Last year saw the highest annual total in Sotheby’s history to watch sales, with a 22% increase from 2018. Driven by record prices, and enthusiasm generated among international collectors, auction sales topped $109 million.

“This has been a historic year for our team, reflective of the ever-growing fascination with watches around the world,” said Sam Hines, Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s Watches. “Propelled by the sales of exceptional property, careful sourcing, and fast-expanding online sales, these results prove that, for many collectors, watches transcend the pure function of timekeeping. The appearance of masterpieces by horological pioneers, such as George Daniels’ record-breaking ‘Space Traveller’, also has a spin-off effect on all levels of the market, bringing people to fully appreciate the vision, tradition, exceptional craftmanship and technical prowess that can be found in a watch.”

George Daniels, London, The Space Traveler I, 1982
George Daniels, London, The Space Traveler I, 1982

Pocket watches stole the show this year, with “Masterworks of Time”, one of the most important collections of timepieces remaining in private hands, setting many landmarks. With two additional auctions scheduled in 2020, the first wave of auctions has already brought $15.8 million, thereby surpassing the low estimate for the entire 800-watch strong collection (est. $15-27m). Two of the highest prices of the year were achieved in London in July: World record for a timepiece by an independent watchmaker and an English watch: George Daniels’ legendary “Space Traveller I” (pictured), rocketed to a sky-high $4.6m – over 30 times the price set by the watch 31 years ago. Conceived to honor the astronauts that the great watchmaker so admired, this is one of the most technically accomplished watches of all time.

Jehan Cremsdorff - Gold Enamel and diamond-set verge watch 1650
Jehan Cremsdorff – Gold Enamel and diamond-set verge watch 1650

Record for a 17th-Century Watch: A masterpiece of enamel, Jehan Cremsdorff’s extraordinary gold, enamel, and diamond-set verge watch, realized $2.7m. When this watch last appeared at auction in 1986, it took collectors by storm, soaring to CHF 1.8 million ($998,336) – then the highest price for any pocket watch ever sold at auction.

IW9 Big Pilot watch - Worn by Bradley Cooper at the 91st Academy Awards
IW9 Big Pilot watch worn by Bradley Cooper at the 91st Academy Awards

Online-only sales have doubled in value since 2018. Many of these were driven by innovative thematic and partner sales. For example in February, an IWC Big Pilot’s watch that was worn by Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper while attending and performing at the 91st Academy Awards ceremony sold for $75,000. Proceeds went to the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation.

Paul Newman Rolex Daytona
Paul Newman Rolex Daytona

A possibly unique and previously unknown Cosmograph Daytona, reference 16528 in yellow gold with a red dial and suspended logo, circa 1990 more than double the pre-sale low estimate to achieve US$ 541,200 in Hong Kong in October. Made circa 1968, a Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona (pictured), reference 6239 in yellow gold sold for US$ 515,500 in Geneva in November 2019.

Frères Rochat Double singing bird cage - circa 1815 - Sotheby's Geneva 11 November 2019
Frères Rochat Double singing birdcage – circa 1815 – Sotheby’s Geneva 11 November 2019

Record for a contemporary clock by Cartier: The “Le Temple chinois au Dragon” mystery clock, made for the Chinese market in 1989, soared to US$1.03m in Hong Kong in April 2019. A highlight of the “Masterworks of Time” sale in Geneva in November, a gold, enamel and diamond-set hour striking musical double singing birdcage with a timepiece made by Frères Rochat realized US$1.01m. Created for the Chinese market circa 1815, it was one of just three of this type ever made (pictured). Record for a Clock by Vacheron Constantin: a jewel-like Art Deco timepiece, circa 1926, also part of the “Masterworks of Time” collection achieved US$ 667,467 in London in July 2019. Record for a Cartier Comet Clock: a superb example in agate, diamonds, and enamel from circa 1925 brought $350,000 in New York in June 2019.