If you followed the horological news closely, you probably would know that a Patek Philippe Calibre 89 will be up for auction in Geneva by Sotheby's around mid-May, 2017. While most people might not be familiar with Calibre 89, it is a commemorative watch manufactured by Patek Philippe for celebrating its 150th anniversary of the brand in 1989. Aimed at making the most complicated watch in the world, Patek Philippe spent five years in development and four years to manufacture this watch, which has 33 complications including a thermometer and a star chart. The watch itself contains 24 hands and 1,728 parts. Total of four pieces were made: one in platinum and three in 18K gold (yellow, white and rose). Although it is called a pocket watch, it has a diameter of 9cm, thickness of 4 cm, and weighs about 1.1kg. It probably would feel like carrying a dumbbell if you chose to wear it, so it is more like a decorative clock than a practical watch.

The watch last appeared at an Antiquorum's auction in 2009 and was sold for 5.12 million Swiss francs. It was a particular hot topic in the horological community in Taiwan because the winning bidder was a Taiwanese who lives in Kaohsiung. The auction house flew three agents directly from Geneva to deliver the five million dollar watch to the buyer in Taiwan. Although this historical piece stayed in Taiwan all these years, the owner never exhibited the watch publicly. Unlike Western collectors who tend to collaborate with museums to showcase their collections, collectors in Taiwan like to stay in low profile. General public in Taiwan, therefore, rarely has a chance to see those wonder pieces. The buyer probably did not want to draw too much attention for security and tax reasons; the watch, which was manufactured in 1989, would not be considered as an antique, and is subject to a 10% import tax if enforced by the Taiwan National Tax Bureau.

The yellow gold version of the Patek Philippe Calibre 89 that will be up for sell in Geneva is the “King of Complications” which was hidden in Taiwan since 2009. Why the seller decided to sell the watch remains a mystery, but it is almost certain that it has nothing to do with the economics. Collectors at this level of caliber rarely sell their watches just to cover their daily expenses, “got bored with it” probably was the mentality behind it. Interestingly, the owner bought the watch from Antiquorum's auction but decided to switch to Sotheby's for selling. In general, auctions houses are willing to give a lot of incentives, from security deposit to lower commission rates, just to get a headlining item like this one. Unless Sotheby's was willing to give better deal than Antiquorum, customer experience and word of mouth among the collectors would be the deciding factor here. The competition among watch auction houses is rather fierce recently. With the decline of the Asian market, Antiquorum already has difficulty maintaining its leading position. Unlike other major auction houses that closed their watch auction departments in Asia last year, Hong Kong still remains one of the strongholds of Antiquorum. However, the slipping of this giant deal, especially in the Asia, to Sotheby's would be a punch in the stomach for Antiquorum, a leading auction house specialized in timepieces and majority owned by a Hong Kong investment group.

Putting all these dramas aside, people are more interested in how much the watch will sell for. The biggest selling point of Calibre 89 is that it is a Patek Philippe 150th anniversary commemorative watch; also the most complicated watch Patek Philippe has ever made. The white gold version was sold for 6.6 million Swiss francs in 2004. In 2009, the hammer price of the yellow gold version dropped to 5.12 million Swiss francs. The estimated price by the Sotheby's this time is 6.5 to 10 million Swiss francs. Personally and unprofessionally speaking, I do not think the final price will be higher than the 5.12 million mark made in 2009. First, the title of “the world's most complicated watch” was overtaken in 2015 by the Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260, a pocket that has 57 complications. Second, unlike Patek Philippe Supercomplication, Calibre 89 is not a purely handmade, unique vintage piece; it has three identical siblings made of different materials. Instead of getting one of the four champions in 2009, you are getting one of the four silver medals now. Finally it has to do with the current world situation. Chinese buyers are more subtle now after the economic decline and luxury ban imposed by the Chinese government. The Middle Eastern countries also lost their controlling position of oil price due to the new shale competition. Europe is still chaotic after the Brexit and refugees. Of course, top-tier buyers will never be affected by those events. However, instead of buying one of the world's “second” most complicated watches, a potential buyer with 10 million (rumored price of Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260) on hand may want to contact Audemars Piguet to see if it is possible to custom build a new world's most complicated watch. Record breaking is always a win-win situation for both the watch company and the customer. Let's wait until May 14th to see if the Calibre 89 has what it takes to break the record again.

Patek Philippe Calibre 89 Auction Page:
http://www.sothebys.com/zh/auctions/2017/important-watches-ge1701.html
(The image is the property of Sotheby's)
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