Unusual watches and limited edition models come up for sale all the time. You can always buy a rare watch if you have enough money.
What you can’t always buy is a watch that’s truly one of a kind. Those opportunities are rare, and even having a lot of cash at your disposal isn’t going to help you if someone who owns a one-of-a-kind watch isn’t willing to sell.
That’s why it’s somewhat surprising that a recent auction of a Patek Philippe Caliber 89 pocket watch ended without a sale. The watch was one of only four made, each with a different case material (three kinds of gold and one platinum.)
The Caliber 89 was brought to market in 1989 to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary. It took five years to develop and another four years to manufacture, all for a product whose production was just four units.
The Caliber 89 is quite a remarkable watch. The timepiece has 1728 parts and 33 complications, including:
- Day of the month
- 12-hour recorder
- Day of the week
- Hour of second time zone
- Moon phase display
- Winding crown position indicator
- Century decade and year displays
- Leap year indicator
- Power reserve
- Date of Easter
- Time of sunrise
- Equation of time
- Star chart
- Sun hand
- Time of sunset
- Split second hand
The watch measures 89mm in diameter and 41mm thick. It weighs 1100 grams. It was, at the time it was made, the watch with the most complications ever, surpassing another Patek Philippe watch – the Henry Graves Supercomplication.
Given its unique history, its historical significance, and its out and out rarity, everyone pretty much assumed that the watch would not only sell when it came up for auction, but that it might very well establish a record for the most expensive watch ever sold. That would be $24 million, which was the price when the Henry Graves Supercomplication sold recently.
A Patek Philippe Caliber 89 was last sold publicly in 2009, when it sold for $5 million. Speculation has been that this watch, with a yellow gold case, might go for a much higher price, and the pre-auction estimate was $6.4 million to $9.9 million.
Oddly enough, when the gavel finally came down on the auction, which was held this past May, the watch went unsold, as the bidding did not reach the minimum reserve price.
This does suggest that one should be careful when investing in watches. While this one is rare, it’s the second time that it has failed to sell in the last two years. That means that anyone who buys it now will also likely have trouble selling it quickly anytime soon.
While such watches can make good investments, one has to be aware that the market does fluctuate. Over a long period of time, say 20-30 years, buying the Caliber 89 might make sense and might return a profit.
Over a shorter time period, however, the likelihood of a sale is much less certain, as is the likelihood of a net gain on the investment.
Still, the Patek Philippe Caliber 89 is an important watch in timekeeping history, and there aren’t many people who would not like to have it in their collection.