For watch collectors, the ultimate dream is to find that one unique piece that nobody else has got. This addictive search for holy grail timepieces can consume lifetimes and fortunes, but for those who are happy to forfeit the treasure hunt in exchange for a horological life hack, there is Only Watch 2015.
Every two years, the world’s leading watch Maisons create and donate unique watches to be auctioned off through Only Watch - a charitable venture set up by former Monaco Yacht Show managing director Luc Pettavino. All the money raised from the auction, which includes watches from Louis Vuitton, Patek Philippe, Richard Mille, Urwerk and more, and which Pettavino says has increased by a significant amount each time, goes towards funding research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy - a muscle-wasting disease that Pettavino’s son suffers from.
While each timepiece in the Only Watch auction is a one-off, the levels of uniqueness vary. Most offer a slight twist, such as the offering from Chopard watches, which has added racing driver Marc Webber’s signature to the caseback of its Superfast Chrono Porsche 919, or the creation from Boucheron watches, the Épure Vague de Lumière, which has been updated with an aventurine glass dial in place of the 2014 model’s hematite dial.
Others are completely new creations, such as the Christophe Claret Espoir & Paix, which magnifies an emerald under a mirascope - a hologram-like device that makes the stone appear twice as large as it really is and as if it is bursting out of the dial. The Maison has experimented with this technique before in its Aventicum range of Christophe Claret watches, but a glittering gemstone makes for much better viewing than a miniature bust of Marcus Aurelius, in my opinion.
There are 44 brands involved in the auction this year, offering up a wide choice of styles, and for the first time in its 10-year history the sale will be facilitated by auction house Phillips. The unique watches have been touring the world since September and will soon be arriving at their final destination in Monaco, where they will be auctioned off on 7 November at the La Réserve Genève Hotel.
While the auction catalogue is annotated with pre-sale estimates, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll get a bargain - these estimates relate to the sales tags of the standard models, not these one-off creations. “What price can you put on unique?” asks Paul Maudesley, the newly appointed head of Phillips watch division, adding that even the team working on the auction have no idea what sort of prices such singular watches will achieve until the hammer goes down. “We’re often taken by surprise, and that is the beauty and the excitement of auctions.”
Browse through The Jewellery Editor’s selection of the Top 10 watches from the Only Watch 2015 auction in the gallery on this page.