Every two years something extraordinary happens in the watch world, as horology’s top names join forces in aid of a good cause. Bringing them together is the biennial charity auction Only Watch, an event that invites leading brands to create special, one-off timepieces to raise much-needed funds for research into the genetic disorder Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which currently has no cure.
The cause is a personal one for Luc Pettavino, former CEO of the Monaco Yacht Show. He co-founded the Monaco Association against Muscular Dystrophy in 2001 to push for research into the condition that affected his son. Having established Only Watch in 2005, he has since raised more than £22m for research into muscular dystrophy.
This year Only Watch returns for its seventh edition, with Christie’s conducting the auction for the first time. The unique watches will undergo a world tour, stopping in Bangkok, Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, Taipei, New York and Los Angeles, before their final price is decided in Geneva on 11 November 2017. ‘We want to create international awareness of the auction, so that each lot will receive bids from multiple collectors and watch enthusiasts around the globe. After all, it is for a good cause and we all would like it to become the greatest success,’ says John Reardon, international head of Christie’s Watches. ‘Due to the traditional auction calendar, Geneva in November welcomes a significant number of the most important players in the field of watch collectors from around the globe, making it the right place to hold this charity auction.’
Ultimately the success of the auction and, crucially, the amount of money raised, hinges on the pedigree of the brands involved and the quality of watches produced. And 2017 is set to be one of the strongest yet, with 50 companies taking part, ranging from household names to small-production independents, producing watches that carry estimates starting from SFr 3,500 and extending beyond SFr 1m.
Holding among the highest estimates is the Patek Philippe Reference 5208 Triple Complication timepiece produced in titanium for the first and only time. The watchmaker has long been favoured on the vintage market, attracting interest not only for its classic design and technical prowess, but scarcity and investment value. The individual nature of this piece only adds to its desirability. ‘Exclusivity and uniqueness in the auction market is as important as vintage and provenance,’ says Reardon. ‘It depends on collectors’ tastes, but these four ingredients are guarantors to attract the interest of all major collectors.’ The event will no doubt be looking to replicate the success of Patek Philippe’s model produced for Only Watch 2015. It set a new record for a wristwatch sold at auction, achieving an impressive final price of SFr 7.3m.
‘The entire hammer price will be going to charity and no buyer’s premium will be charged. A great moment to secure a unique watch by giving back to the community.’
While many watchmakers look to attract interest in their lots by reinterpreting tried-and-tested models in one-off colours and materials, others take the gamble of investing considerable development time to create a completely new timepiece just for the occasion. One to watch will be FP Journe’s Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante (estimate SFr 200,000-400,000). The eye-catching blue and orange watch not only features a new dial and new case, but even more impressively a new chronograph movement, beautifully finished in 18ct rose gold.
Perhaps the sign of a challenging market, or simply reflecting the modern-day move towards experiences over physical products, this year many lots also come with added bonuses, from exclusive factory tours and meet-and-greets to invites to once-in-a-lifetime events. ‘I think it is a good way to increase interest in the auction and to offer something new – we all want to have something innovative from time to time,’ says Reardon. ‘If it will have an impact on the prices achieved, we will know after the auction.’
For die-hard fans, the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes at their favourite manufacturers is sure to prove as much a draw as the timepieces themselves. A special edition of Tudor’s Black Bay Bronze, holding an estimate of SFr 4,500-5,500, seems a veritable bargain considering that it includes an expenses-paid trip to its Geneva headquarters. Meanwhile, others opening the doors to their workshops include Breguet and Louis Vuitton, with the latter including lunch at the maison’s family house with vice president of watches Hamdi Chatti and master watchmaker Michel Navas.
Others have enlisted the help of their high-profile ambassadors to bring a personal touch. The lucky winner of Chopard’s watch, a tribute to Jacky Ickx, will accompany the motor-racing legend to the Monaco Historique GP 2018. Meanwhile Blancpain, which has produced a take on its iconic diver’s watch, the Fifty Fathoms, is offering a one-on-one lesson with freediver Gianluca Genoni and Hublot is including the chance to meet the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, in the flesh. ‘We hope that each lot will attract large interest and be knocked down for the highest possible price,’ says Reardon. ‘The entire hammer price will be going to charity and no buyer’s premium will be charged. A great moment to secure a unique watch by giving back to the community.’