Yesterday I attended the Graves/Fullerton watch auction at Sotheby’s New York and thought I would report back on the results. It was by all accounts the most highly anticipated watch auction in memory, and knowing relatively little about fine timepieces I thought I would take the opportunity to learn a little more.
A little background first. Henry Graves Jr. was a banker cum watch collector in the early part of the twentieth century who passed his watches and penchant for collecting on to Pete Fullerton Jr., his grandson. Both commissioned many unique pieces from Patek Philippe, amassed hordes of Vacheron Constantin and Breguet special editions, and generally loved their little ticking friends. Fullerton continued to service and wind his grandfather’s timepieces up until his death earlier this year.
Because of his passing a number of pocket watches, wrist watches, clocks, and ephemera were offered up yesterday by Sotheby’s. There were 61 lots in all, a number of them really shocking. The obvious highlight was the gold Patek Philippe tonneau minute repeater, bearing Graves’ crest and motto (Esse quam videri - to be rather than to seem). Estimates had the watch going for upwards of half a million dollars, but the final hammer price was a staggering $2.6 million. It was by far the most expensive piece sold.
Other highlights include a pair of moon phase perpetual calendars that hammered at $600,000 and $280,000, a rectangular Patek made entirely of platinum (for which I failed to write down the hammer price), and a Breguet minute repeating perpetual calendar (No. 1 of 7 in a limited set) that hammered at $85,000. I was particularly surprised to see the Breguet go so close to the low-end of the estimate, as John Reardon, a Senior Vice President at Sotheby’s, had told me it was one of the highlights of the collection for him.
The ephemera is what surprised me the most. People paying vast sums for rare and complicated watches seems to make some sense to me by now, but $13,000 for a few vintage books about Patek Philippe and $24,5000 for a wooden box and the paperwork from a watch (but without the actual watch) really caught me off guard. I guess there are some very serious collectors out there.
Overall I found the event really enjoyable. The back and forth of competing bids, the uncertainty, and most of all the fact that everyone in the room was gathered together because they were passionate about something. Whether it’s watches, tailoring, spirits, or something more practical entirely, passion is a very important thing. Luckily my passions don’t have quite so steep a price tag.