Tomorrow, November 9, 2019, the annual Only Watch auction in Geneva will see 50 one-of-a-kind watches auctioned to benefit research of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Among them is a steel version of the most complicated wristwatch ever made by one of the most prestigious watchmakers, the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime. Speculation is naturally part of the auction market, but this particular lot is being watched to potentially become the most expensive watch ever sold. What’s interesting is just how different it is from the incumbent watch it has to beat.
In 2017, Paul Newman’s own Rolex Daytona, which led to the exotic-dial variant of the Daytona being christened the “Paul Newman,” sold at Philips for… a lot of money — $17,752,500, including including buyer’s premium, to be exact. It became the most expensive watch ever sold because of its celebrity association — or perhaps, more accurately, its own celebrity status. Unlike Patek Philippe’s entrant this year, the Rolex Daytona is a relatively simple tool watch, featuring only the time and a chronograph complication. This shows starkly how wide-ranging the elements can be that determine a watch’s value.
The Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, on the other hand, features no fewer than 20 complications packed into a 47.7mm wide, 16.07mm-thick case, including five different chiming modes, perpetual calendar and more, to the point that its displays won’t even fit on a single dial. The solution? Both sides of the case (which is designed to be reversible) feature dials with different information, and every last teeny-tiny component is finished to a ridiculously high degree.
Also made in very limited quantities, of course, the most recent versions of the Grandmaster Chime have come in precious metal with a retail price of $2.2 million. Since brands like Patek Philippe rarely use stainless steel outside of their sport watches, it’s one of the quirks of the high-end watch collecting world that collectors value such steel watches disproportionately for their novelty and rarity. This particular Grandmaster Chime, a “grand complication,” is in steel.
As is the case with all other watches made for Only Watch, the Grandmaster Chime is being produced as a one-off, and the dial even reminds you with “The Only One” text. Watches like this and the Rolex Daytona were never made to compete with one another, but in this unique situation, vying for a prestigious title, they seem to each represent different aspects of what enthusiasts like about watches in general. Will it set a new bar for how much a watch can cost? We’ll find out soon enough. For most people, it’s not even important whether it dethrones the cool-kid Rolex Daytona, but it’s fun to spectate and discuss.