The one and only

It’s a uniquely satisfying concept – the world’s most rare and sought-after watches, all in one epic auction in aid of a truly worthy cause. As Only Watch approaches its 10th edition GMT GCC explores its beginnings and aims, and prepares for its horological gems to hit Dubai’s shores before going under the gavel in Geneva.

An invisible charge crackled in the air. The salon of Geneva’s Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues fell silent as the 2019 Only Watch auction’s star lot, a unique Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, took its turn at the rostrum. The excitement was palpable, and barely a whisper could be heard in the room – but then, the unbelievable happened. As a one-of-a-kind Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime with a reserve of CHF2,500,000-3,000,000, there was always going to be a spectacular show. But as the bids crept into the tens of millions there was a dawning realisation that something truly extraordinary was happening.

When the gavel came down at CHF31 million, the room broke into rapturous applause. The gathered crowd had just witnessed the highest price ever paid for a watch – and best of all, each penny of its price would go towards research into saving lives all over the world.

This is just one of the exceptional moments that Luc Pettavino’s hard work and heartbreak have created since he founded the uniquely captivating Only Watch concept in 2005. Spurred on by a fatherly instinct to do everything he could to ensure that his son Paul, who had been diagnosed with incurable degenerative disorder Duchenne muscular dystrophy [DMD] at just four years old, was given the very best chance in life that science could offer, Luc – over the course of a few years – made the seemingly impossible happen. He brought together the watch industry in a show of incredible generosity and solidarity in what would eventually become a feel-good spectacular that takes place every two years.

Paul attended every auction until passing away in 2016 at the young age of just 21. In his short life he saw his father’s idea grow from a concept sparked by a meeting with late Swatch Group chairman Nicolas Hayek and floated to various watchmakers in the course of Luc’s then-position as CEO and shareholder of the Monaco Yacht Show, to gaining the unwavering support of HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco and becoming an important date in the industry’s collective diary. And Paul’s untimely death wasn’t the end of Only Watch – in fact, Luc’s commitment to the cause is as unwavering as ever.

“One cannot get bored of Only Watch,” said Luc, at the latest auction’s announcement. “We are preparing the 10th edition, yet all participating brands, partners, media, collectors, donators, supporters, and us, the organizers feel joy and excitement because we know for a fact that it is going to be once again an ‘everestic’, festive moment of creativity where generosities will meet other generosities to do good to others in need, and by doing so, to ourselves. I am grateful for all of us to be able to create this together and have such a great impact. We also get to show the world it’s possible to organise great rallies for great causes when people’s hearts and minds are in the right place.”  

The concept is simple – the ‘Only Project’ raises funds for research on Duchenne muscular dystrophy by auctioning one-off watches. The execution – not so simple. It takes an army of labour to not only complete and donate the unique timepieces, but also to provide the infrastructure that allows the auction to flourish. Ferrari take care of the transport, while Christie’s holds the gavel. The venue has changed from time to time, with PALEXPO the current auction host. But one thing all these services have in common is clear – it’s done free of charge to maximise the amount that’ll go towards research into finding a cure for DMD, which also benefits similar degenerative conditions. 

The Association Monégasque contre les Myopathies is the charitable organisation behind Only Watch, which has so far raised almost CHF100 million to fund the association’s scientific research. An international network of public and private laboratories focuses on developing new treatments such as gene therapy, cell therapy and the repair of mutated nucleic acids, while the money raised at Only Watch has so far financed two biotech organisations, one of which is launching a clinical trial of a drug fully funded by Only Watch proceeds. The charity has also financed more than 50 researchers around the world, encouraging connections through roundtables and initiatives that are hoped will accelerate research. 

But it’s not just about achieving the charity’s aims – the reason for Only Watch’s runaway success is of course down to the generosity and creativity of the watch brands. The auction’s catalogues read like watch lover fan-fiction, with unlikely creations and outlandish pairings making for fascinating reading. From Richard Mille’s frankly bonkers shamanic necklace-watch (estimated to go for CHF600,000-800,000) to Biver’s sublime offering of ‘Catharsis’, a minute repeater carillon tourbillon with no visible time display, but full of gem-setting expertise, its estimate of CHF500,000-700,000 is sure to rock some boats. Patek Philippe’s offering has neither image nor estimate – yet – but intended as a celebration for honorary president Philippe Stern’s 85th birthday, with a movement exclusively designed and produced for this watch, excitement will be running high.

This year’s selection seems to be especially colourful, with the auction reaching something of a peak on its 10th anniversary – all the more reason to be excited about these timepieces coming to Dubai during October. As the last stop on a global tour to demonstrate the watches to a worldwide audience, the show will come to Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons on 27 October before making its final trip back to Geneva ready for the auction on 5 November. It’s an amazing opportunity to look and dream about bidding on your fantasy watch – especially because Only Watch has taught us that dreams can come true. And when they are in aid of a worthy cause that makes the dream all the sweeter. We can’t wait to see what happens come November.

The Only Watch world tour will come to Dubai on 27 October at Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, Museum of the Future, Sheikh Zayed Road, from 10am-1pm and 4pm-10pm. The 10th Only Watch auction will take place on 5 November at 2pm at PALEXPO, Geneva.