The auction pieces for Only Watch 2019 have been announced, and once again the charity initiative has prompted some absolutely incredible works of watchmaking and design.
Only Watch, the biannual charity auction held in support of research on Duschenne muscular dystrophy has been held since 2007 and has developed a proud reputation for getting the world’s watch brands to pull out all the stops and create some truly special one-off pieces. They will be auctioned in November by Christie’s, with all proceeds benefiting the charity.
For 2019, a total of 52 watches have been announced. They span a range of manufacturers, from Artya to Patek Philippe, and once again they contain some beautiful designs, some wonderful creations and some totally lust-worthy watches (as well as some that perhaps could have let their imaginations run a bit wilder).
It being a charity auction, we can’t really look at the financial side of Only Watch in the same way as a typical watch auction – and likewise, you can’t really look at many of these watches as typical watches, either. It has always relied heavily on the one-off submissions from Patek Philippe to do a lot of the heavy lifting for amounts raised, but in recent years Tudor’s participation has also been enormously profitable, and there are several others that we think could blow past their high estimates. So as we take a bit of a look at the most interesting pieces from this year’s Only Watch, we’ll take the estimates into account with the caveat that, really, anything could happen.
In some ways it is business as usual for Only Watch: most eyes will go straight to Patek Philippe and here you’ll find a familiar variation on a theme; a grand complication in a non-precious metal. Previously titanium has been typical, but this time we have “the” Patek Philippe grand complication, the Grand Master Chime, in stainless steel. The 47.7mm double-sided mega watch comes with the engraving “the only one” at 12 o’clock on its primary, rose gold dial. The estimate is 2-2.5m CHF and you would be foolish to bet against it comfortably achieving a price north of high estimate.
At Only Watch 2017 Francois-Paul Journe stole the show with a phenomenal chronograph, a simpler version of which then emerged as the LineSport Chronograph Rattrapante. This year he has made an equally incredible watch, the Astronomic Blue. Like its predecessor, it is cased in tantalum, and like its predecessor it is a horological box of fireworks. This is another one we will be getting our teeth into very soon, but suffice to say that a one-of-one FP Journe with minute repeater, equation of time, sunrise and sunset, annual calendar and moonphase complications powered by a remontoire movement with a tourbillon and dead-beat seconds is going right to the top of any super-collector’s shopping list. The estimate is set between 300,000 and 600,000 CHF, which seems like Christie’s hedging its bets. This is a seven-figure watch if we ever saw one.
There are a great many watches from the 52 that I’d love to own, but some do stand out as world-class pieces that you could happily wear every day. Enormous credit in this department goes to Breguet, for its pared-back take on a Type XX (complete with reconditioned Valjoux 235 calibre) and the entries from Akrivia, Singer Reimagined, H. Moser & Cie and the Gronefeld brothers all fulfil the brief of taking an already excellent design and giving it a little something extra special. But one watch stands out in the “real-world heartthrob” stakes and it’s Montblanc’s 1858 split-seconds chronograph. We’ve already glowed with admiration for the bronze version of this watch as shown at SIHH 2019; now swap in a titanium case, a blue agate stone dial and a fierce red/grey contrast colour scheme and you’ve got a genuinely amazing piece of work. Were I bidding in November, this is what I’d be after. Estimate is 42,000-48,000 CHF; a bit higher than the ‘standard’ watch it’s based on, but I still expect it to soar towards six figures.
The various approaches to Only Watch do fascinate me – I think seeing what happens when carte blanche is given for a one-off can reveal something about the brands and people behind the regular watches. Some go totally mad, maximalist and baroque (Christophe Claret, Bovet, Louis Vuitton) and others stay well within the envelope (Girard-Perregaux, Blancpain, Hermes, Piaget and others). Some manage to be both at once – Hublot’s baby-blue Richard Orlinski is far from the most outlandish thing it has created this year, yet still embraces the opportunity of Only Watch in style.
Last time round, Urwerk and Laurent Ferrier joined forces on the Arpal One, which held traces of what would become LF’s Bridge One. This year there are two joint entries: Urwerk is back again, this time merging its satellite hours complication with a De Bethune case and design. All we have to go on for now is this sketch, but it looks like being a riot. The second collab is between long-time bedfellows MB&F and L’Epee, and it’s one of the most enticing creations the two have put together, combining hand-blown Murano glass, sci-fi influences and a story that resonates with Only Watch’s founding purpose.
I haven’t mentioned the montre a tact from Andersen Geneve, the appearance of little-known brand Trilobe, Frederique Constant’s sudden lurch into meteorite dials or Konstantin Chaykin’s selfie-inspired take on the Joker. There is a lot of creativity sloshing around this year’s auction; in fact I’d say it’s one of the most interesting sets of watches yet. Take a look here at the full list of 52 – guaranteed, if you’re any kind of watch nerd at all, there’s one here you’d love to own.