On 9 November, at Christie’s, Geneva, an auction of 50 one-off watches raised £30,263,633.39 for research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy and other muscular diseases. This was the latest in a biennial cycle of auctions under the Only Watch banner, a charity initiative set up by Luc Pettavino in 2005.
Since then, he has raised more than 70 million euros in eight editions, with 99 per cent of the proceeds going to charity, as he gives his time pro bono. Pettavino can afford to do this because he created the Monaco Yacht Show, selling his stake in the business in 2010 so he could concentrate on charity work. The research project was launched in response to the diagnosis of his son Paul with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. As Pettavino explains, ‘When we heard his diagnosis we just said: let’s try to transform the energy. Let’s try to get a positive solution. Life gave us opportunities to act, to be connected – let’s create beauty to do good’. He says he hit upon the idea for Only Watch because he was looking for a product that was small and valuable that he could transport around the world. He approached the top watch manufacturers and asked them to make unique pieces for him to auction off.
Clearly a man with a talent for persuasion, Pettavino modestly says that getting the horological community to play ball was not that difficult. Now, every two years, the world’s greatest watchmakers vie with one another to create ever more special one-offs for this auction. Pettavino takes the 50 pieces on a world tour, showing them off to prospective buyers, before putting them under the hammer in Geneva. Pettavino says he feels like ‘the temporary conductor of a beautiful orchestra, making sure the symphony is optimised’. It says something about the brands that get involved that they take time out of business as usual to furnish him, for free, with the precious pieces. ‘It’s really a group effort,’ explains Pettavino. ‘We built something; each of us brings a brick to a wonderful mansion, and in the end, when we sit back, we realise it is a palace.’