Curios is my blog series on interesting things that pop up at auction houses. Today, Christie's in Hong Kong is selling some of the most sophisticated watches on Earth. From the Christie's catalogue:
In 2011, Christie's international auction sales in Geneva, Hong Kong and New York of important watches surpassed the US$ 100 million barrier for the first time and achieved an unprecedented total of more than US$116.3 million, reconfirming the firm’s global supremacy for this category for the 5th year in a row. Underlined by consistent selling rates of over 90% achieved at each Christie's watch sale this year, such an outstanding result is a consequence of the fierce competition generated by a growing number of collectors coming from the Eastern and Western hemispheres. No less than 1,000 bidders from 40 or more different countries participated at every Christie's watch sale in 2011, demonstrating how this category knows no bounds.
Today’s watch market has never been so international, nor has it seen such high levels of scholarship and demand, and Christie's leads it at every level, especially when it comes to vintage collector’s wristwatches manufactured by the most renowned manufacturers. Throughout the year, Christie's Watch Specialists scouted and offered the finest and most important watches, mostly fresh to the market, perfectly presented and realistically estimated, and the reaction of the watch community was enthusiastic.
Technological advances have seen watches become incredibly complex and these timepieces cost several million dollars each. World Auction compares one of the watches on the block today (the 2010 Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 model, now billed as the most complicated wrist watch ever made in the world) with the 1932 Patek Philippe Supercomplication commissioned by Henry Graves, and the 1989 Patek Philippe model Calibre 89, to indicate how far horologists have come:
The sale of watches organized by Christie's in Hong Kong on May 30 is a festival of high complication. The technical advances of the latest watches have certainly been enabled by the computers, making it a new category in the market for luxury goods.
Franck Muller [the great Swiss watchmaker based] ... in Geneva, positions himself as the master of complications. Number 1 of his Aeternitas Mega 4 model from 2010 is estimated HK $ 4.8 M.
This tonneau-shaped watch is large and thick, 61 x 42 x 19 mm, but it comes however into the category of wristwatches. Its 36 complications are activated by 1483 components.
A comparison with two prestigious watches enables to appreciate the evolution of technology.
The masterpiece of the inter-war period, the Patek Philippe commissioned by Graves, had 24 complications. Too big to be worn on the wrist, the Calibre 89 of Patek Philippe, 89 mm diameter and 41 mm thick, totaled 33 complications and 1728 components.