THESE WATCHES THAT ARE TAKING THEIR REVENGE ON THE MARKET
In 5 years, their value has literally exploded. A few years ago, they attracted the attention of some particularly educated or visionary connoisseurs. Today, these watches are becoming best-sellers that vintage enthusiasts or the most discerning collectors absolutely want to own.
Yet for many years they were unloved and underpriced! Recently rediscovered by a new generation of collectors, these watches are now commanding surprising prices at auction.
A look at 5 models with a future.
IWC INGÉNIEUR JUMBO SL
The ultimate watch of the Genta trilogy
The Engineer is a cult watch in the IWC collections. Born in 1955, this model was designed by watchmaker Albert Pellaton, who became technical director of IWC in 1944. With its antimagnetic movement, which gave the brand an unprecedented competitive advantage, it is a resolutely modern watch designed for researchers, scientists and explorers. However, if its technicality seduced at the beginning, its very classic style made it a “hard to sell” watch from the beginning of the 1970s! So in the mid-1970s, in the midst of the quartz crisis, IWC gave in to the trend and completely revisited this timepiece. The mechanical movement was replaced by a quartz mechanism and the designer Gerald Genta was chosen to rethink the design. If the 3rd generation engineer stands out radically from the previous models with its visible screw bezel and its sporty look, this model known under the reference 1832 SL is today considered by collectors as the ultimate watch of the “Genta Trilogy” with the Royal Oak and the Nautilus.
Enjoying increasing attention from collectors in recent years, the Ingenieur has been popularized by the success of the two best-sellers created for Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. This model, which would have been produced in only 1,000 pieces, or perhaps less, was sold in boutiques from 1977.
In 2008, Christie’s already announced this reference as a collector’s item in its catalogs and sold it for nearly €16,000 (sale of November 16, 2022, lot 52), a record at the time for a quartz watch!
However, during the 2010s the model went through a period of decline. Among the very few pieces that appeared on the market and presented at auction, some remained unsold, despite “attractive” estimates often located around 8,000 / 12,000€. Since 2019, the trend is reversing and prices are clearly on the rise again.
This year the record price was recorded by Artcurial: 39,360€ (sale of 18 July 2022, lot 149).
VACHERON CONSTANTIN « 222 »
The Seventies spirit by Jorg Hysek
With its one-piece case, fluted bezel and integrated bracelet, the 222 is a true icon of the 1970s. Launched in 1977 by Vacheron Constantin to celebrate the 222th anniversary of the manufacture, this watch with its audacious design was only produced for 7 years and only in a very limited number: “only 427 worldwide”, as stated in the advertising of the time (see illustration). Today we don’t know the exact distribution between gold, steel and gold/steel, but it seems that the gold models were produced in greater numbers and that the steel and gold/steel versions were produced in series of less than 100 pieces each.
Designed by the young, non-conformist designer Jorg Hysek, who was 24 years old at the time, the 222 was part of the “luxury sports” trend that was emblematic of the 1970s. However, with its 37 mm “jumbo” case and its extra-flat automatic movement, the 222 remained a little-loved watch by the general public until this year. In 2022, Vacheron Constantin updated this model by launching a yellow gold reissue that conforms to the original model. Since then, the price of vintage watches has soared.
The latest record: 163,800€, the price obtained for a yellow gold model sold on May 8, 2022 by Phillips (lot 138). An amazing result when you remember that only ten years ago, the gold version was worth barely 5,000€! During an auction organized on May 22, 2013 in London, Christie’s recorded a result of €4,700 starting from an estimate of €2,000/3,000… Something totally inconceivable today!
Paradoxically, the steel version, reference 44018, although more common, has become a sought-after watch over the last 5 years, the results recorded at auction speak for themselves: 30,000€ in 2016 (Phillips on November 13, lot 20), 70,000€ (Phillips on December 10, lot 22) in 2019, and 189,000€ in 2022 (Phillips on May 8, lot 178). This renewed interest in the steel version can be explained by the market’s infatuation with the Nautilus or the Royal Oak, one of the consequences of which was the rediscovery by a new generation of collectors of all the bold, sporty designs produced during the 1970s.
Finally, the steel “tow-tone” version is also increasingly coveted, even though it has a much lower value than the gold or steel version. Results now range from €80,000 (Christie’s lot 286, May 17, 2022) to €100,000 (Phillips lot 279, May 8, 2022), whereas in 2016 it was still possible to acquire this watchmaking icon for barely €15,000 (Christie’s, lot 34, November 14, 2016).
CARTIER « CLOCHE »
Becoming a collectible
It is a particularly original shape born in the 1920s: the Cloche. An asymmetrical design originally imagined for a brooch watch and which will take the form of a wristwatch in 1921.
Also known as the Pagode, this watch with its unusual shape, resembling a counter service bell with its curved side, is among the most original creations Cartier has produced along with the Crash or the asymmetrical Tank.
If little information is available about the number of pieces produced at the time, it is a model that was produced in limited quantities and unfortunately few original copies are listed.
The particularity of this watch is that it escapes the fundamental rule of “everything that is rare is expensive”. An essential principle in the collector’s market, but the model must be known. And this is the tragedy of this model which strangely enough is still very little and very poorly known by the general public. The Cloche made a timid appearance in the Cartier collections in 1984 with a quartz version and returned in 1996 in a mechanical version and a special series limited to 200 pieces. The inclusion of this model in the collections coincided with the legendary auction “The Magical Art of Cartier” organized by the Antiquorum auction house in Geneva in 1996.
For this unique auction, a unique platinum model with Roman numerals will be produced specially by Cartier. First sold at auction for €35,000 in 1996, this piece was represented by Phillips on November 7, 2022 (lot 182) and sold for €107,000.
Among the rare editions of this watch is a special series in yellow gold issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the brand. While in 2013 this model was valued at barely €5,000 (according to the result recorded by Artcurial on December 18, 2013, lot 472), its value already reached more than €8,000 in 2019 as evidenced by the
example that belonged to Franco Cologni, author of numerous books on the history of watchmaking and passionate collector, sold by Sotheby’s (lot 13, sale of November 6, 2019).
A watch that is now among the most prominent collectibles on the market!
The Japanese signature
Seiko’s history began in 1881 in Tokyo in the heart of a modest workshop, but it was in 1960 that the brand positioned itself on the high-end watchmaking market by creating Grand Seiko, a Premium collection. In 1967, Grand Seiko launched the GS44, a watch that has become a cult classic because it embodies the brand’s DNA: precision, robustness and pure aesthetics. For a full set period model, with original papers and case, prices can go up to 60,000€ as evidenced by the result obtained on November 7, 2021 (lot 199) by Phillips.
Particularly sought after by the brand’s enthusiasts are the “VFA” watches, an acronym for Very Fine Adjusted, a chronometric certification developed by the firm in 1969 with the support of the Neuchâtel and Geneva Observatories. With a precision of +/- 1 minute per month, Grand Seiko enters the world of high precision.
The vintage “VFA” models are of interest to collectors today because they are considered to mark a decisive turning point in contemporary Japanese watchmaking. Prices vary according to the references, and today it is possible to acquire a beautiful vintage piece for around 10,000€. Among the most notable results are €12,500 for a VFA Day Date version with Japanese writing (Christie’s, lot 193, sale May 10, 2021) or €10,000 for a steel model from 1972 (Christie’s, lot 2157, sale April 23, 2021).
However, some rarer models can fetch a higher price: 44,000€ is the price reached for a 1970’s prototype sold in 2021 (lot 194, Christie’s, sale 10 May 2021)
Grand Seiko should also arouse growing interest since this year and for the first time, an auction organized in New York on December 10 and 11 by Phillips will be dedicated to the brand.
An event that will mark the official entry of the Japanese watchmaker in the very closed circle of “Collector’s watches”.
La plongeuse luxe de Rolex
Released in 1992, the Yach-Master model was intended to be a luxurious version of the Submariner: a diving watch with elegant and chic lines dedicated to sailing enthusiasts and designed in a very “Yachting” spirit. With its graduated bezel in relief, this watch with its extremely sporty and modern look had everything to please except that at its launch, it was a total flop. Long disliked, the Yach-Master has recently become “the diver like no other” that a new generation of collectors is snatching up.
Among the most popular references today, the Rolesium version ref.16622 is certainly one of the most sought after. Also known as the “Platinum Yacht-Master”, this steel watch with platinum bezel and dial was launched in 1997 and produced until 2012. While in 2016 it was possible to acquire a complete model for less than €6,000 (see Artcurial sale of 18 July 2016, lot 16 sold for €5,850), today it is necessary to count on nearly €10,000 for this mythical reference, i.e. a valuation of more than 60% in 5 years (Sotheby’s, lot 1010 sold for €9,450 on 4 March 2022). A renewed interest for the model explained by the fact that the Yacht-Master is the only Rolex model produced in Rolesium (steel/platinum), the first series has therefore become a collector’s item. https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2022/fine-watches-7/yacht-master-ref-16622-montre-bracelet-en-acier
A price that remains relatively attractive for a model that is increasingly sought after. Today, the modern versions Everose – in pink gold with a rubber Oysterflex bracelet still in the catalogue and displayed at the price of 26.000€ – or Grey, called “Khanjar” – updated version of the ref. 16622 – are already very sought after.
The future will tell whether this luxury diver will become a true collector’s item, but in the meantime its popularity continues to grow, as shown by the €126,000 result obtained by Sotheby’s (lot 24, sale of 10 May 2022) for a very rare version set with 32 coloured sapphires, since it was only produced for 2 years!