Another big number has been dropped on a vintage Omega wristwatch at auction. This one isn’t a Speedmaster – we’ve certainly read about a couple of those in recent weeks – but a tourbillon. A tourbillon, you say? It’s true that this is hardly the first complication that springs to mind when one thinks of Omega. But the fact is the Omega that just sold at Phillips Geneva Six is among the very first wristwatch tourbillons ever made, dating from way back in 1947, long before tourbillon wristwatches had a chance to become cool, and even longer before some deemed them passé. And now it is the most expensive Omega ever sold at auction, bringing in CHF 1,428,500.
As Jack wrote in an article introducing this lot only a couple of days ago, the story of Omega’s first tourbillon wristwatch is indeed inside baseball, but knowing that story goes a long way toward explaining why a watchmaker associated with precision sports watches and chronometers would be interested in making a tourbillon.
During the middle part of the last century, when Omega was a leader in the many observatory trials that saw watchmakers vying for chronometric bragging rights, Omega put forward a wristwatch movement equipped with a tourbillon escapement. It was all about harnessing precision and winning accolades in the face of stiff competition from American and British timepieces. According to the Omega Museum, only one of these Tourbillon 301 Movements was ever cased up into a proper wristwatch at the time (though others were cased up later), and this is that very watch.
The pre-sale estimate of this lot was a paltry CHF 100,000 – 200,000, but as you can see, the bidding blew right past that figure to arrive at CHF 1,428,500. This was expected, though, as many people observing the sale speculated that the Omega Museum itself, wanting to own an important part of Omega – and watchmaking – history, would figure among the contenders for this lot. The previous record holder was a platinum Omega Constellation that sold at Antiquorum in 2007 or CHF 413,700.
There are some other major lots still to come in the second half of the Phillips Six auction, and we’re watching them closely. Stay tuned from more from Geneva.