A little over a month later than usual mid-May, the Geneva watch auctions are back on. At last, some sort of normalcy has returned. Two auction houses will host watch auctions in Geneva before the end of June. Antiquorum and Phillips return to action. Meanwhile, Sotheby’s has opted for bi-weekly online auctions since March instead and Christie’s pushed back its sale for a second time to the end of July.

Since March, when many countries began confinements, we’ve seen surprisingly strong results for online watch auctions. And while live auctions are returning, their format will be much changed. Travel restrictions remain in place. As such, t will be interesting to see how they fare without many foreign buyers present. With a limited capacity to preview watches, auction houses have been bombarded with requests for additional photos, videos, UV light tests, and so on. While these requests were anticipated, responding to them all is a great deal of work.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding both events, both auctions are packing some hear. I chose a couple of my favorites, some of which I actually plan to bid on myself.

Auctions Omeag Speedmaster

PHILLIPS: Geneva Watch Auction 11 (GWA XI)

The Phillips watch sale comprises 215 lots to be sold over two days. The official dates are June 27-28, but the auction house has advanced auction times. Both will start at 2 pm Geneva time (as opposed to the usual 5-6 pm start times). I assume this move targets bidders in Asia. It creates a bit of a scheduling conflict on Sunday with Antiquorum, but no matter. You can see the full online catalog here.

Zenith El Primero SP 1301 Auctions

LOT #20. Zenith El Primero SP 1301

Zenith celebrated the 50th anniversary of the El Primero movement last year. It marked the launch of the first 36,000vph automatic chronograph movement, Caliber 3019, in 1969.

The title of the first automatic chronograph caliber is still debated as release dates differ from patents and prototypes. This was the same year the Caliber 11 was launched by the consortium composed of Breitling, Heuer, and Hamilton-Büren. It was also the year that saw Seiko release its first automatic chronograph as well.

Zenith El Primero SP 1301

Zenith launched the A386 and A384 with their new automatic caliber. Both models received updates this past year. This reference SP 1301 is the successor of the A384. The condition of this watch is simply incredible. Almost unbelievably, the blue seal still on the back. Furthermore, the original papers are included. It is interesting because the dial’s black surfaces (registers and outer ring) have discolored to a stunning tropical brown color. Although there are two black dots, likely remnants of the previous color, in the left register, it looks nice in person and didn’t bother me.

A rare treat

Clearly this discoloration did not happen from being worn very often in the sun. As we have learned over the years, the term tropical can be misleading as dial discoloring mainly came from factory defects that would discolor regardless of being in the sun or not. The tritium luminous material attests to this as well as it often turns dark on these models and here it is a cream color. The last SP 1301 sold by Phillips in November 2018, which can be seen here, was also brown. That model’s serial was a bit later but it seems likely that this particular run of dials was prone to discoloration.

For more information about this watch please check it out here. Estimate CHF 5,000–10,000

Omega Speedmaster CK 2998-1

LOT #93 Omega Speedmaster CK 2998-1

Unsurprisingly, I also chose a Speedmaster. I try not to show too much Speedy bias in my articles because it’s important to talk about other models, but look at it! There is also a hidden importance to this particular 2998 that I will discuss.

Omega Speedmaster CK 2998-1 Auctions

Reference CK 2998-1 was launched in 1959 and was the replacement of the CK 2915-3 reference, the last generation of the CK 2915. The CK 2915-3 also launched in 1959, but earlier of course, and was the first Speedmaster to feature a black tachymeter bezel (Base 1000) for easier readability and, with the same purpose, replaced the broad arrow hands of its predecessors with alpha hands. The CK 2915-3 and CK 2998-1 first series dials are essentially identical and we call them the “Oval O” dials due to the unique shape of the O in Omega on these dials. I mention first series when mentioning the CK 2998-1 because the dials changed to a rounded O soon after in 1960.

Omega Speedmaster CK 2998-1 Auctions

The main attraction

The main attraction of this example is obviously the dial. It is likely one of the nicest tropical 2998 dials I’ve ever seen. And I mean both the caramel brown surface and the original amber color radium lume. Otherwise, the case isn’t perfect, but you can see that on the pictures and condition report.

But this watch is very special. To understand why we must dig into the serial number’s background. The CK 2915-3 has a very specific serial range from 16,648,xxx to 16,649,xxx. As a result, very few ever surface. The same can be said for the first series CK 2998-1 that all begin with 17,301,xxx.

The first…

This specific watch has serial number 17,301,000! It was delivered to France on November 10, 1959. Coincidentally, I  have CK 2998-1 in my collection delivered on exactly the same day and to France also with the same dial configuration. However, it is 500 numbers away, so, presumably, watches were not delivered chronologically by movement number. Rather, in batches. Yet, this is most definitely the earliest serial number possible for a CK 2998-1 and can in fact be called the “earliest” or “first” if one were so inclined.

My configuration is different from this watch. Although I have seen the first series delivered with straight lume alpha hands, mine has the more common long triangle hour hand. Also, the lollipop had was not yet available according to my research in late 1959 but could have been fitted by Omega or its French retailer as early as 1960 upon request of the owner. In any case, the watch is just spectacular on the wrist and merits a little open-mindedness for the opportunity to grab number first serial of this reference. Or don’t and leave it to me. For more information about this watch, please check it out here. Estimate CHF 25,000–45,000

Omega Speedmaster CK 2998-1 Auctions

Antiquorum Geneva: important modern & vintage timepieces & jewels

You can take a look at the Antiquorum Geneva online catalog here. Antiquorum had a live online auction in March that did well. Thus, it is rather surprising their curators were able to collect such a strong collection during lockdown including some very important Rolex watches.

This Antiquorum watch auction, which takes place on Sunday, June 28th in Geneva, is composed of 398 lots (200 less than usual, hallelujah). 78 of those are jewelry lots. The total value of the catalog (taking the low estimates without premiums) is about CHF 5,500,000. That’s a little below usual, but, considering the house enjoyed a strong March sale, it is likely on target to be at the same numbers as 2019. Honestly, that is pretty astounding considering the hurdles we are all facing this year.

AP Royal Oak 5402 Auctions

LOT #277. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 5402

It seems like vintage watch trends always repeat themselves. As we have seen on Zenith Daytonas (16520, 16528, 16523), the first to shoot up in price were the stainless steel and earliest versions. Next came the full gold catching up. Lastly, steel & gold (two-tone) got a bump up. Same exact trend can be seen with the Patek Nautilus 3700 jumbo.

AP Royal Oak 5402

The Royal Oak 5402 was the first watch of its kind. Designed by Gerald Genta and launched in 1972 by Audemars Piguet. It was a bold move to launch a luxury steel sports model at that price point. It paid off because today it is the core business, in terms of case design, for the brand.

An upward trend

The Royal Oak is seeing its vintage prices trending upwards. This example is a two-tone 5402SA B series with the AP logo at the top of the dial. It was delivered in 1979 to Paris. Only (about) 951 examples of the 5402SA were made in two-tone (this is number 436) while 745 were made in full gold (5402BA). More than 4,000 were made in stainless steel. The 5402SA does not have a letter on the back and these case backs were often mistaken for “pre-series” to A series in steel, but this is not the instance.

I think we all saw where I was going with my intro to this watch. We’ve seen steel 5402 go up from CHF 25K up to 75K in value. And we’ve seen gold pieces go from CHF 40K up to 90K. Therefore, it is safe to assume 5402SA is likely to head in the same direction if it hasn’t already. This example carries a conservative estimate and maybe with some luck (because no one reads my articles), I will be able to grab it reasonably. For more information about this lot, you can find it here. Estimate CHF 10,000–15,000

Rolex Oysterquartz Day Date Auctions

LOT #378 Rolex Day-Date Perpetual Calendar Prototype

I know, I said the P-word, but in this case, it really is a prototype! What’s incredible about this watch is that although I’ve heard of and seen these before, I have never seen the full Rolex prototype department instruction manual with it. This is in fact the only perpetual calendar that Rolex has ever produced.

Rolex Oysterquartz Day Date Auctions

Yes, it is quartz. But I find the design of these Oysterquartz cases and integrated bracelets super interesting. As some of you may or may not know, Antiquorum had one of these a while back and Rolex blocked the sale. They actually went to court over this and, finally, Antiquorum and the owner of that watch actually won. So now, these prototypes are actually allowed to be sold and the Rolex legal department won’t give you any trouble.

Rolex Oysterquartz Day Date Auctions

I got to look through the photocopy of this 27 or so page instruction manual and I will admit, I didn’t really figure it out yet. I will admit that the estimate is not for the faint of heart and I personally don’t have the budget for something like that. However, it would be nice if it found a good home. For more information about this lot, you can find it here. Estimate CHF 150,000–250,000.