Patek Philippe is, with a few occasional exceptions, the king of auction records: a title which they have just cemented with a truly gargantuan record of CHF 31,000,000 for their iconic Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300A at Only Watch. With this sale, Patek Philippe breaks the watch auction record.
When we think of an auction record, the mind immediately jumps to the 2017 sale of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona ref. 6239. When put under the hammer by Phillips and Aurel Bacs, ever the showman, this $17,700,000 watch gave a conclusion to the most compelling story of lost icons of the watch world. Unique amongst sports watches, this particular Daytona and its appearance in the Italian press cemented the change of sports watches from practicalities to luxuries. This is, obviously, something which we take for granted today.
Unsurprisingly, this watch was always going to be a valuable one when taking into account its recent discovery. Likewise, the resultant soaring prices of vintage sports watches and chronograph, not to mention other Daytonas, was to be expected. However, much like Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675 as worn in Apocalypse Now, this was not the sale of a watch, but an artefact. Its horological importance came at best second to presence of the icon to whom it belonged.
Discounting this sale, therefore, the next closest wristwatch was the unique stainless steel Patek Philippe 1518 perpetual calendar chronograph — the brand’s first — which sold for CHF 11,002,000 at Phillips in 2016. This, by contrast to the aforementioned pieces, was sold on pure merit. For a start, it was unique as the only steel variant of the 1518 which was more commonly available in precious metal. Furthermore, that’s without considering that the 1518 was a revolutionary watch which created the icon which is the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. Importantly, this extended the trend of the desirability for rare, steel Pateks — a trend no-doubt extended by the current immense desirability for steel models such as the Nautilus.
For these reasons, those who predicted that the 6300A would break the record were right on the money, although it would have been difficult to predict that it would break the record by such an immense margin. The reason which most immediately springs to mind is that Patek have taken their most complicated watch (it has no less than 20 complications!) which was initially thought to be discontinued after their 175th anniversary celebration and released it as a unique, steel watch. For the most part, this would seem to be the case. Considering the premium paid for unique vintage Pateks, something often coinciding with less popular steel cases, the brand has simply advanced the process. Where a vintage steel case is rare because of being at odds with contemporary consider interest, Patek Philippe have used the association of steel with rarity to heighten excitement for an already unique watch.
What does, it must be said, strike me as bizarre is that the 6300A sold yesterday is less detailed than the watch which spawned it. The original 5175R Grandmaster Chime was released in late 2014 as the most complicated wristwatch ever made by this house. Composed of set of different stacked module, the cal. 300 GS AL 36-750 QIS FUS IRM (for those who like their calibre numbers) inside all Grandmaster Chimes comprises 1,366 parts in order to offer 20 complications across two dials. The result, on the original, was an immense 47.4mm by 16.1mm gold case which rotated to display both dials. Crucially, this opaline-dialled version was completely engraved which, whilst unashamedly gaudy, displayed superlative craftsmanship. Each of these 6 watches cost CHF 2,500,000.
If you haven’t see it, watch this video of the Grandmaster Chime being created: it’s the finest piece of horological pornography online.
Released in 2016 to a mix of shock and surprise, the white gold version of the Grandmaster Chime was released with a new reference: 6300G. This piece, mechanically identical to the 5175, lost the engraving in favour of a hobnail pattern on the case side and a part of elegant black and white dials. Unlike the 5175, this piece is still in production with a blue dial added to the line-up in 2019; production numbers have not been published. This is the mould followed by the 6300A, a unique variant in steel with an ever-collectable salmon dial.
For many, this is an unfortunate record as it has shown that Patek Philippe merely has to push the right buttons to secure auction records. In my opinion, though, this record is unsurprising and one to be welcomed as it has raised an immense amount of money for Only Watch — an auction specifically created to help those with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Will we remember this record when it is invariably broken? I strongly doubt it. Will we still think back to the way Paul Newman’s Daytona reshaped the market? You can be certain of it. What actually was demonstrated yesterday is that an auction record actually leaves far smaller ripples in the collecting community and in the public eye than a historically iconic artefact sold with phenomenal showmanship.
Let me know what you think of this conclusion in the comments down below.
To see further information, take a look at the Patek Philippe website.