One of a kind: why The OAK Collection is perhaps the most important single-owner watch collection ever to come to auction
The result of one man’s ‘magnificent obsession’, a collection of more than 500 unique timepieces is being offered in a series of auctions at Christie’s, starting on 26 November
According to Nicholas Foulkes, author of The Impossible Collection of Watches, Time Tamed and Patek Philippe: The Authorized Biography, ‘Every collection is a story.’ The story of The OAK Collection, he added, ‘is of the determination of one man to seek out and surround himself with the most beautiful and important timepieces. It is the story of a magnificent obsession.’
That man is the French collector Patrick Getreide, and his obsession with watches began nearly 60 years ago.
On his way to class each morning, while at boarding school in Switzerland, Getreide — not yet even a teenager — would stop to press his nose up against the glass of the local Omega boutique. Finally plucking up the courage to go inside, he persuaded the sales assistant to sell him a wristwatch on credit, agreeing that every week he would hand over the five francs he received in pocket money until the debt was settled.
As a young man, Getreide wasn’t only focused on watches. He dabbled in collecting paintings by the likes of Picasso and Bacon for a while, as well as cars (owning 43 at one point). But he says nothing compared to the joy he got from watches.
In the 1980s he purchased his first significant watch: a Cartier Tank that cost 16,000 francs, paid for with the winnings from a wager on his family’s horse at Longchamp racecourse. A milestone came not long after, when he acquired a Patek Philippe reference 3970 — a complex perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch, which came with a price tag of 360,000 francs. Then his Damascene moment occurred: a chance encounter with Patek Philippe’s president Thierry Stern at a cocktail party in Paris, which turned into a personal invitation to Geneva.
Some experts have valued his collection at between $100 million and $300 million.
Patrick Getreide, owner of The OAK collection
Until recently, however, it existed in secret. It was hidden in a freeport in Singapore, housed like a mini-museum in display cases built by the same cabinetmaker who crafted Patek Philippe’s Swiss boutique. Its contents were completely unknown to the wider world, and the stuff of legend among connoisseurs.
That changed in 2021, when Getreide unveiled some 160 of his favourite timepieces at London’s Design Museum for what was the first ever curated exhibition of a private collection of watches in an art museum.
At its opening in May 2022 (after a year of delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic), Nicholas Foulkes said that the show provided ‘a unique opportunity to appreciate the beauty, the variety, the ingenuity and the sheer excellence of the very best watchmaking’.
Thierry Stern, meanwhile, said that Getreide might be the third most important private collector of watches ever.
Getreide also gave a rare interview to Talking Watches, a video series hosted by the website Hodinkee that features the world’s greatest collectors, from Adam Levine to Ed Sheeran.
In the film — which set online watch forums abuzz — Getreide showcased no fewer than 54 of his Patek Philippe timepieces. Among them were such rarities as reeded bezels, anti-magnetic calibres, a ‘pink on pink’ combination of rose gold case and salmon dial, the last reference 2499 ever produced, and perhaps most remarkably, 10 unique Calatrava models.
None of these were his personal highlight, however. That honour went to a tourbillon pocket watch from 1932, which was once owned by the American banker and railroad tycoon Henry Graves Jr., considered by many to be the greatest ever collector of Patek Philippe watches.
Getreide revealed that this was just one of several of Graves’s pieces that he owned, and that together they amounted to the largest collection Graves watches outside of Patek Philippe’s own museum.
Beginning this autumn, those Patek Philippe watches, together with some 500 others owned by Getreide, will be offered for sale at Christie’s. It will be the biggest — and arguably the most important — single-owner collection of timepieces ever to come to auction.
The first sale, The OAK Collection Part I, takes place on 26 November 2023 in Hong Kong. It features 139 lots, which Christie’s Senior Vice President and Head of Watches, Alexandre Bigler, says represent some of the ‘best of the best vintage and contemporary museum-quality watches’.
The top lot is a highly complex, vintage, 18k gold Audemars Piguet reference 5516. This legendary perpetual calendar watch with leap year and moon phase indications is one of only nine ever made, and most likely the best preserved, still retaining the crisp satin finish, sharp lugs and untouched hallmarks with which it left the workshop more than six decades ago.
The sale also includes a very rare split-second chronograph reference 1436 made by Patek Philippe in 1950. It’s the only known example so far with this black dial configuration, also in excellent condition.
Patek Philippe. A one-of-a-kind and exceptional 18k gold pocket watch with cloisonné enamel depicting a panorama of Mont Blanc from Lac Blanc, enamel dial with Breguet numerals and matching 18k gold and marble pocket watch stand. Sold for HK$2,772,000 in The OAK Collection Part I on 26 November 2023 at Christie’s in Hong Kong
For fans of modern Patek Philippe models, there is a reference 992/108J-001 pocket watch from 2021. Made in 18k gold, it has a cloisonné enamel dial that depicts the majesty of Lac Blanc in Chamonix in iridescent colour.
Akrivia. A one-of-a-kind stainless-steel semi-skeletonised wristwatch with power reserve. Sold for HK$5,292,000 in The OAK Collection Part I on 26 November 2023 at Christie’s in Hong Kong
A number of rare watches from highly collectible independent watchmakers are also in the auction. One is a semi-skeletonised Akrivia AK-06, which was made by Rexhep Rehexpi, a former protégé of Patek Philippe’s workshop. It debuted at Baselworld in 2017 and features a rare ‘mini complication’ that resets the second hand to zero when the crown is pulled out, allowing for more precise setting. It also has a unique blue dial that was custom-made for Getreide.
Voutilainen. A unique stainless-steel wristwatch with dual time and day/night indications. Sold for HK$3,528,000 in The OAK Collection Part I on 26 November 2023 at Christie’s in Hong Kong
Another is the Voutilainen GMT-6. This stainless-steel model with dual time and day/night indications, which was custom-made in 2015, is the first ever watch to feature two escapement wheels in such a configuration.
Breguet. A one-of-a-kind and important stainless-steel flyback chronograph wristwatch, previously owned by Formula One world champion Sir Jack Brabham. Sold for HK$604,800 in The OAK Collection Part I on 26 November 2023 at Christie’s in Hong Kong
One more highlight of the evening sale is an early Breguet Type XX once owned by the Australian Formula One world champion Sir Jack Brabham. Engraved on the reverse with the words ‘Esso J.B. Champion Du Monde 1959’, it’s a piece of motorsport history. This is offered alongside a rare Breguet reference 1646 diver’s watch, which is one of just 60 examples made in 1965, only a handful of which are known to exist today.
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‘The OAK Collection is unparalleled in terms of breadth, quality, condition and provenance,’ says Bigler. ‘This series of Auctions, which begin here in Hong Kong, represent not just one man’s lifetime of passion, but an incredible tribute to the past, present and future of haute horlogerie.’
Coinciding with Dubai Watch Week, the OAK Collection’s will be on view at Christie’s Dubai from 17 to 20 November 2023, marking the first time that this collection of extraordinary watches is being exhibited in the Middle East