Up to the Minutes: One-off models and collectors’ grail watches hit the headlines

From a one-off Patek Philippe to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s latest take on its most groundbreaking clock, here’s your watch news for the month…

In this month’s Up to the Minutes, we’re bringing you up to speed on two grail watches setting auction rooms on fire — plus a new clock that never stops from Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Elsewhere, we investigate why Big Ben has been stopped, and explain how Kensington’s Design Museum landed a curation of 160 ‘One-of-A-Kind’ watches from a single, private collection reflecting a four-decade-long passion for watches. Take a look…

Gérald Genta’s Royal Oak smashes every vintage Audemars Piguet record at Sotheby’s

The record set at Phillips’ Royal-Oak-themed sale for priciest example of Audemars Piguet’s cult sports-star stood for a whole five days — before Sotheby’s smashed it on Tuesday, doubling the record to CHF2.1 million. 

It came as no surprise, to be fair, as Lot 72 (in keeping with the 50-year old classic’s launch year) was the beloved property of the designer himself, Gérald Genta. One of the most revolutionary watches ever created, the horological draughtsman – often called the ‘Picasso’ of watches – designed it overnight at the behest of AP execs needing a sporty, steel, but crucially luxurious novelty for the Italian Riviera set. 

His octagonal ‘porthole’ design took inspiration from a childhood memory of seeing a man being sealed into an old-fashioned diving suit near the Rue du Mont-Blanc bridge in Geneva, spanning the Rhône. 

This particular Royal Oak is unique features a yellow-gold bezel that Genta produced and added himself in his workshop in Switzerland. So no wonder it entailed a six-minute bidding battle between seven contestants (conducted by Benoit Coulson, pictured in action) and no wonder it fetched more than seven times Sotheby’s’ frankly ridiculous low estimate of CHF 300,000.

Patek Philippe unveils a unique Reference 5270, and its sale will break the internet

With last week’s announcement of Patek Philippe’s one-off Perpetual Calendar Chronograph in titanium case and emerald-green dial, one thing was for sure: the Children Action charity is set to be a lot better resourced, when its fundraising auction closes this November. 

It’s the first-ever titanium version of the legendary Reference 5270 and as everyone who knows Patek knows: titanium is the metal you want. After all, back in 2017 at the biannual Only Watch sale, Patek Philippe’s first and only titanium version of the Ref. 5208 was sold for CHF 6.2 million. Given recent years’ explosion in ‘it watches’, ‘grail watches’ and vintage fever in general, it’s safe to say this latest unique Ti number will easily reach into the tens of millions. 

The verdant, sunburst visage is the colour of now, matched by the alligator strap’s contrast stitch, and the exquisitely finished CH 29-535 PS Q calibre is visible through a sapphire-crystal caseback bearing the metallised inscription “Children Action 2022”.

 If you can, go drool over it at viewings held on May 7 and 8 at the Hotel La Réserve, Genève, before THE auctioneers of horological hype, Phillips Bacs & Russo set things on fire with ‘Geneva Watch Auction: XV’ come November 7. There won’t be another like it, let alone spottable on a wrist, forever.

The OAK Collection makes Kensington’s Design Museum a ‘one of a kind’ pilgrimage for horolophiles

Come Thursday 19th May, next week, The Design Museum’s Huth Gallery will, for a week, be worth many millions more than usual. It is hosting the inaugural display of The OAK Collection: a curation of 160 ‘One-of-A-Kind’ watches from a single, private collection reflecting a four-decade-long passion for watches. 

Specifically, that of infectiously enthusiastic and immaculately coiffed French businessman, Patrick Getriedes. He has worked with Geoffroy Ader, an independent watch adviser and auctioneer, to whittle things down for what will – after many COVID-related false starts – a global, touring exhibition, for all to enjoy free of charge. 

It’s quite the refresher: why should #watchnerds, horolophiles and the just-plain-curious be denied sight of some of humanity’s most extraordinary mechanical creations, usually squirrelled-away in a safety deposit box? Here you’ll bear witness to the finest examples of fine watchmaking, from one of the best assemblies of Patek Philippe Calatrava’s from the early-Thirties onwards to hand-crafted masterpieces from modern-day indie geniuses like Francois-Paul Journe and Kari Voutilainen. You have till the following Wednesday 25th May, to bathe in Swiss gold.

The Elizabeth Tower has put a ‘Dent’ into its immaculately restored self, and Big Ben strikes again

If you were visiting Westminster on the 27th April, you might have noticed that some of the clock hands on the Elizabeth Tower were moving at last, and rather quickly at that. Reason being, the Houses of Parliament’s clock-keepers have been busy re-connecting the fourth and final West Dial to the movement of the Victorian clock – commonly known as ‘Big Ben’, after its 13.5-tonne hours bell – that whirrs, clicks and clacks immediately behind. 

This is five months after scaffolding began to be removed from the Tower, following almost 5 years and £80 million’s worth of painstaking restoration, top to toe. Before returning to service as the world’s most accurate turret clock later in 2022, the Cumbria Clock Company’s experts are still at work adjusting Edmund Dennison and Edward Dent’s 1,000-part, 11-tonne mechanism, whose pendulum is still adjusted using pennies placed on top. 

As well as a full stripped-down service off-site, the dials the mechanism serves have been restored to the original Victorian colour scheme of royal blue and gilt, while hundreds of other specialist craftspeople have tended to the Tower’s masonry, gilding and glass, perpetuating countless skills otherwise in danger of being lost. 

Floating on air, as well as powered by air: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new Atmos Infinite clock

“In this house, we obey by the laws of thermodynamics!” decries Homer Simpson in 1994, dismissing daughter Lisa’s casually knocked-up perpetual motion machine. The cartoon buffoon clearly wasn’t familiar with the work of Jaeger-LeCoultre, who since 1928 has supplemented its formidable output of classical wristwatches with a seemingly perpetual clock. 

The Atmos remains totally unique in clockmaking, its power to beguile as strong than ever: a timekeeper that runs independently of any human intervention, powered by infinitesimal variations in ambient temperature. Via a paper-thin steel bellows, just 1ºC warmer or cooler powers things for two more days. 

And it’s this ethereal lifeblood that the historic Swiss Maison is celebrating very much for the 21st century, with the ‘Infinite’: a veritable work of contemporary art that peels everything back. Viewed from all angles, the Atmos Infinite’s mechanism seems to float freely within its cylindrical glass bubble, every moving part on show. Even Homer would be impressed, maybe.

Want more watch news? Catch up on last month’s Up to the Minutes here…

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