Rescapement year in review
And the 10 biggest watches to sell at auction in 2021
There’s a narrative in which 2021 was kind of a drag in watches: Certain watches reached unparallel levels of hype as interest soared and “collectors” seemingly chased the prices of a small handful of watches higher and higher.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote a few predictions (or hopes) for 2021, properly hedging my take by saying there’d be both “more of the same” and “less of the same.” Hype falls firmly in the former category, a trend towards a few Genta/stainless steel sports watches that started sometime around 2018.
But 2021 wasn’t just blind and unfettered hype. It was also defined by new trends, by the less of the same portion of my non-prediction prediction: The rise in neo-vintage, in independents, in vintage Cartier. And it wasn’t just naive interest, it was discerning: Not just independents, but important, early independents; not just Cartier, but the daring designs of 1960s Cartier London.
2021 provided a glimpse into a future beyond the current hype cycle we’re in. Sure, some of our most-clicked articles of the year were about “controversies” surrounding the ungettability of Rolex (1, 2), articles and conversations that are honestly so soul-sucking to me that I temporarily found myself posting less towards the middle of this year.
But some of our most fun articles explored more diverse topics — on how Daniel Roth brought Breguet to the wrist, or something as enchanting as caseback stickers, and of course, plenty of Cartier (CPCP, Pebbles, and Cintrees).
These are the types of articles that Rescapement is all about, and areas of exploration that, at its best, collecting is all about.
A couple years ago, a favorite writer of mine suggested that instead of repeating the cliche to “buy what you love,” we should live by the Gandhi-esque mantra to “buy the future you want to see in watches.” In a world where taste is influenced by everything around us (e.g., IG), buy what you love doesn’t mean much — how can anyone ever really know what they really love anyway?
When you buy the future you want to see, you don’t buy into the current hype cycle, but into supporting the culture and history of watches. This means supporting independent watchmakers, acquiring historically important vintage models, and learning all along the way.
We saw a glimpse of this in 2021, and I’m hopeful there’s more to come in 2022.
Here are links to our collection of year-end articles (or just keep scrolling in this email!):
Rescapement Jealousy List 2021 (the best articles Rescapement didn’t publish)
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10 biggest watches to sell at auction in 2021
2021 was another banner year for watch auctions. Phillips, the biggest game in town, reported selling $209m in watches over the course of the year, highlighted by its record-setting $75m auction in Geneva in November. Christie’s, for its part, also sold $200m+ in watches. This is due to rising prices on all fronts (“a rising tide lifts all boats,” and all that), but of course, there are also headline-grabbing and record-setting lots to thank for the big year. Let’s take a look at the 10 most-expensive watches to sell at auction in 2021.
1a. Patek Philippe reference 1518 perpetual calendar chronograph (‘pink-on-pink’): $9.57 million
The biggest seller of the year. It had to be this one. Just the fourteenth known example of the vintage Patek Philippe ref. 1518 perpetual calendar chronograph in pink gold with a gorgeous salmon pink dial, and perhaps the best example yet. We wrote about this watch when Sotheby’s announced it earlier this year, and were thrilled to see it get so much attention and smash expectations at Sotheby’s New York in December, selling for $9.57m. This also makes it the third most expensive vintage wristwatch of all time, behind only Paul Newman’s Paul Newman and the steel 1518 that Phillips sold in 2016. Sotheby’s specialist Jonathan Burford said he got “goosebumps” when he pulled this watch out of its safety deposit box after it had been hardly worn since Prince Tewfik Adil “T.A.” Toussoun of Egypt purchased it in 1952. We understand why.
1b. Patek Philippe Desk Clock for Only Watch: $10.3m
I struggled with whether or not to include Only Watch lots in this list (or charity lots more broadly, e.g., the Tiffany Blue Nautilus, below). But, these watches (and clocks, in this case) are an important part of the narrative of the year in watches, so I’ve included them, calling this desk clock “1b”, alongside the “1a” pink-on-pink 1518. The top-performing lot from this year’s bi-annual Only Watch sale was Patek’s complicated desk clock, an homage to the early-20th century desk clocks commissioned by Patek mega-collectors Henry Graves Jr. and James Ward Packard, in particular Packard’s clock which now sits in the Patek Museum. It’s an amazing clock for a worthy cause — raising money to find a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy — so it was exciting to see this clock perform so well in November. It sold for CHF 9.5m ($10.35m).
3. Patek Philippe World Timer ref. 2523: $7.8m
Proof that Patek Philippe is still the be-all-end-all of watches, both modern and vintage, it also takes the next slot for the most expensive watches to sell at auction in 2021.
This Patek World Timer from 1953 was just the third of its kind ever to be found, and it commanded the price and attention worthy of such a rare watch. It ended up selling for CHF 7,048,000 at Phillips Geneva in May (about $7.8 million), a record for a yellow gold wristwatch sold at auction.
4. Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711 ‘Tiffany Blue’: $6.5m
Remember this one? Of course you do. While the two most expensive non-charity lots were vintage Patek, the next slot goes full-on hype with the limited-edition Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711 “Tiffany Blue”. From being introduced on a Monday to being auctioned off for $6.5m just five days later at Phillips New York, it’s a pretty impressive feat, no matter your opinions on whether this watch represents the best or the worst of modern watch collecting.
5. Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie No. 1: $5.2m
After Patek dominated the first few slots, Philippe Dufour represents the first independent on the list, and rightfully so. An important collection of Dufour’s first wristwatches came up for auction at Phillips this year, and this Sonnerie — bearing movement number 1 — was the top performer of the bunch. This wristwatch is a superlative, important wristwatch from the preeminent independent watchmaker. Here’s what Phillips said about it in its catalog entry:
“The present Grande & Petite Sonnerie wristwatch, fresh to the auction market is stupendous in more ways than one. Bearing movement number n°1, this is not only the very first wristwatch ever made by Phillipe Dufour, it is also the world’s first Grande & Petite Sonnerie wristwatch ever made, increasing its collectability even further if such an occurrence is possible.”
The lot sold at Phillips Geneva XIV in November for CHF4.75. ($5.18m)
🔨 Check out the full list of the 10 most expensive lots to sell at auction in 2021
Best of a bad lot: Our favorite articles of 2021
Some of my favorite, and some of the most popular, articles from Rescapement in 2021. If you want to catch up on some watch reading over the holidays, we’ve got you.
Observations from the wild world of watches in 2021
13 weird takeaways from attending my first in-person watch auction. I attended a watch auction for the first time, and left with some thoughts.
Which brands might be the next FP Journe? A quantitative attempt to answer an elusive question
A few predictions (or hopes) for 2021. Did any of these actually come true?
One of the biggest trends we covered this year was the rise of Cartier. Here are a couple of our best:
Is now the best time to buy a Cartier Pebble, or the Worst? Or, what happens when 2 of 6 total examples of a watch come up for auction just a month apart?
What Taylor Swift can teach us about restoring vintage watches. And what she might think about this $300k Tank Cintree.
Seriously, an article on caseback stickers? One of our most fun reads of the year.
An introduction to coin watches. Where craftsmanship meets currency.
JUST FOR FUN
11 lessons and tips from my first year of watch collecting. Advice for a new watch collector, from a new watch collector.
5 tips to make your watch photography better with James (@waitlisted). ‘Shoot the photos that make you happy.’
1-on-1: Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925 Silver and a neo-vintage 'Lollipop' Submariner | Hands-On: Seiko x Rowing Blazers Seiko 5 Sports Collection
OUR WORLDWIDE WEB
Rescapement also contributed to a number of other publications this year.
How the Cartier Crash became the most important vintage watch of 2021, Was honored to write about what to me was the watch of the year. Hodinkee
The art of dial finishing, Seriously, learning about dial finishing, from Breguet to Shapiro, was a highlight of our year. A Collected Man
Art and watches in 2021, Highsnobiety
Lange 1: Going deeper with the modern icon. Lange got a ton of attention this year. This was our small contribution. Subdial
Patek Philippe in-depth: Jump hour watches, Collectability (by Charlie Dunne)
Jealousy List 2021
An interview with Philippe Dufour; the rise of neo-vintage; YOLO; remembering Virgil Abloh and more from the year in watches
One of my favorite things to do is put together Rescapement’s annual Jealousy List. I read a lot about watches — too much, really. Then there are the podcasts, videos, and other random bits of content I consume every day. I’ve made it an annual tradition to recognize and highlight stories from other publications that I wish Rescapement had published. Congrats to those on this list, I love/hate you. But more importantly, keep up the good work. Because of you, there’s never been a better time to be a watch enthusiast.
The hunt for JP Morgan’s missing million-dollar pocket watch, Los Angeles Times
An L.A. Times reporter goes on a hunt to find a missing super complication pocket watch commissioned by J.P. Morgan in the early 1900s from British watchmaker J. Player and Sons. Along the way, he meets dealers, antiquarians, and a descendent of the Player family. But does he find the pocket watch?
The Dying Art of Caseback Engraving, A Collected Man
Like I said last year, A Collected Man does the best in-depth articles in all of watches. So it’s always a struggle to choose just a piece or two to feature from them (excluding, of course, the undeniable bangers I wrote for them this year). And like last year (then, it was Swatch), one of my favorite articles from ACM took on a subject far afield of the typical high-end independent or neo-vintage watches they sell on their retail side. This year, it was caseback engravings. These engravings often tell stories that are incredibly personal — after all, the engraving is there for no one but the wearer — stories just waiting to be revealed to those who flip the watch over and ask “what’s that mean?”
The Rise of Neo-Vintage Watches, A Collected Man
A Collected Man is also incredibly adept at breaking down and explaining trends, while at the same time creating an incredible collectors’ resource. They did that with this piece, examining perhaps the trend of 2021, the rise of neo-vintage watches.
All Watches Should Be Unisex — Here’s Why, Hodinkee
In this article, Cara Barrett lends Hodinkee’s platform to smashing outdated gender norms in watches (down with “shrink-it-and-pink-it”!), plain and simple. An excellent companion piece is Jenni Elle’s YouTube video, Here’s Why Women Don’t Like Watches.
The Long, Lurid History of Erotic Watches, GQ
Using Drake’s seeming infatuation with the innuendo-laden Richard Mille RM-69 as a jumping-off point, GQ manages to tell the fascinating history of erotic watches, dating back to the 1500s. Part satire, part entertainment, part provocateur for provacation’s sake — our fascination with the erotic watch continues to endure.
At Patek Philippe, sometimes fame just isn’t enough, New York Times
Sure, it’s an article about the Nautilus. But when you secure an interview with Patek’s leader, Thierry Stern, to discuss ending the Nautilus production, it’s cause for a bit of jealousy. And when Patek announced a certain blue-dialed Nautilus at the end of the year, the words from this February interview started to get put under a microscope. (“A watch should not be a top leader on its own. That is too dangerous,” Stern said of the 5711 at the time.)
The Search for Novelist Ralph Ellison’s Omega Speedmaster, Wall Street Journal
The Omega Museum’s purchase of novelist Ralph Ellison’s (author of the Invisible Man) Omega Speedmaster at Phillips in December was one of my favorite stories of the year. The watch received all kinds of press, telling the story of how the consigner originally acquired the watch from Ellison’s estate sale for just $6,000 years before Phillips auctioned it for $667k. But the story is best told by fellow novelist (and watch enthusiast) Gary Shteyngart. It’s one of those stories that felt bigger than watches.
Lange 1: Made in Germany, Subdial
True scholarship is still the backbone of collecting. As A. Lange & Sohne continues to take off in popularity, there is growing interest in the history of its most iconic models, including the Lange 1. This in-depth piece from Subdial will serve as a reference point for Lange collectors for years to come, providing essential information on understanding and identifying the various generations of Lange 1s.
Listen: Collectability Podcast
Sure, reading about watches is great. But so is listening to some of the smartest people in the game talk watches. In just nine episodes this year, Collectability’s John Reardon has managed to create perhaps the best watch podcast around, getting superstar guests like Eric Wind, Ben Clymer, Aurel Bacs, Davide Parmegiani, and others to sit down and have open, honest, and fun conversations about watches.
An Interview with Philippe Dufour and His Daughter Daniela, Watches.TV
Does it get any better than interviewing Philippe Dufour in his Vallee de Joux workshop? Yes, if you also happen to get some time with his daughter — and watchmaking apprentice — Daniela. This is an intimate look at the work of Dufour, and there are even some honest insights from Daniela on the pressure of following in her father’s footsteps.
Virgil Abloh: The Designer of Progress, Vogue
Virgil Abloh’s attachment to watches — and his impact — was undeniable. But this obituary for the late designer captured how his impact extended well beyond fashion. I remember live-streaming his first Louis Vuitton runway show back in 2018 (can you imagine? Someone’s impact so big that there I was, live-streaming a fashion show?). Models walked down a rainbow road runway. Kanye and Virgil exchanged a hug at the end, a long way from that famous 2009 photo (above) when their crew crashed Paris Fashion Week. Here’s how Vogue described that moment, also managing to summarize Abloh’s impact: “The last look was a metallic silver poncho with ‘Follow the Yellow Brick’ written on a breast patch. When he posted a picture of that moment on his Instagram, the caption read, ‘You can do it too.’”
No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram (book recommendation)
A book recommendation? And it’s not even about watches? Yep, that’s how much I enjoyed this book. Nowadays, Instagram is the main place watch collectors congregate. And still, there isn’t enough critical thought put into how the platform itself impacts everything about watches, beyond the lamenting of the “hype” the app creates. This tells the personal, inside story of the growth of Instagram, its acquisition by Facebook, and how the decisions of people can impact the world.
By the way, some of the annoying changes Instagram has introduced recently (suggesting posts from accounts you don’t follow; sending a DM whenever someone tags you in a post) become easier to understand when you read the story of Instagram and Facebook.
🤢 Check out the full Rescapement 2021 Jealousy List
There’s a podcast now.
Finally, in November, we — Eric Wind, Charlie Dunne, Gabriel Benador, and myself — started Significant Lots. It’s a podcast about watches, just collectors talking about collecting. We’re six episodes deep, and we can’t wait to build this little audio adventure in 2021.
Visit significantlots.com, or subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts / RSS
Rescapement is a weekly newsletter about watches. To get articles like this delivered to your inbox every week, smash the subscribe button:
Really enjoyed your newsletter this year. Your views of the industry remain independent and honest, it is very refreshing! Keep up the great work here and on the podcast.