N ext month, Sotheby’s will hold its first-ever Watches auction in the Middle East. Taking place in Dubai on the 19th November, the sale reflects the all-time high demand for rare, vintage and modern timepieces in the region. Watch collecting has a centuries-long tradition in the Middle East, from the richly-enamelled pocket watches prized by the Ottoman Empire’s elites in the 18th and 19th centuries to the masterpieces of horology and bespoke timepieces commissioned by Middle Eastern collectors in the 20th century.
The sale will feature a varied selection of cutting-edge contemporary and traditional vintage pieces from some of the world’s most renowned brands including Patek Philippe, Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin, as well as offering prestigious independent watchmakers such as Richard Mille, Kari Voutilainen, and MB&F and HD3.
Highlights include hard-to-find pieces such as a fresh-to-the market Rolex Daytona reference 6263 from circa 1973. Coming from the family of its original owner - an engineer who served with the British Armed Forces - this stainless steel chronograph is an outstanding example of one of the most sought-after references for a Rolex Daytona, the “vintage wristwatch par excellence” (est. US$ 35,000 - 55,000).
Another highlight which couldn’t be more different is a Cartier “Mystery Clock”. A tour de force of illusion, blending mind-boggling technology with the mastery of Cartier’s craftsmanship and design skills, such pieces have been coveted by collectors around the world for over a century. Time on these bejeweled art pieces appears to float magically in the air, indicated by two rotating crystal disks that suspend the hour hand and minute hand. From the perspective of the viewer, the clock mysteriously operates without any mechanical means. Following the legendary Art Deco creations from the 1920s, Cartier revisited the iconic design and created modern masterpieces in the 1980s and this particular example dates from circa 1990. Possibly unique, this yellow gold, black obsidian, diamond, mother-of-pearl and crystal-set “Pendule Mystérieuse” is evocative of the timeless elegance of Eastern cultures (est. US$ 190,000 - 260,000).
Among the most appealing modern lots is a unique Royal Oak Grande Complication from 2002 which has never been offered at auction before (est. US$400,000 – 600,000). Audemars Piguet is considered master of minute repeaters and grande complication watches and, since Gerald Genta created it in 1972, the Royal Oak has become emblematic of the brand. Adorned with diamonds, blue sapphire and mother pearl throughout the case, dial and integrated bracelet, this Grande Complication is driven by a caliber 2885 which is comprised of 648 parts, all hand crafted in-house by Audemars Piguet’s master watchmakers.
As well as the established brand names, it is especially exciting to see independent manufacturers using innovative technology and groundbreaking materials come to auction.
One example is Mille, who is credited for having single-handily reinvented watchmaking in the 21st century, and is represented in the sale by a group of three watches. Two of them are limited editions from 2015, made in honour of the Brazilian Formula 1 driverFelipe Massa and reflect the Mille’s use of techniques and materials found in the most innovative sectors, such as F1 racing car development.
The “Horological Machines” from the Swiss brand MB&F (Maximilian Busser and Friends), turn traditional watchmaking of the highest craftsmanship into futuristic, fiercely unconventional timekeeping machines, re-engineering elements of a traditional watch to produce a new piece. As many of MB&F’s pieces, the HM6 limited in the sale celebrates children's imagination: it was inspired by the 1980s Japanese cartoon Captain Future (est. US$100,000 - 200,000).
Speaking ahead of the sale, Sam Hines, Global Head of Sotheby’s Watches, commented, “The horology market in the Middle East is evolving at a fast pace. The savviness coming from collectors in the region is remarkable: beyond the pure aesthetics, they are eager to learn about everything, from the technical and historical aspects to the individual stories behind each watch.”