Highlights from the Sotheby’s Important Watches and Fine Watches June sales results Highlights from the Sotheby’s Important Watches and Fine Watches June sales results

Highlights from the Sotheby’s Important Watches and Fine Watches June sales results

Zach Blass
  • Sotheby’s hosted their live Important Watches sale on June 9 and their Fine Watches sale ended on June 15
  • Two Paul Newman-owned Daytona watches headlined the Important Watches Sale and sold for a combined US$2.2m
  • Between the two auctions, total watch sales of US$21.03m were achieved

Earlier this month, two Sotheby’s auctions were held with a wide range of interesting lots. Some were headlining heroes, like the two Paul Newman-owned Daytona watches. Others were, perhaps, deep cuts – or as we like to call them: sleeper picks. Combined across both auctions and their respective lots, Sotheby’s earned a very impressive combined total watch sales of US$21,030,000. So amongst such a figure, I wanted to share some highlights from the two sales. How did the Paul Newman-owned Daytonas perform? What were the final results for my five sleeper picks? Which were the most expensive watches sold in each auction? I dig into the answers for each question below.

Two Paul Newman-owned Daytona watches headlined the Important Watches Sale and sold for a combined US$2.2m

Rolex ‘Zenith’ Daytona ref. 16520 presented to and worn by Paul Newman – US$1.1m

Considering both of the Paul Newman-owned Daytona watches were not your typical exotic panda dials, there was really no precedent for how much these watches would do at auction. The provenance, of course, meant these watches would likely hit seven figures. But just how far would they climb? The ref. 16520, presented to Newman after winning the GTS-1 class 24 hours of Daytona endurance race in 1995, had previously gone to auction in 1999 for charity – hammering for US$39K.

At the time, that result set the record for the most expensive Daytona ever sold at auction. Over 20 years later, however, such a result would have been a huge bargain. The estimate for this watch was set between US$500K – US$1m, and it was a fair hunch considering the final result was US$1.1m. Certainly not inexpensive, but offering proportional value to the famed US$17.8m sale previously paid for a Newman-owned Daytona.

Rolex Daytona ref. 116519 – Paul Newman’s last Daytona gifted to him by Joanne Woodward – US$1.1M

While firsts are certainly prized by collectors, lasts can be very alluring as well. This lot stood out due to the fact it was the last Daytona that Joanne Woodward gifted to her husband. It was also the only Daytona she purchased for him in a precious metal case. As I wrote in my announcement coverage, before his death in 2008, Newman was notably photographed wearing the watch while watching his Newman-Hass team race at the Indy 500 and during his famous Barbara Walters interview in 2007, as well as in 2008 taking his final laps at a private event at Lime Rock Park on August 13, 2008 just over a month before his death. This is truly the last Daytona the legendary actor ever wore.

You could also look at the watch as the last of the series of Daytona watches gifted by Woodward and engraved with a cautionary message on the caseback. To be honest, I thought this ref. 116519 was set to go for more than the ref. 16520. But, in the end, it was set with the same estimate as the ref. 16520 and hammered for the same amount of US$1.1m.

How did my Sotheby’s Fine Watches “sleeper picks” perform?

Rolex Datejust ref. 16233 ‘IOC Olympics’ – US$20,320

The Rolex Datejust typically does not make waves at auction, but what makes this watch particularly special is its Olympic ring branding at the 6′ position. I had assumed this special Datejust might sneak under-the-radar a little bit, but its result of US$20,320 is in line with the asking price of the dual-branded reference on markets like Chrono24. Only two bids were placed on the watch, so perhaps it was still a sleeper in some ways. But ultimately it went for its market value.

Cartier Tortue Collection Privée Cartier Perpetual Calendar ref. 2540 – US$20,320

Whereas the Datejust estimate was appropriate, the final result landing just in the middle of the estimate range, the US$6,000 – US$8,000 for this Cartier was definitely a bit of a lowball guess. Its final result of US$20,320 is in line with the market value of the watch on secondary platforms, but within the context of auction you never know where something will land. There needs to be a bit of back and forth between bidders for something to climb, and with 17 bids placed there was certainly a heated battle to take home the Cartier. Had this lot gone up for auction a few years ago, it may have been a stealth entry into the lot catalogue. But these days Cartier is on fire and many have their eyes peeled for great references from the Maison. So bidders were definitely awake for this one. I may have been reaching when I labelled this one a sleeper.

Vacheron Constantin ref. 4240 yellow gold triple calendar wristwatch from 1945 – US$19,050

Refinished watches are less desirable in the auction marketplace, collectors prefer original and untouched condition these days. So it was interesting to see how far bidders would be willing to go to own this triple calendar watch from 1945 that was expertly restored by Vacheron Constantin. A single US$19,050 bid was placed on the lot, US$4.05K above the estimate. So, perhaps the winning bidder could have had it for even less. But, it is clear this individual wanted the watch enough to place a safer, higher, bid (the middle of the estimate range) in order to better ensure their chances of winning. Maybe expertly performed restoration is becoming less taboo at auction, but it is clear these sorts of propositions can be sleeper moments to take advantage of, with fewer bidders circling in the waters.

Heuer Carrera ref. 3647 from 1965 – US$5,334

I definitely applaud whoever took home this ’60s Carrera. An iconic vintage chronograph in great condition, you would think it would go for higher. But these 36mm Carrera chronographs continue to be a great source of value to collectors wanting something historic at a lower cost. Of the whole sale, this was definitely the biggest sleeper pick-up at its final hammer price of US$5,334.

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 ref. 101.031 – US$25,400

When I initially shared my five sleeper picks, I said, in regard to this Lange lot, that, with the current retail price of a Lange 1 in pink gold set at US$44,700, winning this ref. 101.031 at or near its estimate of US$20,000 – US$30,000 would be a total win – especially with its rarer black dial. So whoever won the watch for US$25,400 got a great deal. Sure, as an older model it does not use the latest-gen calibre with an instantaneous date change. But with its rarer black dial, which you cannot purchase in the current catalogue, this watch offers a less common aesthetic of a legendary reference. The winner paid US$19,300 under retail. I know it is not a 1:1 comparison with the updated movement, but it is very clear that people are still sleeping on Lange watches and it is a good idea to get in early before the market wakes up.

Most expensive watch from the Sotheby’s Important Watches sale: A Patek Philippe ‘Pink-on-Pink’ Reference 1518 – US$3.9M

Anytime a Patek Philippe ref. 1518 comes up for sale, you can bet there is going to be a battle between bidders. A grail Patek reference, according to Sotheby’s only 281 examples of the watch were created and this lot, purchased in 1947 and consigned by the original owner, was the 15th ever known to make its debut at auction. Sotheby’s explains in their auction result press release: “Following a five minute battle between two bidders, an Asian private collector acquired a fresh to the market and previously unknown Patek Philippe ‘Pink-on-Pink’ Reference 1518 for $3.9 million (est. $2.5/4.5 million). The $3.9 million result places this example as the second highest price ever achieved for a ‘Pink-on-Pink’ Reference 1518, following Sotheby’s sale in December 2021 of another model from the estate of Prince Tewfik Tousson of Egypt, which sold for $9.6 million.”

Most expensive watch from the Sotheby’s Fine Watches sale: A F.P. Journe Resonance Brass Movement – US$254K

F.P. Journe has become one of the biggest attractions at auctions, with collectors clamouring to score prize pieces from the celebrated watchmaker and hot independent brand. All Journe pieces are quite highly sought after, but collectors really chase after the early examples that utilise brass movements. At present, Journey movements are crafted in rose gold. But, in the earlier days of the brand the movements were crafted in the more common brass that is then later plated with rhodium. You would think a precious metal movement would be worth more, but due to the brass movements being rarer and “first” any chance heavy-hitting collectors can get to own a brass-movement Journe they jump on it.