It is that time of the year again – auction season. While the last few rounds have been quiet due to Covid restrictions, this is the first time where Geneva is open again and with that being said, there are some unbelievably important pieces hitting the block to match the excitement.
While Phillips always brings the rarest and most important pieces to market, it can be said without a doubt that Lot 14 and Lot 145, a pair of Philippe Dufour Grande and Petite Sonnerie watches in different formats, stands out above the rest and is certainly one that I am most excited about to see.
The Grande and Petite Sonnerie complication has always been seen as the pinnacle of watchmaking, requiring an immense amount of skill to complete. A Grande Sonnerie is a watch that automatically chimes the hours every hour and both the hours and quarters every quarter, while a Petite Sonnerie only chimes every quarter.
Philippe Dufour, on the other hand, needs no introduction. Considered by many as the pinnacle of independent watchmaking, and more famously known for his Simplicity watches, his attention to detail and finishing technique is second to none. This coupled with the immensely small output of watches from his cottage in the Vallee de Joux, anyone with any watch that bears his name is a lucky one.
The Simplicity and Duality watches are the most well-known pieces made by Dufour, but what some may not know is that he made some strikingly complicated pieces before. Beginning with Lot 145: it all started in the mid 1970’s when Dufour was making complicated mechanisms for Audemars Piguet, delivering five mechanisms in total. Unhappy with the lack of autonomy and freedom, he decided that he would place his name on the watches he made, allowing him to do as he pleased. Produced in 1989, this is the first watch Philippe Dufour ever made under his name, a Grande and Petite Sonnerie Pocket Watch, marked No. 1. With a beautiful enamel dial and a traditional pocket watch form, it is austere in its design, only giving away its complexity via two sliders at the top of the case.
With the immense achievement of already managing to create a calibre of such complication, the magic really comes when you flip the watch over, revealing just why Dufour is so revered. The movement finishing is superlative with thick bevels and a myriad of expertly finished interior angles. It is said that it took Dufour over 2000 hours to complete this piece, which would mean nearly a year’s work!
Estimate: CHF 400,000 – 800,000
While this pocket watch is impressive it its own right, I would consider what succeeded it as Dufour’s Magnum Opus. In 1989, Philippe Dufour began working on what was to be the world’s first Grande and Petite Sonnerie wristwatch. Taking three years to complete, the main challenges involved was the miniaturisation of a complication that was always only on much larger pocket watches.
The result, which premiered in 1992 is what you see here. Beautifully traditional in its design and housed in a 41mm case with tapered lugs and a domed bezel, the design of the watch is once again understated, only hinting at just how complicated it is via the two sliding levers on the crown side that allows the user to switch between Grande Sonnerie, Petite Sonnerie, Silent and Strike.
As expected, flipping the watch over reveals the magic of Philippe Dufour – finished excellently as the pocket watch, but arguably more impressive due to the miniaturisation.
Only four examples were made with grand feu enamel dials, one in yellow, rose, white gold and platinum, with a few Openworked iterations produced later. What makes this example even more special, is that it is the first one Dufour ever made, as denoted by the No. 1 engraving.
Estimate: CHF 1,000,000 – 2,000,000
It is remarkable to see these two watches at the same auction, and I am expecting it to hammer at an astronomical price. These watches are already historically important, from the Master of Independent watchmaking, but as the years go on, I am sure that its importance will continue to rise.
For more lot information on The Phillips Geneva Watch Auction XIV that will take place on this weekend of the 5th & 7th of November at La Reserve Hotel, Geneva, visit the official Phillips Watches website to view the entire catalogue.