Published: August 31, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Hess Fine Auctions
ST PETERSBURG, FLA.- Outside of a coffee table by contemporary designer Ado Chale, Hess Fine Auctions’ August 21 sale brought the bling. It was rings, watches – even conceptual renderings of watches – that rounded out the sale’s top lots. Examples from Patek Philippe performed the strongest, with others from Rolex, Omega, Cartier and a fine selection of Hamilton Electrics taking other notable results.
Belgian contemporary designer Ado Chale’s “Goutte d’eau” or “water drop” aluminum and blackened steel leg coffee table sold for $30,600 to lead the sale. The top features a motif of concentric circles, emulating the ripple effect of a drop in water. It came to sale from a Florida waterfront estate of a Belgian businessman who was retiring to the south of France. From the same estate was a set of four black wood and leather chairs, which sold considerably more modestly at $500.
The sale’s top watch was a Patek in platinum with diamonds on the dial. The ref 2429 dial watch had a 33mm case width and sold for $21,875. In 18K gold including the band was a 3733 man’s watch that brought $5,880. Behind at $3,720 was a Patek man’s watch with an 18K gold bezel outside of a blue dial. The watch was made circa 1970 with an aftermarket crocodile strap.
Two collections of Hamilton Electric watches combined for 39 lots. Auctioneer Jeffrey Hess first wrote about Hamilton Electric designer Richard Arbib in a piece published in Ed Faber’s book, American Wristwatches: Five Decades of Style and Design.
“Everyone was all aflutter those days in the 1980s, saying who designed this or that,” said Hess. “I called up every former Hamilton employee that I could trying to find the designer of these watches, no one knew. Finally a retired employee said, ‘That’s Richard Arbib, he’s still alive and lives in New York.'”
Hess went to meet with Arbib, who by this point was in his 70s and living in a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan.
“He was a nice guy. His apartment was stuffed to the ceiling with renderings from his entire career, from vacuum cleaners to cars, but as a watch guy back then, a young man in my thirties, I was only interested in watches and bought from only the watch stuff.”
Arbib was responsible for many forward-looking designs, applying a sense of futurism to a number of car models from Packard to the AMC Hudson line. His watches were no different, applying an asymmetrical modernist approach that has created lasting secondary market collectability.
“All he wanted to talk about was the future of dirigibles in America,” Hess remembered. “He thought they were going to come back and become a prime source of transportation.”
Hess procured a number of Arbib’s renderings and offered them in the sale.
A group of five paintings dated 1959 sold for $12,188. Each painting featured a different Hamilton Electric watch including the Everest, Spectra, Altair, Ventura and Vega models. Top among the Hamilton watches was the Ventura model in 14K gold with original box, papers, tags and band that sold for $5,160.
It featured a dual-toned band, something Hess said Arbib envisioned.
“He pushed the envelope so much that Hamilton squashed a lot of his designs because they were impossible to make,” Hess said. “He also wanted the bands of the watches to be integrated in some kind of color schematic, which was only done on the Ventura. Hamilton told him it was too expensive.”
Another Ventura in 14K white gold brought $4,560, while a gold-filled Altair with original mesh bracelet sold for $2,875.
Among Rolexes was a Tudor wristwatch featuring an image of a map of Saudi Arabia across the dial with Arabic text. Auctioneer Jeffrey Hess said it came from the descendant of a Saudi oil executive. It sold for $6,563.
Robert Indiana produced a series of 100 “LOVE” rings in solid 18K gold in 1966. An example numbered 34 that weighed in at 24.2 dwt would sell for $21,250. It came from a Manhattan collection. Other modernist rings would sell well, including two Cartier rings designed by Jean Dinh Van. The square-shaped bands were a signature of the designer and both were of the form. One 18K example with a gold sphere rising from the band sold for $3,360, while one with a central peridot brought $3,120.
Hess said he still has more Hamilton watches and Arbib renderings. Stay tuned.
All prices reported include buyer’s premium. For more information, www.hessfineart.com or 727-896-0622.
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