This massive wristwatch by Patek Philippe sold for just under $1 million at Sotheby’s New York, in December 2012.

LONDON - What makes a million-dollar watch? Of course there are many factors, not least of which is rarity, but size certainly helps. In December 2012, Sotheby's sold a massive wristwatch by Patek Philippe with a mesmerizing black dial. Manufactured in 1955, the watch had a 46mm diameter case which was vastly oversized for the period of its production. It was the largest "time only" (i.e. without additional functions) wristwatch known to have been made by the Geneva-based watchmaker. Inevitably it created a sensation when it appeared at the Important Watches sale at Sotheby’s New York last December. Quickly clearing its pre-sale high estimate of $150,000, it finally sold just shy of $1 million.

Felice Trossi on the cover of the Scuderia Ferrari magazine, February 1937.

The watch, when I saw it, reminded me of a remarkable chronograph that belonged to Count Carlo Felice Trossi, the former President of Scuderia Ferrari. Trossi was well known for his "hands-on" approach to racing, providing manufacturing facilities at his home, the magnificent Gaglianico Castle. In 1935, together with Augusto Monaco, Trossi designed and built a revolutionary racing car, which is still on display at the Museo dell’Automobile in Turin, Italy. The Patek Philippe owned by Trossi was the largest single button chronograph wristwatch made by the company, measuring in at 46mm in diameter - the same size as the watch auctioned in New York last December. Originally sold in 1932, the year Trossi became president of Ferrari, it was almost certainly a special order since its size meant that it was ideal for timing races.

Trossi and Monaco’s revolutionary racing car. Collezione Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile “Avv. Giovanni Agnelli” - Torino. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE MUSEUM.

One of the great frustrations for watch collectors and enthusiasts is the lack of period photographs showing important vintage watches worn by their original owners, often because the watches were covered by a sleeve. Fortunately, Count Trossi wore his wristwatch on his cuff, as seen on the cover of the February 1937 issue of the Scuderia Ferrari magazine. Another entry to the million-dollar watch club, Trossi’s watch in fact sold for over $2 million at Sotheby’s Geneva, in May 2008.

Trossi’s watch sold for over $2 million at Sotheby’s Geneva, May 2008.