Written by Norman Burns
Photography by Only Watch
21 September 2017
When it comes to luxury items such as cars, yachts, jewellery and watches, there is one adjective that rules the roost: exclusive.
Exclusive implies “not for all”. It is the go-to word in advertising for high-end brands, playing on the buyers’ sense of self-importance and emphasising that the product is certainly not run of the mill. In the watchmaking world, however, there is one word that overshadows even the lofty “exclusive”: unique.
To some, it will be the price tag that makes a watch “exclusive”. But even with ultra-limited-run models, there will be someone else who owns essentially the same timepiece.
Unique luxury watches are an entirely different kettle of fish. They are the Holy Grail for collectors and give watch fans some pretty cool bragging rights. The watch on their wrist – or, more likely, the watch under close guard in their safe – is the only one of its kind on the planet.
Producing a one-off timepiece is an expensive undertaking and few watchmakers would attempt to do so. Well, at least not without good cause.
And this is where the biennial Only Watch charity auction comes in. For this brilliantly conceived event, the world’s top watchmakers donate a one-off timepiece – either expressly made for the auction or a one-off version of an existing model – to be sold for charity.
The money raised through the auction is donated to fund research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and the event is under the patronage of Monaco’s HSH Prince Albert II. Since being founded in 2005, the Only Watch auctions have raised a staggering 25 million euro towards helping to find a cure for this cruel and debilitating disease.
The 2017 edition will be held at the Four Seasons – Hôtel des Bergues, Geneva on 11 November through Christie’s auction house. It has attracted the heavy hitters in luxury watch making, with brands such as Patek Philippe, Piaget, Tudor, Breguet, Ulysse Nardin and dozens more.
This year’s theme celebrates the connection between brands and experiences, including sports and celebrity brand ambassadors, artists and events like fashion shows. Successful bidders will receive experiential bonuses such as dinner with celebrities, trips to London or exclusive tours of watch brand headquarters.
All the models to be featured in this year’s Only Watch collection will be exhibited on a world tour, starting on 27 September at the Monaco Yacht Show and then on to Bangkok, Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, Taipei, New York and Los Angeles, before finishing up in Geneva for the auction.
Anyone is able to bid for the watches but you will need a healthy bank balance to land one of these rare beauties. Patek Philippe’s timepiece, for example, is expected to fetch well north of AU$1 million.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar
The famous nautical-themed Royal Oak (featured in the banner) – designer Gerald Genta was inspired by an old-fashioned diver’s helmet – rocked the luxury watch industry when it was launched in the early 70s. here was a high-end timepiece that was made of steel, not gold, and an almost brutalist, industrial look to boot. But it has since become a classic and this one is truly unique, made from black ceramic with a chequerboard, royal blue ‘Grand Tapisserie’ dial that beautifully showcases the perpetual calendar and charming moon phase display, with a photorealistic orange moon. The case back is transparent sapphire glass, so you can glimpse all the funky mechanical goings-on, too.
Expected to fetch from AU$105,000 to AU$157,000
This little beauty from Geneva’s watch artisan Barbier-Mueller encapsulates some of the finest artistic elements in high-end watchmaking and the timepiece is designed as a tribute to the ancient art of mosaic making and pocket watches. The rose gold case shimmers around a mosaic-pattern dial and the case back is made from 136 separate pieces of coloured jasper. You can also flick open the case back – like the old pocket watches – and view the stunning mechanical movement, also made from rose gold, inside.
Expected to fetch from AU$146,000 to AU$264,000
Bell & Ross BR-X1 RS17
Successfully bid for this high-tech timepiece and you will get more than just a super-sexy watch. Bell & Ross, with its Formula One racing partner Renault, will whisk you off as a guest of the Renault Sport team to Abu Dhabi for the finale of the F1 season. Not only will you be wined and dined and get to meet the drivers and team, after the race you will be given driver Nico Hulkenberg’s Grand Prix gloves. As for the watch, it is constructed from a special carbon/ceramic mix, making it super-tough but ultra-light. It has a skeletonised, automatic chronograph movement and sports the same black-and-yellow colour scheme as the Renault Sport F1 team.
Expected to fetch from AU$29,000 to $37,000
F.P. Journe Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante
Even within the rarefied air of the Only Watch models, this piece has collectors salivating. It was specially developed for Only Watch and F.P. Journe says it won’t go into production. Ever. The stunning blue chrome dial includes displays of a tachymeter (measuring speed over distance) and telemeter (measuring distance by sound) and chronograph sub-dials for seconds and minutes. The manually wound movement, in 18-karat rose gold, is completely unique, as is the tantalum case. The pushers either side of the crown operate the chronograph and rattrapante (split-seconds) functions. A beautiful time machine.
Expected to fetch from AU$648,000 to AU$527,000.
This one is for all the pinball wizards out there who are not worried about keeping track of the time because this quirky Hautlence piece is not actually a watch. It is a miniature, mechanical pinball game, housed in a titanium case with diamond-like carbon treatment, that you can wear on your wrist. At night, the dial glows in the shape of a smiling robot’s head. You will never go near a fidget spinner again with the Flipper on your wrist.
Expected to fetch from AU$30,000 to $50,000
Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire Usain Bolt
Time is the one thing even sprinter Usain Bolt cannot out-run. But if you out-bid others for this incredible offering from Hublot, you will not only have an amazing, transparent sapphire timepiece but you will get to meet the man himself. The 45mm Big Bang is powered by a Hublot chronograph skeletonised movement, which you can see whirring away. Look closely at the small second counter at nine o’clock and you will see the Jamaican superstar’s famous Lighting Bolt victory sign.
Expected to fetch from AU$66,000 to AU$105,000
Konstantin Chaykin Joker Red
Here is a watch that really stands out from the Only Watch “pack”. Firstly, it is from a Russian, not Swiss, watchmaker. Secondly, it offers a rather tongue-in-cheek take on the whole watchmaking business which, it has to be said, can be a rather-too-serious affair. A Swiss-made ETA movement is at the Joker’s heart, while the “face” is made of ruthenium and silver.
Expected to fetch from AU$14,000 to AU$20,000
Louis Vuitton Escale Spin Time Black & Fire
Luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton is famed for its travel accessories and here is a spectacular timepiece that just shouts, “Get me to the airport”. Spin Time is a Louis Vuitton “complication” that progressively displays, clockwise, the hours via the dial’s 12 cubes, with little nautical flag designs. As each successive hour is displayed, the previous cube reverts back to the flag display.
The stylised globe at the centre of the dial, bearing the inscription “Louis Vuitton Only Watch” further reinforces the travel vibe.
Housed in a titanium case, with 18-karat white gold bezel, horns and crown, the Black & Fire is powered by an automatic Louis Vuitton movement. The successful bidder will also receive a personalised Louis Vuitton travel trunk and lunch date with Louis Vuitton vice-president Hamdi Chatti and master watchmaker Michel Navas.
Expected to fetch from AU$66,000 to $105,000
Piaget Black Tie Vintage Watch
Piaget’s distinctive cushion-shaped Black Tie timepieces were introduced in the 50s, later catching the eye of 60s pop icon Andy Warhol. This piece echoes that era of style and grace but this time features a striking, finely cut stone dial made from pietersite. An automatic Piaget movement is housed within the beautiful, fluid lines of the 18-karat yellow gold case and the case back is engraved with the inscription “Only Watch 2017 – Unique Piece”.
Expected to fetch from AU$39,000 to AU$66,000
Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon
Elegant and classical, this Marine Tourbillon from Switzerland’s Ulysse Nardin sports one of the most technically challenging watchmaking complications, the tourbillon. Meaning “whirlwhind” in French, a tourbillon is an ingenious piece of engineering intended to offset the effects of gravity on a mechanical movement. Even minute deviations could, of course, put timekeeping well out of whack. No problem here, as the UN-128 automatic chronometer movement runs the show, with the the 60-seconds flying tourbillon housed on the dial at six o’clock. The dazzling blue Grand Feu enamel dial is another exquisite feature, made by Ulysses Nardin specialists using very high temperatures and consummate skills.
Expected to fetch from AU$28,000 to AU$42,000