‘It’s the culmination of more than 400 years of watchmaking technology’ — Alexandre Bigler

Christie’s specialists celebrate a rose-gold PP Sky Moon Tourbillion and other rare models of the world’s most complicated watches, offered at auction at Christie’s Hong Kong

For Alexandre Bigler, Patek Philippe’s Sky Moon Tourbillon is the ‘ultimate’ wristwatch.

‘With 12 complications, including a minute repeater, tourbillon and perpetual calendar, the Ref. 5002 represents the culmination of more than 400 years of watchmaking technology,’ says Christie’s Head of Watches for Asia Pacific — ‘a constant quest to miniaturise and perfect the most complex of mechanisms, without compromising on design.’

‘The auction includes Patek Philippe models that have never been seen before at auction, and in some cases, were previously unknown to collectors’ — Alexandre Bigler

It is this quest for high functionality and style that is celebrated in The Artistry of Complications, a live auction on 24 May that brings together examples of ‘almost every great horological complication’ at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

Excitingly, the third sale in the Champion Collection series includes Patek Philippe models that have ‘never been seen before at auction, and in some cases were previously virtually unknown to collectors’ — for the simple reason that they were produced in minute quantities and only available to trusted clients by personal invitation.

  • 1
  • The Champion Collection

The Champion Collection is a ‘treasure trove’ of the world’s most complicated wristwatches, says Bigler — a selection of 450 modern and contemporary timepieces by the greatest brands and independent makers in watchmaking, collected over 20 years.

Working with the collector, Christie’s Hong Kong has now curated that collection into six themed sales that began in November 2021 with an introductory live auction and an online sale of elegant sport watches this Spring, and continues with the present sale of 73 lots, which together have a low estimate of HK$80 million.

Later this year, the series will offer live and online sales of Panerai timepieces, concluding in November with an auction of the finest pieces in watchmaking, featuring enamel models by Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.

  • 2
  • Horological complications: the fab four

The four classic complications in contemporary horology are the perpetual calendar, the tourbillon, the minute repeater and the chronograph — all of which were invented in the 18th and 19th centuries and are represented by exceptional modern and contemporary models in the upcoming auction.

Chief among them is the perpetual calendar, which is attributed to the English horologist Thomas Mudge in 1762, and self-adjusts to the number of days in the month, including in leap years.

Four decades later, Abraham-Louis Breguet patented the tourbillon, a revolving escapement that equalises adverse effects on timekeeping caused by the watch’s position.

The celebrated Prussian horologist had already revolutionised the minute repeater, replacing the bell with finely coiled gongs that saved space and allowed for different tones when striking the hours, quarters and minutes.

Thanks to the chronograph, which was patented in 1862, it is now possible to time events of up to 12 hours’ duration (or two events simultaneously with a split-seconds chronograph), as well as calculate speed over distance, if a tachometer is present on the dial.

  • 3
  • The Artistry of Complications

The Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon is a Grande Complication watch, incorporating all four classic mechanisms and more in a single watch.

When it was introduced in 2001, it was the most complicated wristwatch Patek Philippe had ever made, says Bigler, with solar time, the phases of the moon and a perpetual calendar with retrograde date displayed on one of its two dials, and a map of the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere on the other.

This rose-gold version from 2002 is more exciting still, however, as only 25 pieces were produced, as against 40 in each of yellow gold and platinum — and of those 25, only seven are known today.

Prior to the Patek Philippe Ref. 5002, the company’s most complicated watch was the Ref. 5016P, says Christie’s Associate Vice President of Watches in Hong Kong, Harmmond Wong.

A Grande Complication watch with a perpetual calendar and tourbillon, it also has a perfectly adjusted minute repeater that took ‘200 to 300 hours to assemble and required the approval of the president of Patek Philippe himself’.

To date, the model in the auction is also the only known example of a Ref. 5016 with a ‘PP’ seal — the stamp of excellence that the company introduced in 2009 to replace the less comprehensive Geneva Seal, the criteria for which were upgraded in 2012 in response.

According to Masashi Tamaoki, Christie’s watch specialist in Tokyo, unique versions of Patek Philippe’s perpetual calendar chronograph are the ‘most sought-after complications among collectors’ and the Ref. 5970R-019 is the only known model in rose gold with a black dial.

Furthermore, the Ref. 5970 reintroduced the tachometer scale, leaf hands and square chronograph buttons of earlier Patek Philippe watches, and was the fourth and final reference in this series, which ceased entirely in 2010.

  • 4
  • Atypical cases and dials

For Hong Kong-based specialist Cissy Ngan, one of the most interesting watches in the auction is the Patek Philippe Ref. 5004A, which incorporates a perpetual calendar, split-seconds chronograph and moon phases in a stainless-steel case with an oversized split-seconds pusher on the crown.

‘The majority of Patek Philippe’s complex wristwatches are cased in either gold or platinum,’ she explains. ‘The present lot is one of only nine known models of the last 60 watches the company ever made in stainless steel, and sold to VIP clients through the boutique in Geneva.’

The auction also showcases several Patek Philippe watches with atypical dials, such as the out-of-series Ref. 5050J with slate-grey dial (one of only three known examples of the model) and the Ref. 5059G with salmon dial (the first of its kind ever offered at auction).

A Patek Philippe Ref. 5020J wristwatch with a perpetual calendar, chronograph and moon phases is more unusual still, featuring a cushion-shaped case that gives it a vintage look, and a brown dial that is probably unique.

‘The 5020 is a rare reference already,’ says Bigler. ‘Only 750 examples were produced, and only 300 between 1999 and 2000, and this is the first time we’ve seen this colour dial at auction.

‘The model at auction was almost certainly made by special request, as the movement dates from 2010, eight years after standard production of the reference ended. Such special-order pieces were usually made on the instructions of the president himself, and the exclusive reference (5020J-016) confirms that this is probably one-of-a-kind.’

Sign up today

Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week

Subscribe

The Champion Collection Part III: The Artistry of Complications takes place on 24 May at Christie’s in Hong Kong. On the same day, Part II of The Kairos Collection, a highlight of the Important Watches sale, is offering 30 more exceptional contemporary Patek Philippe timepieces in pristine condition, including Grandes Complications Refs 5951P-012 and 5078R-001.