‘This platinum vintage minute-repeating timepiece with bracelet represents one of the rarest combinations in the field of watchmaking,’ says Christie’s watch specialist Marcello de Marco, introducing an exceptionally rare Audemars Piguet watch, which is set to be a highlight of the Rare Watches sale in Geneva on 14 November.
Since its foundation, Audemars Piguet has been one of the most highly regarded watch manufacturers in the world, known both for its focus on quality and the complexity of its movements. ‘What’s incredible about this watch,’ de Marco continues, ‘is that it’s unique — custom-built to the original owner’s specifications in 1960.’
The watch is a ‘minute repeater’, harking back to a time before electricity when, to tell the time in darkness, the wearer could choose to hear the time as a set of chimes. Although the need for such a complication has long since passed, it retains a poetry and technical intricacy that continues to be highly sought-after by collectors today.
‘It is one of the most complicated movements watch manufacturers can produce,’ adds Thomas Perazzi, Head of Watches at Christie’s Switzerland, who describes this model as a ‘real rarity’. Indeed, between 1892 and 1992, only seven minute-repeating timepieces left the Audemars Piguet workshop — just two of which were cased in platinum.
When this watch was made, Audemars Piguet had ceased production of the miniature chiming movements necessary for minute repeaters, and lacked some vital components. They acquired an ébauche by makers LeCoultre & Cie, which had the peculiarity of having a ‘secret’ number (3185), engraved on the mainplate and hidden by a bridge — a feature that adds to this model’s rarity.
Another factor that makes this timepiece unique is that it is the only Audemars wristwatch from the post-war era to feature a bracelet. Perazzi explains how in 1983, the owner who first commissioned the piece returned it to Audemars Piguet, asking for it to be made more understated and masculine. ‘The makers fitted an elegant polished sloped bezel,’ says Perazzi, ‘which emphasises the size of the watch, and a new platinum bracelet — reference 573 — made by Jean-Pierre Ecoffey, one of the era’s leading case and bracelet makers.’
Since then the watch’s continued existence has been a matter of speculation until the spring of 2016, when descendants of the original owner consigned it for sale. Such is its importance that Audemars Piguet has included it prominently in a forthcoming publication, Audemars Piguet Miniature Chiming Watches, 1882-2002, a copy of which is offered with this lot.
‘The importance and rarity of this wristwatch cannot be overstated,’ says Perazzi, who explains that it is the first time that Christie’s specialists have seen something like it. ‘From a market point of view, the condition of the piece is like new. We believe its original owner hardly wore it; there’s no sign of polishing and no scratches.’
‘It really it remarkable,’ adds de Marco. ‘The rarity and condition of the timepiece are such that it could be displayed in a museum. Certainly, it would be a highlight of any personal collection.’