9 Highlights from the Ineichen Independents 2023 Geneva May Auction
Every year since I can remember, in the middle of May, the attention of watch collectors and professionals worldwide is drawn to Geneva, which has become the world capital of the watch auction trade. All the major auction houses participate: Christie’s, Phillips, Sotheby’s, and Antiquorum, the trendsetter of the watch auction market in the 1990s and 2000s. And even Ineichen, the formerly low-key Zurich watch and jewelry auction specialist who is actively striving for the big league, organized a May auction in Geneva for the first time.
In general, the picture is as one would expect – Rolex and Patek Philippe dominate, with watches from these brands complementing others that can be classified as blue-chips of a secondary market: Audemars Piguet, A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin and Cartier. However, there is a new hot topic – watches from independent watchmakers and small creative brands, which have been enjoying lively attention and rising auction prices lately.
Some major auction houses, such as Phillips and Christie’s, are betting on this trend and strategically increasing the share of independent makers in their auctions.
Of the 202 lots in the Phillips auction in May (five of the original 207 lots were taken out), 46 were from independents. I include Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta watches here, which strictly speaking should have been listed as independent only in the early days, before they were part of the Bulgari group. So real independent manufacturers made up about a fifth of the lots – that’s still a very impressive presence.
Ineichen, on the other hand, focused its attention on the independents, dedicating its auction on May 11 to them. Yes, the auction also included watches by Girard-Perregaux, Parmigiani Fleurier, Harry Winston, Ulysse Nardin, the late Gérald Genta, the Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein collaboration, Richard Mille and the amazing and perhaps unique Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Grande Complication in white gold with salmon dial. Nevertheless, all the lots of these brands offered at the auction can be considered similar to the the independents, at least in terms of rarity and exceptionality.
Of the independent watches sold at Ineichen on May 11, the following pieces attracted my attention, and most sold near the top range of their estimates:
Voutilainen 28INV-1/1 Unique Piece: estimate CHF 150,000–200,000, sold for CHF 175,000
Kari Voutilainen’s watches have incredible charisma. This is especially evident in the unique pieces he creates. Voutilainen generously endows them with rare design features that, in another brand, could at least form the basis of a well-selling reference or even a collection.
In the case of the 28INV-1/1, the inverted arrangement of the caliber is elegantly highlighted by the balance bridge, a pair of winding wheels, and a plate with the master’s name, all in gold.
These elements all complement the gold hands. Especially considering that the case of this watch is made of titanium. 175,000 Swiss francs for a watch with two hands and no complications might be termed crazy Voutilainen’s watches are heading in the direction that Philippe Dufour’s Simplicity hammers for at auctions.
Vianney Halter Classic White Gold No. 47W.197.CL: estimate CHF 40,000–60,000, sold for CHF 59,000
I’ve been fascinated by Vianney Halter’s watches since I first saw his Antiqua in the late 1990s. Many revere the Ulysse Nardin Freak as a groundbreaking timepiece that revolutionized our idea of how crazy haute horlogerie can be. But with all due respect to the Freak and the brave creatives behind it, the Antiqua was the first shock that made me realize how far design can go, both technically and stylistically. And to this day, I can only think of the Anriqua with admiration and amazement.
The Vianney Halter Classic is the esthetic DNA of Antiqua, embodied in a classic watch. The watch has a high class that we now know is inherent in all models from the hands of Vianney Halter. This watch has a white gold case with red gold rivets and a red gold dial. This is the dial with hand engraved numerals and engraved text is filled with black oven fired enamel, which gives a great sense of craftsmanship.
And it features Halter’s mysterious rotor with a transparent sapphire disk In my opinion, this Classic clearly deserves more than the 59,000 CHF for which it was auctioned.
F.P. Journe 30 Years Anniversary Tourbillon Ref. T30 Limited Edition: estimate CHF 300,000–500,000, sold for CHF 410,000
François-Paul Journe is incredibly creative in his designs, his ideas would be enough for several brands. The T30 is an idea of what the F.P. Journe brand might have looked like if things had gone differently. It’s like a glimpse from another unrealized universe.
The hand-wound movement in the style of Abraham-Louis Breguet, modeled on the caliber of François-Paul Journe’s first tourbillon pocket watch in miniature, the combination of rose gold and sterling silver that is characteristic of Breguet, and finally the asymmetrical dial with Breguet hands that is typical of the designs Breguet made during his lifetime.
The 30 Years Anniversary Tourbillon Ref. T30 is a tribute to the great master, the founder of the famous brand. Interestingly, Abraham-Louis Breguet might have made the same watch in an imaginary universe. But the T30 is undeniably F.P. Journe and one of the most remarkable watches of the brand, which in recent years has de facto entered the blue-chip club of the auction market – just compare the official retail and auction prices!
Daniel Roth Chronograph Monopusher Ref. C137 Numero 7: estimate CHF 50,000–100,000, sold for CHF 80,000
This Daniel Roth Chronograph Monopusher Ref. C137 dates back to the earliest and most valuable years of the Daniel Roth brand, before it was bought by The Hour Glass and later by Bulgari.
These watches were made with personal involvement and under the control of the master himself. That’s valuable, especially with this super rare chronograph featuring the vintage Nouvelle Lémania 2220 caliber (aka 15CHT), originally developed in the 1930s.
We rarely – almost never – see vintage chronograph calibers of such a high standard in a modern watch. I can well imagine that owning such a chronograph is an exquisite pleasure for the collector.
Roger Dubuis Sympathie Chronographe Ref. S37 56 5 Limited Edition: estimate CHF 40,000–80,000, sold for CHF 58,000
My attitude towards early Roger Dubuis watches is about the same as towards early Daniel Roth. The caliber RD56 of this watch is based on the Nouvelle Lémania 2310, which puts this Sympathie Chronographe in a very high orbit, even a lunar orbit.
In terms of finishing and personalization, it doesn’t match the equivalent Patek Phillippe caliber, but it clearly surpasses Omega’s level, especially if we take into account the historical technical models of this venerable brand.
And it’s worth highlighting the design of the case. The bezel in the shape that the former head of the brand, Carlos Dias, adopted from the rich historical heritage of Art Deco watches. The amazing thing about this form is that the inner line of the bezel repeats its outer contour. This is an expensive technical solution that makes it necessary to give the same shape to a sapphire crystal. I can imagine this causing a lot of headaches in production. And it’s an amazing design decision that adds to the charisma of the early Sympathies. Unfortunately, Dias abandoned this design in the early 2000s in favor of a conventional round crystal.
De Bethune DB1 Ref. DB1W No. 014: estimate CHF 80,000–160,000, sold for CHF 140,000)
De Bethune watches have done very well at auction recently. What’s important, consistently well.
DB1 Ref. DB1W, the brand’s first reference, is an early example of a series, accompanied by an interesting history detailed in the lot essay by Ineichen, are the perfect set to impress the expert and collector.
This DB1 was one of the lots I had my fingers crossed for to do well and I’m happy that it was highly appreciated.
Urwerk UR-102 ‘Sputnik’ ‘Black Dial 5-Minute Marks’: estimate CHF 45,000–70,000, sold for CHF 60,000
Like the De Bethune, the UR-102 ‘Sputnik’ is representative of the early years of Urwerk. It’s one of the two earliest references and features the unusual Swatch-like quadruple lugs and a round case, which is why this model is nicknamed ‘Sputnik’.
The design is much simpler than the models of the modern Urwerk collection. But one thing you can’t deny is that the ‘Sputnik’ is testimony to the early history of the brand, Urwerk’s first experience in the production of watches with a wandering hour indicator, which has since become the hallmark of the brand.
In my opinion, this watch is a must-have for any collector who appreciates watches from Urwerk and other independents.
Sarpaneva Loiste 10:0061 Unique Prototype: estimate CHF 10,000–20,000, sold for CHF 17,500
The Sarpaneva Loiste 10:0061 Unique Prototype is one of the earliest pieces in the collection of Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva.
It’s a great success for Ineichen’s team that they managed to find this emblematic timepiece to sell. Nevertheless, the final price of 17,500 CHF was a bit disappointing for me.
In my opinion, Sarpaneva’s early watch deserved more. This is especially true for the Loiste prototype, as its importance lies in the fact that Sarpaneva developed his own unique style while working on this model.
Laurent Ferrier Galet Classic Tourbillon Double Spiral Ref. LCF001-G: estimate CHF 50,000–100,000, sold for CHF 60,000
The excellent Laurent Ferrier Galet Classic Tourbillon Double Spiral was among the underappreciated lots going for the lower end of its estimate. I don’t understand why collectors didn’t give more attention to this early watch by Laurent Ferrier, one of the brand’s first four references. I remember how in the early years of Laurent Ferrier at the fairs it was impossible to get through the crowd of visitors, mainly from the Middle East, surrounding the brand’s stand.
They obviously liked Laurent Ferrier’s style: a sleek round 41 mm case, a superb, elegant and smart classic design of the dial, and an impressive caliber with tourbillon that can be seen only through the display back. In my opinion, all this has lost none of its relevance to this day, and this watch is even more interesting because of the deep black onyx dial.
Ineichen does a great job by offering a themed auction dedicated mainly to independent watchmakers. In selecting watches for this auction, the Zurich auctioneers have paid attention to both current watches and valuable and attractive examples from the early years of Vianney Halter, Daniel Roth, Roger Dubuis, De Bethune, Urwerk, Sarpeneva, and Laurent Ferrier.
For an auction as a company, the most important thing is the sale, not the desire to follow the wishes of anyone else, but it’s very good when the interests of the company coincide with the expectations of experts who aren’t indifferent to the development of the independent movement, a very attractive part of the modern industry. It’s nice to see that Ineichen isn’t the only company in this field, Christie’s, for example, is going in the same direction. On May 12, 2023, Christie’s The Art of F. P. Journe auction was successfully held, offering exclusively watches by F. P. Journe.
You can see all of the Ineichen May 2023 auction results at https://ineichen.com/auctions/independents/