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An Ultra-Rare Patek Philippe Set Leads Sotheby’s $1.3 Million ‘Gender-Free’ Vintage Watch Auction

Sotheby’s decision to challenge the horological status quo has paid off.

The auction house’s first gender-free vintage watch auction, which took place in an underground wine cellar in Geneva, eclipsed estimates to achieve an impressive $1.3 million. All 24 wonderfully obscure timepieces were sold to a fittingly diverse mix of buyers in under an hour. Perhaps most impressively, a one-of-a-kind Patek Philippe (pictured top) hammered for nearly half a mil. Evidently, collectors are willing to shell out for unconventional wrist candy.

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Conceived by Sotheby’s and watch collective Heist-Out, Rough Diamonds was designed to showcase some of the most unique timepieces ever released by horological heavyweights such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Vacheron Constantin.

By branding the auction “gender-free,” the auction house is pointedly stating the pieces on offer can be worn by people of any gender. This has always been true of all watches, of course, so why the need to point it out? The “gender-free” designation appears to indicate that legacy brands like Sotheby’s are now trying to appeal to a new generation of affluent progressives. Similarly this week, big industry players at Watches & Wonders unveiled highly complicated mechanical timepieces intended for women and diamond-encrusted watches intended for men. This gender-bending strategy appears to be working: Sotheby’s said an unusually high number of bids at the auction were placed by “enthusiastic younger would-be buyers” in the room, and Watches & Wonders reported an average attendee age of just 35.

Patek Philippe Bracelet Watch designed by Gilbert Albert
The Patek Philippe Bracelet Watch and matching necklace and ring.

“Rough Diamonds was born from the desire to bring to market a concept watch sale that truly resonated with collectors,” Josh Pullan, global head of Sotheby’s luxury division, said of the auction. “The results of tonight’s sale, with all 24 lots selling to such a diverse and enthusiastic group of buyers has validated that vision which we shared with Heist-Out, our passionate creative partners in this new project.”

The most spectacular sale of the evening was of the aforementioned Patek set. Released in 1962 and designed by Gilbert Albert, the unique bracelet watch (Ref. 3290) is accompanied by a matching ring and necklace. Crafted from yellow gold, each piece is decorated with blue turquoise and green cloisonné enamel and set with round cultured pearls. Following a six-minute battle between seven bidders, the extravagant set sold for $435,727, nearly eight times its original high estimate.

“The fact that the Gilbert Albert designed Patek Philippe—the most idiosyncratic and extravagant lot in the sale—has become the most valuable lot sold tonight, proves that there is a definite appetite amongst buyers for non-conformist, and boldly eccentric timepieces, presented in a differentiated context,” Pullan adds.

Audemars Piguet Cobra "Royal Khanjar" bracelet watch
Audemars Piguet Cobra “Royal Khanjar” bracelet watch.

Another notable piece was a likely one-off Audemars Piguet bracelet watch that shattered pre-auction estimates to achieve $182,724. Produced in 1985, the Cobra “Royal Khanjar” (Ref. 5587BC) pairs a white-gold case and integrated bracelet with a blue dial featuring day and date indications.

Audemars Piguet Car-Shaped Wristwatch
Audemars Piguet Car-Shaped Wristwatch.

Another heavy hitter was a probably unique quartz wristwatch Jacqueline Dimier designed for Audemars Piguet in 1995. The quirky car-shaped piece, which showcases a mix of white gold, diamonds, and emeralds, also eclipsed pre-sale estimates and sold for $119,474.

“In an industry where each new release often melds into the next, it is invigorating to pay homage to the trailblazers of yesteryear and affirm that audacity has always been pivotal in shaping watch design,” add Heist-Out cofounders Maxime Couturier and Lorenzo Maillard.

Fingers crossed that more “rough diamonds” come to auction soon.

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