As you might have seen, this past weekend was important for the watch collecting community. Like every year, the weekend after the GPHG is packed with auctions in Geneva. Christie’s and Phillips (and others) had their auctions, and last Saturday was the Only Watch charity auction; all benefitting from the presence of the most prominent watch collectors. While the auctions showed a strong, but not spectacular, interest in vintage watches from the usual suspects (mainly Patek Phillipe and Rolex), we’ve seen a renewed confirmation of a trend that started a couple of years ago. There’s a fast-growing and strong interest in some independent watchmakers, such as Philippe Dufour, Roger Smith and early watches made by F.P. Journe. And looking at the astonishing results fetched this weekend at Phillips Geneva Watch Auction XIV and Only Watch 2021, this is a trend that can’t be ignored anymore!
When he created MONOCHROME more than 15 years ago, our founder Frank, quickly started to bring an emphasis on independent watchmakers. To him, it was more than just a simple report on a small segment of the industry. Since Indie watchmakers, back In the day, hardly got any attention, he wanted to shed light on this segment as he felt they could use that extra attention very well. Often one-man or two-men shows, no budget for marketing, no interns for communication, just a few hard-working and passionate watchmakers creating their dream. And for Frank, it was all fuelled by a passion…
Back in those days, the popularity of independent and creative watchmakers was far from what it is today. With this background in mind, MONOCHROME is today still having a strong focus on this part of the watchmaking industry, and we’re closely looking at recent developments, newcomers in the segment and, of course, the growing interest of collectors for watches made by Indie watchmakers. The healthy sales and long waiting lists, as reported to us by some of these independent manufactures, is an interesting indication that the market is evolving. Moreover, the results fetched by some watches at the auctions last weekend, are an equally important indication for the popularity of Indie watchmakers – even though this needs to be examined with caution.
On the multiple watches offered this weekend, we’ve seen impressive results achieved at Only Watch by Akrivia (CHF 800,000), De Bethune (CHF 1,300,000), H. Moser & Cie. (CHF 750,000) or even Konstantin Chaykin (CHF 290,000) and Czapek (CHF 240,000). Of course, the situation is rather special, since we’re talking exclusively about unique models and about a charity auction, which helped to create infatuation and to raise the prices. But we also have to look at a more classic auction, the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction XIV. And there were some rather impressive independent watchmakers represented, with some fetching mind-blowing prices. Think Dufour with a Grande Sonnerie wristwatch sold for CHF 4,749,000 or a Duality for CHF 3,660,000. In the same vein, a Series 2 watch by Roger Smith sold at CHF 655,200 and a prototype Voutilainen at CHF 352,800 – all well above their retail prices.
However, even more importantly was F.P. Journe and a series of 5 souscription watches, as well as the unique piece made for Only Watch, all gathering impressive attention from the crowd of collectors and, in the end, astonishingly high (should I say; somehow senseless) prices.
F.P. Journe for Only Watch 2021
If there’s one watch that needs to be mentioned in this article it has to be the FFC Blue Only Watch 2021. Not only this watch made in collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola is highly notable because of its hand-shaped automaton to display the time, but it’s also the highest price achieved by an F.P. Journe watch ever, with a price of CHF 4,500,000. And at the same time, it might be the watch with the most tangible reasons for its price too.
Don’t get me wrong, 4.5 million Swiss francs doesn’t reflect the reality of this watch, which would never have been priced as such if produced and sold classically. But, since we’re talking about a unique piece that will never be reproduced and a watch sold for a very respectable charitable organisation, it can somehow be understandable – and in all fairness, it certainly is noble from both the brand and the final bidder to have raised such amount for Only Watch.
However, in a far more rational way, this watch is the reflection of something happening in the watch collecting community. Together with the watches made by Rexhep Rexhepi or De Bethune x Voutilainen, it shows a shift in the market towards independent watchmaking, or at least towards some of the members of this market segment. Not all watches from independent watchmakers managed to raise such impressive amounts, however, many of them did make substantial results. Being a charity auction, Only Watch somehow lacks rationality and is often disconnected from the reality of the market, but it remains nevertheless an indication of the desirability of the brands. And in this respect, F.P. Journe is high, very high.
You can check the results of Only Watch 2021 auction here, at christies.com.
The F.P. Journe at Phillips Geneva Watch Auction XIV
Besides the unique piece created for Only Watch 2021, there were more watches by F.P. Journe to be auctioned this past weekend, to be precise a series of 5 souscription watches made in the late 1990s or early 2000s, meaning part of the earliest wristwatches manufactured by François-Paul Journe. Consisting of a Tourbillon Souverain, a Chronomètre à Resonance, an Octa Chronograph, and Octa Quantième Perpetuel and an Octa Réserve de Marche (and a wooden box too… more on that later), these watches are certainly historically important and rare, but some of them are still in production in a slightly different form or execution, and thus are not unique. Even with this latter argument out of the equation, keep in mind that each of these souscription watches comes from a batch of 20 pieces. Certainly, we’re talking rare watches, but not unique models.
Nevertheless, the auction organised by Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo showed an incredible interest of collectors in these souscription models – something that only reinforces a trend that started already a couple of years ago. If we look more in detail, the 1/20 Tourbillon Souverain Souscription was sold at CHF 3,539,000, the Chronomètre à Resonance Souscription at CHF 3,902,000, the Octa Chronograph Souscription at CHF 961,700, the Octa Perpetual Calendar Souscription at CHF 937,500 and the Octa Réserve de Marche Souscription at CHF 554,000. We’re talking here 10 to 30 times the retail price of equivalent watches produced by F.P. Journe.
On one side, we certainly can’t deny these spectacular results and congratulate both the brand and the auction house for raising so much attention on the work of one of the most respected contemporary independent watchmakers. The watches made by François-Paul Journe are aesthetically and mechanically superb, with a strong focus on traditional watchmaking and finishing techniques, but also on chronometry – and we also see a growing interest of collectors in this field, with many overly-complex time-only pieces becoming ultra-collectable.
These results, however, also raise some questions, mostly on the reality of the market and its actual connection with the watchmaking industry at all. Are these watches by F.P. Journe still watches after all, or yet other items of speculation like wine or art can be? As far as I’m thinking, and without denying for a single second the beauty or importance of these 5 watches, I can’t think of tangible reasons for a Chronomètre à Résonance being priced at almost 4 million Swiss francs (about 3.8 million Euros or 4.4 million Dollars) apart from pure speculation and investment. There is, to me at least, a disconnection between the mechanical object we’re looking at and the price that someone was willing to put on the table…
Even more surprising is the wooden box that was offered just after these 5 watches – it was actually a special order from the owner of the 5 watches. We’ve seen pretty strong comments this weekend on Instagram regarding this box, which fetched more than 100k Swiss francs… Strictly speaking, yes, this is insane. But, there’s one thing that needs to be added to the equation in order to fully understand this price. It was indeed clearly stated that the money raised by this lot will be entirely given to Luc Pettavino and Only Watch. So, all in all, such price for a box is certainly irrelevant, but as it goes to a charity, we won’t complain.
You can check the results of the Geneva Watch Auction XIV here, at phillips.com.
All photos of the Souscription watches by Phillips.