2022 & 2023 horological birthdays
Marking the end of one celebratory year and the start of another year sure to be even more successful, we wanted to draw a focus on the famous anniversaries illustrated between 2022 and 2023.
Antiquorum results increased significantly in 2020 and 2022 ; 2022 totalizing an auction result of more than CHF 74 million, its best year since 7 years.
Triumph of the Métiers d’Art and independent watchmakers
While 2022 saw the continuation of the Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet (for the Royal Oak) domination on the market in terms of sales volume, it was above all the triumph of the Métiers d’Art and independent watchmakers.
For instance, the beautiful yellow gold Patek Philippe, ref. 715, “Woman with a water jug” by Vermeer, enamel by Suzanne Rohr is a world record for a Suzanne Rohr enamel pocket watch. Initially acquired at the famous Art of Patek Philippe sale in 1989, this pocket watch has remained in the safe of the buyer ever since. He specifically recalls at the time searching for enamel works by Suzanne Rohr but unfortunately none were available at the time so he had to purchase it through our auction. There is no doubt that Suzanne Rohr is known as being one of the most talented enamellers of her generation, having created some of the most exquisite scenes for Patek Philippe. Signed on the enamel 1967, this was the first year of her collaboration with Patek Philippe making it one of the earliest known to the market. Often inspired by paintings from the 1600 and 1700’s such as Cuyp, Guardi, Vernet, Pagnocki, Fragonard, Renoir, this particular example is the only example based on the famous “Woman and the Jug” painted by Vermeer in 1658.
The surge in prices of recent years had already begun to stabilize last May and the second semester sales confirmed this. This trend, combined with the complex period we are living through – health, political, economic and ecological crisis …. – is pushing customers to look for refuge values and “coup de coeur”. The focus is on vintage models with stable ratings and modern independent watchmakers. This is demonstrated by the results of our last auctions.
For example, Richard Mille and F.P Journe hold the new records in terms of results per lot. Richard Mille is in the lead, notably with this unique “Skull – Vanitas” piece (lot 373 of the July 2022 Monaco auction), followed by F.P Journe Chronomètre à résonnance, sold for EUR 456,300.00 (lot 370 of the July 2022 Monaco auction). This is a return to the roots of watchmaking. Customers are looking less for investment than for a passion timepiece. Passion will be the most resistant quality to the current market jolts. Among all the challenges facing the watchmaking industry is the need to renew the offer through new complications or technical advances in design and the mastery of new materials. In this case, the RM 52-01 “Skull Tourbillon”, known as “The Vanitas Vanitatum” is a real technical challenge: managing to sculpt a sapphire case of such quality is an outstanding feat.
Omega introduced its first Speedmaster chronograph in 1957, registered under the reference CK2915, the same year as the Railmaster and the Seamaster 300 models. From 1962, NASA acquired several chronographs from famous manufacturers such as Rolex, Hamilton, Longines and Omega. It is only two years later that an official call for tenders is launched. Becoming the symbol of the space conquest, the choice of the Speedmaster was therefore the fruit of a long reflection and heavy specifications from NASA.
Following this heavy heritage, few of the limited editions bring such envy and excitement to collectors as the Apollo Soyuz. Indeed, in July 1975 the USA and the Soviet Union, putting aside their political conflicts, carried out jointly the first international space mission. This was one of the strongest symbol of “détente” during the Cold War.
Few months later, the famous Omega Italian dealer, Fratelli De Marchi, ordered a limited edition of 500 Speedmaster timepieces to commemorate this major event. The Apollo-Soyuz series were based on the legendary 145.022 – which was the first Speedmaster to use the caliber 861, which replaced the revered caliber 321 from the very first models – but featured a slightly modified case and a dial personalized with the Apollo-Soyuz logo. De Marchi became responsible for the whole distribution of Omega watches throughout Italy in 1921. Even if their partnership ended in the late 1970s, it is a milestone in the watchmaking history, since this retailer was originally behind the very first limited series in steel of the brand’s history.
Taking advantage of the excitement generated by this celebration, in 2022, Swatch collaborated with Omega and launched on 26 March 2022 the MoonSwatch, a bioceramic watch that took on the overall design of the Speedmaster. The mania surrounding the launch of this model is arguably one of the most important publicity stunts of the last 20 years.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Same for the Royal Oak, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022: the price of this model soared before stabilizing. This is a reflection of the taste for designer watches. Indeed, what makes the Royal Oak so successful is its design. The genius of Gerald Genta (1931-2011) is to have been able to minimise the space, i.e. to flatten the case to the point where it becomes one with the bracelet. It is no longer just a useful object but a piece of jewellery. Collectors are buying a design above all. Moreover, at the time, it was the most expensive steel watch in the world.
In 1952, Willy Breitling was contacted by the famous American Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) who asked him to create a new chronograph for its members. The Breitling Navitimer (contraction of navigation and time) was born. Later it was equipped with a 24-hour dial in order to distinguish day and night. On 24 May 1962, a Breitling Navitimer chronograph was the first wristwatch to share in the conquest of space by accompanying the Aurora 7 flight on the wrist of Lt Commander Scott Carpenter. 2022 thus marked a double jubilee for Breitling. In the last November 2022 Geneva auction, a stainless steel Breitling Cosmonaute ref. 809-36 (lot 17) was hammered at CHF 6,875.
Patek Philippe Calatrava
Another anniversary that did not get much attention was that of the Calatrava, one of Patek Philippe’s most emblematic models. With its timeless design, round, classic and refined, it is an icon of the watchmaking history. Launched in 1932, this model has undergone many evolutions such as the ref. 6000G-010 in white gold one of which was sold for more than 16.000 CHF in Geneva in November.
2023 – Back to basics
However, 2023 will temper the horological auction results, as in 2021 and 2022, the speculative bubble that agitated the market on certain models, particularly for the “modern”, has burst and will therefore most probably lead to a drop in future results. Part of this speculation had revolved around the anniversaries of iconic models such as the Omega Speedmaster or the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Therefore, on the one hand, buyers are seeking refuge in safe values, and on the other hand, they prefer to favour their personal taste over investment. Finally, such a fall is excellent for the education of the collectors’ watchmaking taste. After two years focusing on investment, habits might change as drawn by the revival of the vintage enthusiasm.
The November 2022 Geneva and January 2023 Monaco results suggest that the love for watchmaking history remains intact. Hence, the stainless steel Patek Philippe, ref. 1463, with a two-tone silver dial and applied Breguet numerals (lot 200 – Geneva November 2022 auction) was acquired for CHF 475,000. The Patek 1463 is the first Patek Philippe waterproof chronograph, produced from the 1940’s. Out of all the variations, the ones in steel with applied Breguet numerals are the most appreciated and collected.
Sold for more than half a million Euros, the Rolex Antimagnétique ref. 6236 lot illustrates all the expertise and savoir-faire of Rolex, already more than half a century ago. This model was Rolex’s greatest complication for over 50 years. Initially called Dato-Compax, it is nicknamed “Jean-Claude Killy“, after the famous French Olympic skier, three times champion, who wore a Ref. 6236 on his wrist, the last model of the series and, without doubt, the most accomplished.
But if we were to choose only one, it would be the Rolex Midas of Mr René-Paul Jeanneret. An exceptional watch both in its design and in its history. Part of the “Cellini” collection, legend has it that Gérald Genta (1931-2011) designed this model. In the absence of tangible proof, specialists simply agree that he was involved at some point in the design process. René-Paul Jeanneret worked for Rolex from 1948 to 1978. During his 30-year career, he was Hans Wilsdorf’s right-hand man. As Director of Design and Development, it was he who set up Rolex’s famous line of communication, linking the world of sport and that of watchmaking. A keen diver – he was friends with Cousteau – he participated in the creation of the “Submariner” with Hans Wilsdorf. The two men were very close, so much so that it seems that Hans Wilsdorf was the godfather of Mr Jeanneret’s daughter, Dominique. A piece of history, as rarely seen! It is not surprising that the watch sold for more than double its estimate.
Anniversaries of sports icons
The next anniversaries to look out for in 2023, will be the Rolex Daytona and the Heuer Carrera, celebrating their 60th birthday. The later already decided to present an anniversary model in a limited edition of 600 pieces, its design inherited from the famous 2447 SN.
Another sports icon, the Blancpain Fifthy Fathoms, the first modern diver’s wristwatch, launched in 1953, will celebrate its 70th jubilee. The brand released a dedicated new model, featuring an exclusive 42 mm diameter and composed of three 70-piece limited series. A 70th anniversary too, for the Rolex Submariner which is perhaps one of if not the most coveted dive watch in the world, and Antiquorum is proud to hold all the world records for the Rolex Submariner COMEX references sold at auction.
Time will tell if these celebrations will durably impact the watch auction market, or not.