Going Beyond Time: How Luxury Watchmakers are Giving Back Through Philanthropic Efforts
“You never really own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” So reads the most successful advertising slogan in horology, which has served the Geneva-based watchmaker splendidly since 1996. The copywriting resonates so much because Patek’s commitment to a sense of patrimony extends not only to creating heirlooms that will be passed down a family line, but also to caring for the next generation of human beings—children’s causes are close to the company’s heart.
This was amply demonstrated on November 9, when a unique timepiece generously donated by Patek Philippe to the Only Watch charity auction went under the hammer for a record CHF31 million (about HK$245 million). The one-of-a-kind, salmon-dial Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010 stole past the 1920s Patek pocket watch known as the Graves Supercomplication, which was auctioned for US$24 million (about HK$190 million) in 2014, to set a lofty new record for most expensive watch ever sold.
The sum is all the more remarkable in light of the fact that the Only Watch Grandmaster Chime carries its extraordinary arsenal of 20 complications within a case made not of gold or platinum, but stainless steel. (Somewhat counter-intuitively, collectors’ item steel Pateks often fetch prices higher than the brand’s precious metal watches, thanks to their relative rarity compared to ‘common’ gold.)
Virtually the entire watchmaking industry rallies behind Only Watch, a charity auction held once every two years, offering unique timepieces made and donated by the biggest names in horology specifically for the event. The charitable endeavour raises funds for research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a debilitating genetic disorder that afflicts children. It was founded in 2005 by Luc Pettavino, whose son suffered from muscular dystrophy, eventually dying of the illness.
In one stroke, the sale of the Patek nearly doubled the total funds raised to date by Only Watch, which up until this year’s auction had reaped around CHF40 million. Thanks in large part to the Patek’s record result, the take at the 2019 auction amounted to CHF38.5 million (around HK$304 million), with other standout sales including lots from FP Journe (CHF1.8 million), Audemars Piguet (CHF1 million) and Tudor (CHF350,000).
Separately, Patek has regularly donated unique timepieces to be auctioned in aid of the charity Children Action. Its motto reading “The first human right is to have a childhood,” this Geneva-headquartered foundation runs youth-focused programmes around the world, including initiatives to provide underprivileged children with access to medical treatment, cancer care, psycho-social support and better nutrition.
The latest donation from Patek to be auctioned in support of Children Action, a unique custom Calatrava Pilot Travel Time (Ref. 5524), went for a record CHF2.3 million in 2018. A titanium Patek annual calendar watch (Ref. 5396T) fetched CHF1 million for the charity in 2015.
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Children Action also benefited from the 2018 auction of a unique timepiece, the Homage to Walter Lange, which achieved the highest result of any A. Lange & Söhne ever sold at auction: CHF700,000. The one-off watch—with a 40.5mm case in stainless steel (a material used very rarely by Lange until this year’s introduction of the sporty Odysseus model) and a black enamel dial—was created as a tribute to the company’s late proprietor, Walter Lange, who died in 2017 aged 92.
“Throughout [Lange’s] life, the well-being of disadvantaged young people was a matter especially close to his heart,” Lange CEO Wilhelm Schmid explained in the lead-up to the auction. “Personally, I was won over by the fact that Children Action works together exclusively with medical experts and guarantees the efficient allocation of the resources it is entrusted with.” After the gavel fell, Schmid remarked, “The result went well beyond our expectations. I’m particularly pleased that we can make a major contribution to Children Action’s important work, just as Walter Lange intended.”
Quickly following the charity’s establishment in 2008, IWC Schaffhausen forged an ongoing partnership with the Fondation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This organisation, founded by descendants of the famed French author and aviator, works to further Saint-Exupéry’s humanist aims. Its initiatives include literacy and other educational programmes to help disadvantaged children and young people facing challenging circumstances. The long-term goal is to help these individuals fulfil their potential and provide them with better prospects in life.
IWC Schaffhausen creates special-edition Fondation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry pilot’s timepieces supporting the charity and unique watches that are auctioned to raise funds. Proceeds from auctions have been used to finance activities including the building of schools and establishment of libraries in Cambodia, installing a library in a children’s hospital in Brazil, and to help educate the disenfranchised Karen people of northwestern Thailand.
The watchmaker is also a major backer of the Laureus Sport for Good foundation, which helps uplift youth in underserved communities globally through sports training and mentorship.
Cartier Philanthropy focuses on addressing the challenges faced by women in economically deprived communities. A key area is girls’ education in developing countries, which has countless associated benefits not only for the individual girls, but also their families, communities and countries as a whole. Statistically, the longer a girl in a developing country stays in school, the more likely she is to one day build a small, healthy family, avoid contracting HIV and earn a higher wage. The more educated a young woman is, the later she’ll tend to marry and have children—and the more likely it is that her children will be educated and brought up in good health.
For these reasons, among its numerous other activities, Cartier Philanthropy is supporting Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Programme. This programme gives thousands of girls in Bangladesh and Cambodia (where there are particularly egregious gender disparities) the opportunity to complete secondary school—and the chance at a better life, for them and their family.
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H Moser & Cie has also thrown its weight behind Room to Read’s mission to eradicate illiteracy and gender inequality. This year, Moser created two special-edition watches, proceeds from the sale of which will support the charity, whose literacy programmes have helped almost 17 million children across 16 countries. The auction pieces, both white-gold Endeavour Centre Seconds Automatic models on kudu leather straps, feature dials decorated with paintings based on art created by children attending Room to Read’s Literacy Program in India and Sri Lanka. The brand’s recent two auctions brought in a total of CHF63,000 (about HK$500,000) you’ll be pleased to read. As will the numerous children who’ll benefit from the funds raised.
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