Bonhams has secured Europe’s largest private collection of 2,000 watches, the first of which will be offered at Bonhams Fine Watch Sale in London in December.
‘The Collection of a European Nobleman’ comes from the late Jan Willem Frederik baron van Wassenaer, a member of a Dutch dynasty that dates back to the 13th Century, and features incredibly rare pieces from world-famous brands, as well as modern, independent watch makers.
After the December sale at Bonhams on New Bond Street the remainder of the collection will be auction off throughout 2016.
Jonathan Darracott, Bonhams head of watches, said: “This is one of the largest single-owner watch collections the world has ever seen. We’re delighted that Bonhams have been selected to offer the entire collection at sales throughout the coming year. Owned by a European nobleman, they’ve been stored all around his home, with new ones still untouched in boxes, vintage ones in drawers, further pieces in the safe, and others piled up high in cupboards, or on his desk. A fantastic medley of watches, a collection consisting entirely of the things he adored.
“What makes this collection so special is not simply its vastness, but the extraordinary variety of watches included. From the most renowned and exclusive watchmakers in the world, to independent manufacturers who produce only a few pieces per year.”
Leading the first instalment is a fine, exceptionally complicated 18K rose gold Audemars Piguet Grande and Petite sonnerie wristwatch, estimated at £40,000-60,000.
Further highlights include a fine and rare rectangular rose gold Glashütte tourbillon wristwatch, estimated at £20,000-£30,000, and an oversize rare and complicated rose gold IWC Spitfire Perpetual Calendar chronograph, estimated at £12,000-£18,000.
Van Wassenaer was born in The Hague on 13 March 1933 and, in his twenties, he started to collect valuables such as watches, coins, stamps and antique books. He was well known for his vast knowledge of how and where to acquire antique books, old magazines, maps and other printed valuables.
For watches, his preference was only for the more traditional, and complicated, mechanical pieces with manual winding mechanism. In buying them he implored various strategies, the most notable being to purchase watches with a serial number with emotional value: 3, 13, and 33 were his favourites. He also collected special watches from particularly rare series, such as the Omega Missions Case (serial number 3/5), and the Oris Limited Edition Explorers of the World.
The series of Longines in the collection is arguably the largest private collection ever seen. When the Longines book was produced, the brand even referred to Van Wassenaer because they knew his collection to be by far the largest.
Van Wassenaer also owned a considerable collection of Alpina watches. Rumour has it that the reason for this was because his father, who died when Van Wassenaer was just 21 years old, had owned an Alpina watch which was later lost. In buying all possible Alpina watches he believed that one day, he would also own the watch which had been his fathers.