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May 1, 2019
In November 2014, Phillips launched its watch department with Aurel Bacs and Livia Russo. A direct response to the ever-increasing demand from today’s timepiece collectors, Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo quickly became a market leader in information, trusted guidance, and overall quality.
Since the foundation of its watch department, Phillips has achieved multiple auction records worldwide for Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Omega.
The company is also known for presenting Paul Newman’s Rolex Cosmograph Daytona (worn by the famed actor himself), in its New York sale in 2017. That broke yet another global auction record, selling for nearly $18 million and becoming the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction.
In November 2018, Phillips also hit a record at its Geneva auction—more than 1,000 bidders appeared across all online platforms in more than 60 countries.
“Online is now the favorite bidding method for watch collectors,” said Arthur Touchot, Specialist and Head of Digital Strategy for Watches. “When a client feels confident enough in the quality of a watch to place a bid online, that means we’ve answered all the questions he or she had ahead of the auction.”
Just one month later, the company closed out an exciting year with nearly $110 million sold across all international watches auctions. Strengthening its presence beyond the physical space, Phillips saw an 80 percent increase, year over year, in the value of watches sold online. 73 percent of all watches offered last year received at least one bid online.
“Our online catalogue is a little different in that it presents more than just the list of watches available for sale,” continued Touchot. “As much as possible, it’s filled with original content that helps our clients understand those watches. We might, for example, dedicate an entire article to explain a watch that works very differently to most, or interview a contemporary watchmaker to understand his creative approach. We’re in the business of selling watches, and that’s not going to change, but we’re much happier to know that our clients fully understand what they’re purchasing and why it’s so special.”
That same December, Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo extended its dedication to the art of horology by co-curating a sale of iconic watches matching thematic looks. Presented in collaboration with Mr Porter and The Rake, “Styled” showed 120 vintage watches paired with elegant men’s fashion pieces. The show spotlighted 12 themes, ranging from Wimbledon and Goodwood to Positano and Art Basel.
Today, the Watches department is dedicated exclusively to the world’s finest collector’s watches, focused on a unique and uncompromised approach to quality, transparency, and client service.
On May 11 and 12 at Hôtel La Réserve in Geneva, Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo is hosting a highly anticipated double evening sale—The Geneva Watch Auction: NINE.
The sale will be led by the George Daniels Grand Complication pocket watch, made in 1987. Known as a watch of extreme historical importance, the piece signifies the high caliber of the other exceptional timepieces. The Daniels Grand Complication has shined for its mechanical prowess and unique horological design, making it one of the most sought-after pieces for seasoned collectors all over the globe.
A unique, spectacular and historically important yellow gold pocket watch, the Grand Complication features several complications including an instantaneous perpetual calendar with retrograde date and minute repeater with moonphases, thermometer, power reserve, equation of time, annual calendar, and one minute co-axial tourbillon.
“We are incredibly humbled to have been trusted with this once in a lifetime consignment and many savvy collectors will welcome it as such,” said Aurel Bacs, Senior Consultant of Bacs & Russo, and Alex Ghotbi, Head of Sales in Geneva. “Anyone even remotely interested in independent watchmaking will agree that George Daniels was probably the most talented watchmaker of the 20th century and that he represents the ‘Adam and Eve’ moment for what we describe today as independent watchmaking. Given the sheer complexity, number of complications, and unparalleled degree of craftsmanship, it is fair to say that the Grand Complication represents the pinnacle of Daniels’ work, who is himself the pinnacle of 20th century watchmaking.”
The sale follows with over 200 other iconic timepieces—from Rolex to Vacheron Constantin, and from MB&F to Patek Philippe, with several styles and eras of watchmaking represented throughout the sale. Anniversary and nautilus pieces are complemented by a fine selection of pocket watches and stand-up clocks, all varying in size, material, and craftsmanship.
Another highlight is a significant wristwatch that was recently rediscovered after 60 years in a private vault—the Vacheron Constantin Minute Repeater with Retrograde Calendar. Completed in 1940, the yellow gold piece took four years to make and became known as the “Don Pancho” in reference to its then-owner’s nickname.
“We believe this is one of the most important wristwatches in the world. Previously, the only record of this watch being made was a black and white picture of the watch, which fascinated us,” continued Bacs and Ghotbi. “Both of us have been dreaming and talking about this watch for years, and finally, we can say it is not a myth, but a real treasure. There was, in the 1930s, no other calendar wristwatch with retrograde date and minute repeater, so it was a revolutionary watch, made to measure for a very important patron. Given that there is nothing like it and that it is the masterpiece of Vacheron Constantin’s wristwatch production of the 20th century, we believe this watch is the very definition of a museum quality timepiece.”
Another not-to-miss watch in the sale is a Patek Philippe bracelet wristwatch that once belonged to the French actress Catherine Deneuve. Diamonds, onyx, and chrysoprase elegantly hold the timepiece in place.
“This yellow gold bracelet watch perfectly encapsulates the icon’s elegance and style, and it comes as no surprise that she would choose such an arresting timepiece for her personal collection,” said Tiffany To, one of the Geneva-based watch specialists at Phillips.
In September 2015, Tiffany To joined Phillips. After studying History of Art at UC Berkeley, she initially worked in the Hong Kong office before relocating to Geneva—arguably the center of the watch-making world. For the past year and a half, she has been one of the specialists based in Geneva, and today, she is an Associate Director at Phillips.
To her, timepieces play an integral role in the reflection and conservation of history. In times of austerity or prosperity, watches do more than keep time—they preserve it, informing culture along the way. Whether a Bovet or a Rolex, To believes each horological creation captures the zeitgeist of each era while simultaneously reflecting the tastes and practical needs of its owner.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about your role as one of the company’s specialists, based in Geneva.
TIFFANY TO: My role is quite diverse. I am involved in sourcing watches for consignment, researching, cataloging, photography, and eventually helping sell the property. I am grateful for this, as it enables me to understand and learn the different corners of the auction business.
WW: Is there a specific rise in demand you currently see in terms of design, function, or style?
TT: Regardless of style, size and taste, there has been a specific rise in demand for watches of great quality—whether it be a Rolex Bubbleback or a Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch. I think today, collectors are willing to pay premiums for the best: this is a common denominator among collectors who have varying horological interests.
WW: How does being based in Geneva, arguably the watch capital of the world, impact your relationship and understanding of timepieces?
TT: I am very fortunate to be able to work in Geneva, and my environment has definitely shaped my understanding of vintage watches. Being exposed to the pieces on a daily basis is a true privilege, and one can only learn by handling, examining, and analyzing objects frequently. Furthermore, I am surrounded by a team of watch enthusiasts. Collectively we learn so much from each other.
WW: Horological creations reflect taste, image, and practical needs of its owner. What type of guidance are most collectors looking for from Phillips?
TT: I believe that honesty goes a long way, and Phillips provides an unbiased point of view to collectors. I believe the team is particularly adept at understanding the needs of our clients, and connecting them with the right watch that fits their collecting tastes and parameters.
WW: One of your specialties are Rolex Daytonas. What sets that model apart and why has its popularity grown so quickly among collectors?
TT: I think the diversity and brand image of the Cosmograph Daytona is what makes it such an iconic model. First of all, the variants are almost endless. There is a model for every price point, whether it is an automatic or manual-winding variant. On one end of the spectrum is a current production stainless steel 116500LN; on the opposite end is a yellow gold reference 6263 with lemon “Paul Newman” dial. While it is not difficult to enter the market, it is challenging—and fun—to build a vast collection based on the myriad of possibilities. There is always room to upgrade and find undiscovered territory.
Second, the Daytona is forever ingrained in popular culture, having been donned by a myriad of cultural icons, from Paul Newman to Ellen DeGeneres. Its DNA is instantly recognizable, and its wearers are synonymous with “cool.”
WW: The upcoming spring Geneva sale is right around the corner, on May 11 and 12. Is there a piece you’re excited about seeing in it?
TT: It’s difficult to choose one particular piece. What I can say is that I am always particularly excited to see the results of fresh-to-the-market original owner pieces, as they can really make a difference to the owners’ lives. Furthermore, the auction can give those watches a “second life,” ready to be enjoyed and treasured by the next owner.
Born in Singapore, ZiYong Ho originally began his career by studying to be a sports physiotherapist. In 2011, he had the opportunity to be a viewing assistant for an auction, and the experience changed the course of his career forever. After graduation, he soon became a Specialist Trainee at a renowned international auction house, later joining the Hong Kong office of Phillips in 2017 as a Watch Specialist. It wasn’t long before he quickly became a key member of the department’s international team. Today, Ho handles some of the most precious watches from various makers and eras.
As a dedicated enthusiast of vintage timepieces, Ho’s primary interest lies in Rolex and Patek Philippe wristwatches from the first half of the 20th century. Exciting parts of his job include discovering watches of historical significance, enjoying the buzz of the room on auction day, and bidding over the phone on behalf of his clients.
Earlier this year, Ho was made Head of Sale and Associate Director of Phillips, responsible for overseeing all the operational aspects of his department’s bi-annual sales in Hong Kong. While cultivating networks among young and seasoned collectors, Ho also fosters relationships with dealers and others in the ever-growing watch collecting community.
WHITEWALL: How did you get your start in the world of watches?
ZIYONG HO: My parents gave me a Seiko diver’s wristwatch as a present for my 16th birthday, and ever since then I was constantly reading watch magazines and publications to find out more. My passion started there.
WW: Tell us a bit about your role as a Hong Kong watches specialist.
ZH: I think many specialists working at the Phillips Watches department would say the same thing: it’s a really dynamic position. However, for me that comes along with self-discovery, excitement, and joy. From business getting to client relations, you juggle many different roles all at once. Personally, I really enjoy the challenge and the adrenaline that comes when closing a deal or discovering an important watch.
WW: For new collectors, where do you recommend getting started?
ZH: I always tell new collectors to visit watch fairs and auction previews to get exposed to different watches and most importantly to be able to see the watches in person and continue learning about the timepieces they are acquiring.
WW: How do collectors’ tastes differ in Hong Kong compared to other major watch markets?
ZH: The collecting community in Asia has grown over the last few years and has started to appreciate vintage watches. The appetite for this segment is very strong now. We have seen a shift in tastes as the focus is no longer as much on contemporary timepieces but more on vintage timepieces.
WW: You’re an enthusiast of vintage Rolex and Patek Philippe from the first half of the 20th century. What attracts you to this period, and how do you track them down?
ZH: Both brands have long-standing history, and I am particularly interested in the period between the 1960s and 1970s where there was so much innovation going on with the case design and movement, which is fascinating for me personally. There are also a few important publications and scholars that helped build my knowledge and passion in this domain, and along the way I met collectors that helped us track down some important watches.
WW: The upcoming spring Hong Kong sales are approaching, set for May 27 and 28. Is there a piece you’re excited about seeing in it?
ZH: Definitely, yes. I am very excited to see one of the best Rolex Ref. 6538 Submariner “Big Crown” examples in our Hong Kong evening sale in collaboration with Blackbird. It is an extraordinary watch, one of the best in recent memory and it will be exciting to see the result it will achieve.
For more information and inspiration, follow Phillips Watches on Instagram.
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