend to focus on top lots at auctions. Naturally, I could not buy everything. I missed several watches. I was the underbidder for the Patek Philippe “Henry Graves” SuperComplication. I missed the stainless steel Patek Philippe 1518. There are some watches I wasn’t able to buy… but not that many. And then there are charities like Children Action and Only Watch, and there I can’t miss watches. I’d love to keep buying at these charity auctions.
I’m passionate and addicted to collecting. Once you start, it is a never-ending story. You need to complete your collection of chronographs, then rattrapante watches, then perpetual calendars. I have been collecting for over 40 years now.
What is the watch you would dream of owning?
In the past, I have been obsessed with some specific watches. After so many years collecting, it’s a bit different now. I always follow independent watchmakers very closely. As early as 1999, I started collecting F.P. Journe watches. I love their vintage style. I love Patek Philippe watches, the Chronograph 1518 in particular. I love everything that is precious, but not necessarily precious metal. I love steel watches. I bought the Sky Moon in titanium, for instance. You don’t need an expensive metal or a complicated movement to have a precious watch. A simple Calatrava with a black lacquered dial is a splendid watch.
That’s what happened at the Phillips “Retrospective 2000-2020” auction. There were incredibly complex watches, tourbillons, minute repeaters, you name them… And the highest price was achieved by a time-only watch, a Philippe Dufour Simplicity. Reaching such a level for a simple watch is incredible.
When the news spread that we would sell 20 Simplicity watches, my inbox literally exploded! I have received over 10,000 emails in just a couple of days. I just don’t know how to answer everybody. We decided to sell ten watches, the remaining ten will be allocated following a random draw with the assistance of a bailiff. It is impossible to answer all requests; there are just 20 watches.
What material are these 20 watches made from?
In total there will be 21 watches, including the one sold in Geneva. There will be seven pieces in platinum with a satin-brushed case, a light blue dial and a 12 marker instead of the PD initials, Arabic numerals and Breguet hands. The seven white gold watches will have a polished case with a light-grey dial and black lettering. For the pink gold watches, these will be like the watch that was sold by Phillips without the PD initials. It will take over two years to manufacture these 20 watches.
What is the future of the “brand” Philippe Dufour?
Philippe is 72 years old but has a young mind! Besides, his daughter will join him. Philippe is extremely demanding, but she is very talented and passionate. She is already helping him. And at the end of 2021, a watch co-created by Philippe and his daughter will be presented at Only Watch.
Philippe can also focus more on watch production as I am helping him in various activities. His wife is also helping with communication activities. It is more like teamwork. We have a major project that will be revealed very soon, in a few months. We have been working on this for three or four years. It is an amazing project, something unprecedented.
You also have a special relationship with François-Paul Journe, right?
Indeed. I have been collecting Journe watches for years. François-Paul is a very strong character; he is an artist and we share a lot. We have known each other for years. We even attend auction sales together. We buy Rolex watches; this is an addiction he caught. We also operate the FP Journe Boutique in the Middle East since 2014.
Last question, what would be your advice to collectors?
The best thing to do is to collect what you love. The price does not matter in the end. A CHF 1,000 watch is collectable. I have friends who collect just one type of watches, like Italians collecting Daytonas exclusively. Simply focus on what you like.
Images of the Philippe Dufour Simplicity 20th Anniversary by Phillips Watches