Looking beyond the star lots that feature prominently in each of the press releases from the four main auction houses, namely Antiquorum, Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s, can reveal some interesting facts for watch fans.

Patek Philippe – the same but different
The fact that the cover watch on the catalogues for the Antiquorum, Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions is a Patek Philippe (and the Phillips catalogue has two, together with two Rolexes) tells you all you need to know about the collectability of Patek Philippe timepieces.
But not all Patek Philippe models are born equal in the eyes of the collector. Do you like the simplicity of the Ref. 130 “doctor’s watch”? It could be yours for between one and two million Swiss francs at the Phillips sale. That’s for a stainless-steel model! If you’re looking for a Patek Philippe that’s more affordable, then why not consider a rectangular case? There is a 1997 Ref. 5500 in white gold in the same sale with an estimate of 14,000-17,000 Swiss francs and Sotheby’s has a 1949 Ref. 2422 in yellow gold with an estimate of 6,500-8,500 Swiss francs.

Patek Philippe Ref. 3700

Two rare Nautilus models from Patek Philippe are the ones to watch. Left: a rare version with a prototype case and white dial goes under the hammer at Sotheby's; right: a model in platinum set with diamonds in mint condition will be sold in the Christie's sale. © Paul O'Neil/WorldTempus and Christie's

While the rectangular Patek Philippe models may not be as sought-after as the more complicated references, there are also two Nautilus models with the distinctive rounded-square case design by Gerald Genta that are set to cause a stir during the Geneva sales. Christie’s has a rare diamond-set platinum model for which the auctioneers have deliberately set the estimate at a conservative 200,000 Swiss francs, even though a similar model was sold a couple of years ago for 700,000 Swiss francs. Sotheby’s also have a Nautilus with collector appeal: the 1978 model is being sold by its original owner, for whom the unusual white dial (known amongst aficionados as the 3700 ”Milk”) was specially made by Stern Frères. Even more interesting, however, is the fact that the Patek Philippe archives confirm that the case of this model was a prototype. It could therefore sell for well in excess of its 30,000-50,000 Swiss franc estimate.

Clapton and Comex
Two fine examples from the personal collection of the legendary English musician demonstrate Sir Eric Clapton’s impeccable taste in watches. The Sotheby’s sale features a Patek Philippe Ref. 5970 made in 2006, which has a dial that is probably unique. Instead of the usual baton hour markers, Eric Clapton’s version of the perpetual calendar chronograph has Breguet numerals. The Rolex Oyster Cosmograph “Albino”, so named because its subsidiary dials are exceptionally in the same silver colour as the rest of the movement, is one of the star lots in Sunday’s Phillips Auction One. Already sold once by Sotheby’s in New York for 505,000 US dollars, this piece from Sir Eric Clapton’s collection has an estimate of between 500,000 and one million Swiss francs.

Patek Philippe Ref. 5970

A close-up of the beautiful - and possibly unique - dial of the Patek Philippe Ref. 5970 from Sir Eric Clapton's collection. © Paul O'Neil/WorldTempus

The Rolex Sea-Dweller models produced for the Comex organisation and which feature the Comex insignia very prominently on the dial are sought-after among collectors because of their rarity. Only a few hundred were made for extreme underwater use by the organisation’s divers in the 1970s and 1980s and the severe treatment they endured means that probably even fewer are still around today. It’s all the more surprising, therefore, that three of the sales feature a Comex Sea-Dweller (with the Phillips sale having two), all with estimates that average up to the 50,000 Swiss franc mark.

Paul’s tip
Even though my personal preference in the Christie’s sale is a humble Universal bomb timer that doesn’t even tell the time, my instincts appear to predict the future auction trends. According to Loic Regolatti, the watchmaker at Sotheby’s Watch Department, demand for such military timepieces could well increase in the future. Unusually, though, it will not be the brand that is important here but instead the movement. So keep an eye out for anything with a Valjoux 72.