Mark your calendars. The watch world’s most high-profile selling event, the biennial Only Watch charity auction to benefit research on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, takes place on 6 November in Geneva.
The last time the event was staged, in 2019, a new world record was set for the highest price paid for any watch sold at auction, ever (for a unique version of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime). With 54 brands producing wild and unique pieces for the sale (seven of which are highlighted below), the 2021 Only Watch auction is poised to see similar headlines.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar Tantalum
“For its first participation in Only Watch, Bulgari offers up its record-breaking Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar, the thinnest perpetual calendar in the world at a mere 5.8mm in total thickness. Its uniqueness lies in the case material, which is tantalum. A remarkable metal of a curious blue-grey lustre, it is highly resistant to corrosion and exceptionally body safe, routinely used in medical applications. It is also twice as heavy as steel, making this a weighty proposition, and twice as hard as titanium, making the many-faceted Octo Finissimo case an even greater accomplishment than usual.
Patek Philippe Complicated Desk Clock
Its name is self-explanatory, though it is also called – somewhat less informatively – the Ref. 27001M-001. It is also not a watch, but it is a fantastic piece of machinery from a pillar of horology. A handsome construction that embraces decorative traditions, the clock is roughly 16.5cm long, 12.5cm wide, and 7.6cm tall. It is dressed to the nines in a sterling silver housing with vermeil trimmings and American walnut inlays. The new calibre within features a perpetual calendar, moonphase, week-number display and power reserve indication, all visible on the classically styled yellow-gilt opaline dial. As has happened so many times before at Patek Philippe, this clock was inspired by something that sits in the maison’s own museum: a piece manufactured in 1923 for the American automobile magnate James Ward Packard. Estimated at CHF400,000 to CHF500,000 (about RM1.8 million to RM2.3 million)
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Only Watch
It is the end of an era: this Only Watch edition of the Royal Oak “Jumbo” – officially known as the Reference 15202 – is set to retire this year. The piece up for auction is the last-ever unique version of that particular reference. It is also one of the last-ever watches powered by the venerable Calibre 2121, which was found in the original Royal Oak all the way back in 1972.
So you know what you’ll be getting for this one: the iconic Royal Oak case 39mm in diameter and a svelte 8.1mm thick, with a grey tapisserie dial – one printed with the Audemars Piguet name and ‘automatic’ at 12 o’clock and an applied logo at 6 o’clock, in an exact mimicry of the 1972 version.
The twist is in the case material: it combines titanium with Bulk Metallic Glass, a palladium-based alloy that the manufacture is experimenting with for the first time. It has glass-like characteristics, making it amorphous but strong, and highly resistant to wear and corrosion, as well as a unique visual character. The material is used for the bezel, caseback frame, and bracelet studs. The rest of the bracelet is in sandblasted titanium, which is another first for Audemars Piguet. Estimated at CHF160,000 to CHF320,000 (about RM733,000 to RM1.5 million).
De Bethune x Voutilainen Kind of Magic
The exact nature of this watch has not yet been revealed, but here’s what we know about this collaborative effort. It has a 43.3mm titanium case. It has a four-day, twin-barrel movement, with a titanium balance wheel that with a deadbeat seconds complication. It is a reversible watch with two dials, one each that will reflect the watchmaking personalities of two widely renowned independents: Denis Flageollet of De Bethune, and Kari Voutilainen. Voutilainen is known for his mastery of hand-finishing, exquisite movements and detailed dials that show off the greatest aspects of traditional decorative crafts. Meanwhile, Flageollet’s daring, rule-breaking approach is undoubtedly the genesis of this watch’s unconventional layout. One thing for certain: it will be a interesting horological entry. Estimated at CHF140,000 to CHF180,000 (approximately RM641,000 to RM825,000).
F.P. Journe x Francis Ford Coppola FFC Blue
Master watchmaker François-Paul Journe was having dinner at Francis Ford Coppola’s house in Napa Valley in 2012 when the director asked him if it was possible to create a watch in which a hand, using various combinations of fingers, displayed the hours.
“I replied that the idea was interesting and required thinking about,” Journe said in a statement. “But how to display 12 hours with five fingers? It was not an easy matter and this complex challenge inspired and motivated me.”
Nine years later, the idiosyncratic prototype timepiece that resulted from that offhand (see what we did there?) conversation is called the FFC Blue. Presented in a 42 mm tantalum case, the model is based on F.P. Journe’s revered automatic Octa Calibre 1300, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The minutes are driven by a rotating disk located at 12 o’clock, while the mobile fingers appear or disappear instantaneously, indicating the hours by their position. (The fingers were inspired by a mechanical hand created by Ambroise Paré, a 16th-century physician known as the father of modern surgery.) Estimated at CHF300,000 to CHF400,000 (approximately RM1.4 million to RM1.8 million).
Girard-Perregaux’s retro-futuristic entry into the Only Watch auction is a sleek reboot of its 1976 Casquette model. A quartz-powered wristwatch with an LED digital display, the original Casquette—encased in a choice of steel, yellow gold-plated metal or Makrolon—was the embodiment of the era’s funky design style, its TV-shaped case a reflection of the decade’s space-age obsession.
The redux edition seen here is the product of Girard-Perregaux’s second design collaboration with George Bamford, founder of the English customiser Bamford Watch Department (the first effort, the Laureato Ghost, came out last November). Bamford told Robb Report last year that he had his heart set on reviving the vintage model and here we have it.
This time around, the case is made of forged carbon, and the caseback and push buttons of grade 5 titanium. “Although some observers may describe the 70s design of this watch as retro, I would argue that the shape of the case and the use of forged carbon make it look decidedly futuristic,” Bamford says. We couldn’t agree more. Estimated at CHF10,000 to CHF20,000 (approximately RM46,000 to RM92,000).
Moser & Cie. Streamliner Cylindrical Tourbillon
The movement at the heart of H. Moser’s Streamliner Cylindrical Tourbillon for Only Watch was developed in 2020, when the watchmaker teamed with fellow independent brand MB&F on one of the year’s most talked-about collaborations. For this year’s auction, H. Moser chose to render the dial of its popular Streamliner model in Vantablack, the darkest man-made substance in existence, to accentuate its three-dimensional cylindrical tourbillon movement. Housed in a 40 mm steel cushion case, on the complex Streamliner integrated steel bracelet, the piece is a subtle but unmistakable work of haute horlogerie. Estimated at CHF60,000 to CHF80,000 (approximately RM275,000 to RM367,000).
Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon
Complete transparency, thanks to a case and dial made entirely of sapphire glass, has become something of a calling card for Hublot. For Only Watch, the brand has turned its eye for clarity on the Big Bang Tourbillon, whose bezel and hands are decked out in the special event’s signature orange hue. Powered by a new self-winding manufacture tourbillon movement—MHUB6035—introduced in January, the model comes with two interchangeable One Click structured lined rubber straps (one is transparent and the other is orange). The “Pièce Unique” engraving on the back seals the deal. Estimated at CHF160,000 to CHF180,000 (approximately RM733,000 to RM825,000).
Ulysse Nardin UFO Clock
Part timekeeper, part art object and part horological experiment, Ulysse Nardin’s UFO table clock answers a philosophical question: “What would a marine chronometer designed in 2196 be like?”
To capture the next 175 years of timekeeping, the watchmaker relied on its historic expertise with marine chronometers as well as its reputation for bold, futuristic watchmaking, best represented by the legendary Freak wristwatch of the early Aughts.
The 663 components contained by the glass-blown bell jar of the UFO sit upon a gentle swing meant to evoke the perpetual movement of the ocean. Equipped with three dials, allowing the display of three different time zones, the UFO is the product of a collaboration with the traditional clockmaker Maison L’Epée.
Introduced in April in a metallic blue edition of 75 pieces, the UFO has been remade for Only Watch as a singular object with its spherical anodized aluminium base, power reserve disks, lower ties, connecting cylinders and Ulysse Nardin logo insert decked out in a bright orange hue. Estimated at CHF42,000 (approximately RM192,000).
Urwerk UR-102 Gaïa
At first glance, the UR-102 Gaïa from the avant-garde watchmakers at Urwerk seems like a departure from their signature style. Simple to the extreme, the model’s only concession to time display is a single wandering hour. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll discover that the model, encased in a round asphalt-coloured anodized aluminium case with a platinum caseback, is derived from the watch Urwerk showcased at its very first appearance at the Baselworld fair, in 1997.
The piece is named after the Gaïa Prize for entrepreneurship, which Urwerk founders Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei won in 2020. “The award recognises a journey from oblivion to the limelight, along with tenacity, conviction and pugnacity that have repeatedly been put to the test,” Baumgartner and Frei said in a statement. “This model reflects this fierce determination that blazes new trails. We dedicate this symbol of hope to all those who struggle to make things happen.” For Only Watch, what could be more fitting? Estimated at CHF32,000 to CHF75,000 (approximately RM145,000 to RM344,000).
Zenith Defy 21 Double Tourbillon
Chronographs are Zenith’s bread and butter, but the brand’s Only Watch entry, its most advanced and complex chronograph to date, takes it up a notch or three. The Defy 21 Double Tourbillon features two independent tourbillons operating at 5Hz for the timekeeping function of the movement and 50Hz for the 1/100th of a second chronograph, each rotating at rates of 60 seconds and 5 seconds, respectively.
What truly elevates the timepiece, which is sheathed in a transparent 46 mm sapphire case, into the realm of art (both the kinetic and static variety) is the three-dimensional PVD rainbow coating that’s been applied as a surface treatment to the tourbillon chronograph movement. Created by contemporary artist Felipe Pantone, a specialist in op art, the multicolour treatment produces an optical effect of transitioning hues throughout the open dial. Colour us impressed. Estimated at CHF180,000 to CHF220,000 (approximately RM825,000 to RM1,008,000).
Previously published on Robb Report.