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Auctions

Bidding for Time
Judd Tully
From the Print Edition:
J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00

(continued from page 2)

The detail-centric world of wristwatch fanciers became clearer after a visit with Michael Friedman, the watch specialist at Christie's New York. "Complications," for starters, sounds bad to most folks, probably more accustomed to hearing the phrase during an episode of "ER." But in the watch-collecting universe, the more complications (functions of a watch), the better. Complications on vintage and contemporary wristwatches range from auxiliary dials for registering seconds, 30 minutes and 12 hours to more exotic registers for recording moon phases or a tachometer for tracking rotation speeds. "When a watch has complications," says Friedman, "it does more than just tell the time."  

Wristwatch popularity took off after the First World War, thanks in part to advertising images of dashing officers consulting their military-issue strap watches. Between 1920 and 1935, the Swiss production and exportation of wristwatches grew from 20 percent to about 65 percent of the watch market, according to Friedman.  

"I think the important approach for people to take, whether they're looking for a contemporary or vintage watch, is to explore what fits their style," says Friedman, who joined Christie's after a curatorial stint at the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania. "Wristwatches have been produced in unimaginable shapes, colors and materials, much like clothes or any other type of personal accessory. You want to see something that intrigues you before trying it on. There are watches that are square-shaped, rectangular or round. There are dials with Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, combinations of the two or no numerals at all. So once somebody has a concept of what they're interested in, they can start seeking out the market."  

Friedman picks up a brawny-looking Breitling chronograph, a modestly priced example (tentatively estimated at $750 to $1,000) from the 1990s that will be offered in his April 12 "Important Watches and Wristwatches" sale in New York. He studies the watch's chunky wrist strap lugs and Arabic numerals. He says it's the kind of contemporary wristwatch that has been popularized by its glamorous associations with Hollywood action films and screen hunks such as Sylvester Stallone. (But it is not the brand worn by James Bond star Pierce Brosnan in The World Is Not Enough. That's an Omega Seamaster GMT.)  

Recent wristwatches are those that have been produced within the past two years; contemporary watches can date back 20 years and vintage watches range from the 1940s to the 1970s. Friedman recommends a good cleaning and overhaul by a certified watchmaker for any watch headed for auction. For vintage timepieces, "it's important that the watch is ticking somewhat," explains Friedman, "because it indicates all the key pieces are functioning. Essentially, any watch is repairable." Friedman estimates a basic cleaning and replacement of the main springs for a watch will run $150 and as much as $1,000 for more complex repairs. Potential buyers should factor in that additional cost along with the buyer's premium, calculated at 15 percent of the first $50,000 and 10 percent thereafter, when charting out their bidding strategy.  

Prospective buyers, of course, should not only physically examine and try on the watch they're interested in during the critical pre-sale auction previews, but also request a condition report from the auction house specialist before contemplating bidding on it. The report, more technical than the descriptive auction catalogue entry, will minutely detail the condition of the watch's case, dial and movement. They're the key elements of a watch and largely determine its value. Keep in mind that each lot is sold "as is." "If you're not a seasoned collector," Friedman says, "request a condition report--it's the specialist's best and most honest attempt to describe the watch's condition."  

Next Friedman fishes out a handsome circa 1950 Patek Philippe rectangular-shaped wristwatch. With its applied diamond numerals, platinum case, heavy lugs, and crystal covering the dial, the specimen exudes a masculine elegance. Other attributes, including the triple-signed case, dial and movement, make the watch a hallmark for many collectors and increase the likelihood that it will fetch more at the April sale than the estimated $8,000 to $10,000. The same watch model, cased in more common yellow gold, would not be as sought after, according to Friedman. "Case material has a strong effect on the auction estimate of the piece," he says.  

Rarity is another hot-button factor for determining value in the collecting world, as was evident last June at Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York. A 1965 yellow-gold Patek Philippe watch sporting a perpetual calendar and moon phases--one of only three such watches made--sold for $1.1 million, considerably higher than its $600,000 to $700,000 estimate. The astute seller acquired the timepiece from a Patek Philippe retailer in 1981 for $9,000.  

Next comes a stunning and decidedly petite Cartier woman's wristwatch from the early 1930s, estimated at $3,000 to $4,000. Underscoring his observation that the more unusual the watch, the more attention it will elicit, Friedman points out the enameled American flag motif that slides up to reveal the white dial. "I expect it will generate quite a bit of interest," he says, "because it's not something people see everyday. It has an interesting aesthetic appeal."  

Upcoming watch auctions will take place at: Antiquorumn Auctioneers, held in the Grand Havana Room at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City on March 16. Preview exhibitions from March 7 to 15. Contact: (212) 750-1103. Christie's New York will hold an auction at 20 Rockefeller Center on April 12. Previews are tentatively scheduled for April 8-11. Contact: (212) 636-2321. Phillips Auctioneers' New York sale of Fine and Period Jewelry will take place at 406 East 79th Street on April 16. Preview April 12-15. Contact: (212) 570-4830.  

Judd Tully covers the New York art and auction scene for a variety of publications, including the London Antiques Trade Gazette.    

AUCTION REPORT  

At Christie's glitzy evening sale of twentieth-century art last November, a petite-sized (7 3/4 x 9 1/2 inches) Pablo Picasso painting, Sleeping Nude from 1933, sold for $2,092,500, comfortably nicking its $1.8 million high estimate. Fresh to the market from the estate of Princess Lucile Sherbatow, who acquired it from a New York gallery in 1936, the decidedly sexy and souvenir-scaled oil painting of the artist's young mistress, Marie-Therese, drew intense bidding.  

Two nights later at Sotheby's, a much more impressive Picasso, Boy with Collar, failed to sell despite a final bid of $9.5 million. The picture of the pensive-looking circus performer, dating from 1905, at the height of the artist's much sought-after Rose Period, carried a pre-sale estimate of $10 million to $15 million. Even in this buoyant art market, discriminating buyers sometimes snub pictures carrying historical baggage. In this instance, the world-class Picasso had previously been sold at auction for a handsome $12.1 million at Christie's New York in 1995, apparently too recently for this market to endorse.  

The following week at Christie's New York's edgy contemporary art sale, a larger-than-life porcelain sculpture by Jeff Koons of the Pink Panther cartoon character roared to a record $1.8 million, dwarfing the artist's previous mark of $409,500 and more than doubling the piece's pre-sale high estimate. It probably helped that the adorable creature was embracing a busty blonde temptress, but the sculpture's rarity--"only" three other versions of the cast exist--was the primary reason that the market went absolutely wild. Rarity is a big plus at this stratospheric level. Kent Logan, the San Francisco-based investment magnate and contemporary art collector, was the lucky seller.  

Quality and freshness to the market were winning traits on December 14 at Christie's Beverly Hills in a sale of twentieth-century and contemporary art when Richard Serra's unique steel sculpture, Untitled (Isosceles Triangle), raced to $277,500 from an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. The brawny 8-foot-by-8-foot abstraction was executed by the acclaimed sculptor in 1975 and acquired by the late consignor in 1978. The 20-plus years off the market helped create the atmosphere for a stunning result.  

For tighter budgets, Andy Warhol's Details of Renaissance Paintings: Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482, a portfolio of four signed and numbered screen prints from 1984 that interpret the storied beauty, sold for $32,200 (est. $15,000-$20,000) at Christie's Beverly Hills on December 13.    

AUCTION PREVIEWS  

Back-to-back evening sales of entertainment memorabilia and vintage Hollywood film posters fittingly showcase Butterfield & Butterfield's March 13 and 14 auctions in Los Angeles.  

For the tradition-minded, a signed photograph of smoky screen legend Humphrey Bogart, elegantly suited and clutching a cigarette (est. $1,500-$2,500), competes alongside a sepia-toned, signed photo of silent screen heartthrob Rudolph Valentino, outfitted in a striped turban for his title role as a desert chieftain in the 1921 film, The Sheik (est. $2,000-$3,000). Despite the period look of the pose, Valentino is sporting a circa 1920 wristwatch.  

On the edgy side, a decidedly amateurish group of unpublished photographs by the late rock icon Jim Morrison, taken during his student days at UCLA, will tempt die-hard fans (est. $1,500-$2,500).  

The sales preview at Butterfield's Sunset Boulevard showroom from March 10 to 12 and the partially illustrated catalogueis available for viewing on-line at www.Butterfields.com. Or contact Michael Schwartz, Butterfield's entertainment memorabilia specialist, at (323) 850-7500.   --JT    

RECENT WRISTWATCH PRICES REALIZED AT AUCTION  

AT ANTIQUORUM, DECEMBER 1, 1999 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona (the so-called Paul Newman model), 18K yellow gold with round-button chronograph, registers and tachometer, circa 1970s, $29,900 (est. $25,000-$30,000)   Cartier Santos Chronoreflex with 18K pink gold Cartier deployant clasp, $2,300 (est. $2,000-$2,500)   International Watch Co. Schaffhausen Grande Complication, minute repeating, platinum case with 44 hours autonomy, perpetual calendar and moon phases, 1990, $57,500 (est. $38,000-$42,000)        

AT SOTHEBY'S NEW YORK, OCTOBER 26, 1999 Rolex Oyster Perpetual, 18K gold case, self-winding, calendar wristwatch with moon phases, circa 1945, $82,250 (est. $40,000-$50,000)   Patek Philippe pink-gold perpetual calendar chronograph with date, moon phases and register, circa 1997, $41,400 (est. $30,000-$35,000)   Audemars Piguet platinum rectangular minute repeating, jump hour, circa 1992, $37,950 (est. $35,000-$40,000)    

AT CHRISTIE'S NEW YORK, OCTOBER 26, 1999 Patek Philippe 18K pink-gold perpetual calendar, split-second chronograph with moon phases, 28 jewels, recent, $74,000 (est. $80,000-$100,000)   Audemars Piguet limited-edition (10 pieces), platinum cushion-shaped minute repeating wristwatch with black dial, circa 1998, $40,250 (est. $35,000-$40,000)   Rolex 18K two-color gold rectangular wristwatch with a stainless steel and pink-gold Rolex bracelet and clasp, circa 1938 $16,100 (est. $13,500-$14,500)

Prospective buyers, of course, should not only physically examine and try on the watch they're interested in during the critical pre-sale auction previews, but also request a condition report from the auction house specialist before contemplating bidding on it. The report, more technical than the descriptive auction catalogue entry, will minutely detail the condition of the watch's case, dial and movement. They're the key elements of a watch and largely determine its value. Keep in mind that each lot is sold "as is." "If you're not a seasoned collector," Friedman says, "request a condition report--it's the specialist's best and most honest attempt to describe the watch's condition."  

Next Friedman fishes out a handsome circa 1950 Patek Philippe rectangular-shaped wristwatch. With its applied diamond numerals, platinum case, heavy lugs, and crystal covering the dial, the specimen exudes a masculine elegance. Other attributes, including the triple-signed case, dial and movement, make the watch a hallmark for many collectors and increase the likelihood that it will fetch more at the April sale than the estimated $8,000 to $10,000. The same watch model, cased in more common yellow gold, would not be as sought after, according to Friedman. "Case material has a strong effect on the auction estimate of the piece," he says.  

Rarity is another hot-button factor for determining value in the collecting world, as was evident last June at Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York. A 1965 yellow-gold Patek Philippe watch sporting a perpetual calendar and moon phases--one of only three such watches made--sold for $1.1 million, considerably higher than its $600,000 to $700,000 estimate. The astute seller acquired the timepiece from a Patek Philippe retailer in 1981 for $9,000.  

Next comes a stunning and decidedly petite Cartier woman's wristwatch from the early 1930s, estimated at $3,000 to $4,000. Underscoring his observation that the more unusual the watch, the more attention it will elicit, Friedman points out the enameled American flag motif that slides up to reveal the white dial. "I expect it will generate quite a bit of interest," he says, "because it's not something people see everyday. It has an interesting aesthetic appeal."  

Upcoming watch auctions will take place at: Antiquorumn Auctioneers, held in the Grand Havana Room at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City on March 16. Preview exhibitions from March 7 to 15. Contact: (212) 750-1103. Christie's New York will hold an auction at 20 Rockefeller Center on April 12. Previews are tentatively scheduled for April 8-11. Contact: (212) 636-2321. Phillips Auctioneers' New York sale of Fine and Period Jewelry will take place at 406 East 79th Street on April 16. Preview April 12-15. Contact: (212) 570-4830.  

Judd Tully covers the New York art and auction scene for a variety of publications, including the London Antiques Trade Gazette.    

AUCTION REPORT   At Christie's glitzy evening sale of twentieth-century art last November, a petite-sized (7 3/4 x 9 1/2 inches) Pablo Picasso painting, Sleeping Nude from 1933, sold for $2,092,500, comfortably nicking its $1.8 million high estimate. Fresh to the market from the estate of Princess Lucile Sherbatow, who acquired it from a New York gallery in 1936, the decidedly sexy and souvenir-scaled oil painting of the artist's young mistress, Marie-Therese, drew intense bidding.  

Two nights later at Sotheby's, a much more impressive Picasso, Boy with Collar, failed to sell despite a final bid of $9.5 million. The picture of the pensive-looking circus performer, dating from 1905, at the height of the artist's much sought-after Rose Period, carried a pre-sale estimate of $10 million to $15 million.

Even in this buoyant art market, discriminating buyers sometimes snub pictures carrying historical baggage. In this instance, the world-class Picasso had previously been sold at auction for a handsome $12.1 million at Christie's New York in 1995, apparently too recently for this market to endorse.  


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