Today is the second day of the Geneva Watch Auction Six (GWA6) by Phillips. While there were some impressive lots (is that even a surprise from Aurel Bacs and Phillips…), with a Patek 2523 or an incredible Patek 2497 in white gold, the star of the show for us here, at MONOCHROME, certainly was the Omega Tourbillon 30 I – a 1947 watch and one of the very first tourbillon wristwatches ever made, and the first to have been completed in Switzerland. This watch just sold for an impressive CHF 1,428,500, making it the most expensive Omega ever auctioned.
The story behind this watch is rather impressive. While the tourbillon is, as many of you know, the invention of a certain Abraham Louis Breguet in 1801 (or at least the patent is from that year, even if it was not revealed to the public until 1805), it has remained a pocket watch feature for close to 150 years. What is today an almost common complication was not back in the days, and it has always been a feature reserved for ultra-complex pieces or for chronometry contests. And surprisingly, the apparition of the tourbillon in a wristwatch is even closer from us.
The 1947 Omega Tourbillon 30 I, one of the first Tourbillon Wristwatches ever made, and the fist made in Switzerland
Research tells us that the first Tourbillon wristwatches were made by Lip, who created a rectangular tourbillon prototype in 1931 / 1932. However, Lip was not a Swiss company… and it was a prototype, so the first Swiss-Made tourbillon wristwatch is, against all odds, not from one of the manufactures you would expect such as Patek, Vacheron, Audemars or Breguet. It actually is the result from the work of Omega…
An overall rough decoration… This movement was not intended to be a collector’s high-end piece as contemporary tourbillon watches, but to participate Observatory trials
Of course, we are still talking prototype-style movements and watches here, as the first officially commercialized tourbillon wristwatches were from Franck Muller (1984), Audemars Piguet (1986), and Breguet (1988). Yet, back in 1947, Omega manufactured 12 (later appearing that 13 were made) 30mm hand-wound movements named 30 I, featuring a tourbillon regulator rotating every 7.5 minutes. These movements were created in order to participate to chronometry contests, to run in the “wristwatch” category of the Geneva, Neuchatel and Kew-Teddington Observatory trials (and they did well, as this movement is still, to date, the one that achieved the highest score for a wristwatch at the Geneva trial).
The unusual tourbillon cage, rotating once every 7.5 minutes
Now about the present watch… In 1987, seven of these twelve movements were discovered by Omega and entirely rebuilt, they were then cased in gold and silver livery and offered to a select group of collectors. But not the present example. The present Omega Tourbillon 30 I was indeed completed back in 1947, as an entire watch – illustrations and information contained in letters preserved at the Omega Museum showcase plans for a 30mm tourbillon movement to be housed in a wristwatch, and making it number 13, one in addition to the 12 already know.
Illustrations from the Omega Museum, attesting the existence of the this watch back in 1947
So what was on auction today is actually the first Swiss-Made tourbillon wristwatch (and not wristwatch-sized movement, later re-encased), originally make in 1947 – and in a superb original condition, with its steel case crisp as new. That explains why collectors praised that watch and why Aurel Bacs, Phillips-Watches, achieved this impressive CHF 1,428,500 price (inc. premium) – compared to an estimate of CHF100,000 – 200,000. And it thus becomes the most expensive Omega ever auctioned.
As a reminder, two of the 1987 re-encased models sold in 2007 at the Antiquorum / Omegamania Auction, for CHF 215,750 and CHF 256,000 respectively.
Images courtesy of Phillips. More details about the watch on the dedicated page on Phillips.com.