A new year brings with it a full new calendar of incredible watch auctions from Sotheby’s, and kicking off the winter season is the team in Hong Kong with the latest Fine Watches (25 January – 1 February) offering an exceptional selection of rare and incredible timepieces poised to make themselves known to curious enthusiasts and interested collectors.
In this specialist's round-up, we've handpicked 9 extraordinary watches that are set to take centre stage in the sale. From the innovative creations of Richard Mille to the timeless elegance of Patek Philippe and Piaget, to the longstanding excellence of Rolex and Audemars Piguet, these timepieces exemplify some of the best artistry and craftsmanship that have made watch collecting such an enduring passion for so many.
Richard Mille RM002
Leading the highlights is the Richard Mille RM002. A mechanical marvel in white gold, the RM002 is a classic example of Richard Mille's disruptive approach to watch design. First introduced at the turn of the millennium, the sports-capable tourbillon watch was the successor to the brand’s aptly named RM001. Serving as the world’s first tourbillon to be built on a titanium baseplate, it features a time-setting and winding system reminiscent of a sports car’s gearbox, allowing form to meet function through a now-signature tonneau silhouette.
The RM002 is significant not just for its technical excellence, but further for its role in signaling a new era in luxury watchmaking at the end of the 1990s and moving into the 2000s, where bold aesthetics and advanced materials coalesce to create ultra-high-end timepieces just like this.
Richard Mille RM004-V2
In addition to the RM002, the upcoming sale will also include another exceptional Richard Mille via the RM004-V2. Representing the pinnacle of the watchmaker’s foray into complex chronograph design and sports engineering, the original RM004 debuted in 2003 as a titanium-clad, split-seconds chronograph. In 2009, Richard Mille launched the “All Grey” collection with technically upgraded materials. As seen in the present RM004-V2, it notably featuring improved mechanics courtesy of an updated movement and a lighter weight via a carbon nanofiber as compared to titanium baseplate.
At the core of the RM004-V2 is its split-seconds or “rattrapante” feature as part of the chronograph, allowing for the timing of simultaneous events with a single timepiece. The split-seconds function is notably one of the most difficult and fragile mechanical complications to design, produce, and use – but in Richard Mille’s execution, the movement is more than an artistic novelty and instead finds itself in a purpose-built sports watch. The unique caliber is equipped with plenty of titanium bridges for flourish, with a magnificent avant-garde dial showcasing its function, and a lightweight tonneau shell providing for its ease of wear.
Patek Philippe Nautilus Reference 5711
From Patek Philippe in the upcoming auction is a number of incredible timepieces, and leading the group of highlights is none other than the Nautilus ref. 5711. Few watches match its iconic status, with this example evoking the epitome of status symbol in the world of integrated steel sports watches. Drawing its heritage from the original 1970s Nautilus design via the ref. 3700, the 5711 carried on the legacy of the line until its discontinuation by the brand in 2021, with a growing demand and increasing scarcity on the market following in-suit.
This particular model was produced prior to the green-dial final batch of the reference, and highlights the classic blue dial look which has helped garner the design so much fame.
Patek Philippe Reference 5077
In this special ref. 5077 from Patek Philippe, we see an exhibition of the maison’s esteemed works in rare handcrafts – specifically with wood marquetry. This decorative technique is a highly skilled art form where intricate designs are formed by cutting, fitting, and adhering thin pieces of wood veneer together; through the use of different colours, texture, and precision placement, a detailed image can be formed. In this 5077, we see this incredible work on full display.
Produced in honour of the last Year of the Snake in 2013, an understated platinum Calatrava case provides an elegant canvas to the watch’s fantastic dial, where the meticulously crafted wood marquetry dial displays a serpent hanging from a branch. Diamond touches are used for the watch’s indices, adding another layer of elevation to the look, while a modern calibre 240 is on display via the timepiece’s sapphire exhibition caseback, grounding it in the modern mechanics and finishing quality of the brand.
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Reference 6239
Another incredibly rare timepiece is the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref. 6239 with tropical registers. Produced through the 1960s, this reference was an early example of the now iconic sports chronograph, with a steady amount of variation seen in the series as it developed over the decade. This particular example features a dial in a silver-white, eschews the use of screw-down guards on its crown, and features a straightforward dial and case design consistent with its older vintage peers in the Daytona family.
What set the watch apart is undoubtedly its tropical registers, which help make the watch a particular vintage treasure, helping capture the spirit of an era when wristwatches were essential tools for professional drivers. The term “tropical” refers to the colour change of the original black registers to a rich brown hue, a natural patination process that occurs over decades. This style of patina is prized by many collectors for its distinct look and further for its signifying a sports watch’s proper use, lending a touch of further authenticity to a watch’s story.
Patek Philippe Reference 5088
In the third highlight from Patek Philippe, we find a rare ref. 5088, with another of the watchmaker’s rare, handcrafted labours on display. In this example, we see a demonstration of hand-engraved champlevé enamel work, which is a meticulous decorative art that requires the use of repetitive hand-etching of a metal object, filling with enamel, firing, and then polishing. The dial of the 5088 displays this rare craft, with a beautiful black enamel playing host to engraved flourishes upon the white gold dial. A platinum case in the Calatrava style once more provides the canvas for the look, establishing the timepiece as a portable gallery wall and a significant horological work of art.
Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date Reference 19168
The second highlight from Rolex as part of the sale is a particularly rare timepiece seen via a novel edition of the brand’s Oysterquartz Day-Date. First introduced in the late 1970s, the Oysterquartz series stands out in the brand’s history for its incorporation of namesake quartz technology, standing starkly against a legacy which is best known for its mechanical and particularly automatic movements. It was an experiment by the brand in the essence of timekeeping, representing a foray into then-new technology, and it thus required a bold aesthetic to meet the moment.
The ref. 19168 is a Day-Date edition, which like its automatic counterpart features a day and date indicator on its dial. Besides its yellow gold case and integrated case-bracelet construction, the watch is also rarified by its use of diamond and sapphire accents throughout its construction, merging contemporary Rolex luxury touches with the popular design motifs and technology of its time.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15454
This Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15454, in resplendent pink gold, is a contemporary rendition of a horological revolution. As a modern execution of a lineage of watches famed for breaking the mold, it carries on the legacy of the Royal Oak – from its octagonal bezel and exposed screws to integrated construction and “Grande Tapisserie” dial – with a refined distinction.
As is obvious by its aesthetic, the 15454 is distinguished not only by its pink gold construction, but further via its “diamond dust” sparkle seen throughout its case and matching bracelet. This look is not actually dust, but instead is thanks to incredibly small, light-refracting indentations produced via a hammering technique developed by Audemars Piguet. The result is a unique frosted gold look for the finish, ensuring the timepiece as a rare and provocative mechanical object in context to the grand history of the brand.
Piaget Emperador Coussin XL Grande Lune “Planisphère” Reference P10764
Closing the highlights from the upcoming sale is an incredibly rare timepiece from Piaget in the Emperador Coussin XL Grande Lune “Planisphère”. Using a distinct pink gold Emperador shape as its canvas and highlighting the brand’s unique expression of a moonphase complication, the model features a captivating dial produced using a mesmerising cloisonné enamel technique. Cloisonné, meaning “compartment” in French, requires the use of metal wires to create different areas which are then filled with enamel paste, fired, and then polished to create the final design.
This particular dial was expertly produced by the renowned artisan Anita Porchet, with a detailed and colorful map of Africa and Asia coming into view and nodding to incredible stories of art and exploration. In subtle complement to the image, the changing moon and a pair of subtle gold hands demonstrate the active work of the watch, while the finely finished calibre 860P ensures its steady operation.