From now on, so it seemed, Philippe Dufour’s talent was off-limits to anyone other than a handful of great collectors, such as his friend Claude Sfeir, for their personal projects. Until, that is, Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo made the surprise announcement that the master watchmaker was developing a new edition of twenty Simplicity in honour of the model’s 20th anniversary. Better still, the auction house will offer Number 00/20 in rose gold at a sale to be held this November 8th in Geneva. This is news indeed for admirers of one of the most highly regarded independent watchmakers, a man with cult status in Japan, whose timepieces border on perfection in both their construction and finishing. Considering the master has produced “only” 230 watches under his own name since 1992 – a rate of around eight per year, dictated by the fact that virtually every single component is hand-made – it’s easy to imagine how many would-be owners have had their hopes dashed.
Dufour’s fans are familiar with his biography. A career that began at Jaeger-LeCoultre took him away from Switzerland to the UK and even further afield, to the Caribbean, before returning to his hometown of Le Sentier in 1974, where he worked for Gérald Genta then Audemars Piguet. In 1978 he set up on his own as a restorer of antique and vintage timepieces while producing five Grande and Petite Sonnerie pocket watches for Audemars Piguet: a herculean task that would inspire him for the next steps in a journey he would now make under his own name. In 1992 he took the watch world by storm with his inaugural piece, a Grande and Petite Sonnerie minute repeater wristwatch – something which had never been done before. Four years later he again broke new ground when the Duality became the first ever wristwatch to incorporate two regulators.
Between 2000 and 2014, Philippe Dufour made 200 Simplicity with an almost obsessive attention to detail.
Philippe Dufour embarked on his next project, Simplicity, in 2000. This would be a time-only watch, showing hours, minutes and small seconds, yet he was to be no less uncompromising than for his earlier complication models. Initially there were to be 100 of them in 34mm or 37mm diameters, cased in white gold, rose gold or platinum, with a white lacquer or silver guilloché dial, along with a small number of personalised pieces. However, as the waiting list grew longer, the master watchmaker decided he would double that number and make 200 Simplicity (the last in 2014), always with an almost obsessive attention to detail and a level of execution and craftsmanship so rarely achieved that collectors who succeeded in placing an order were prepared to wait years for delivery.
Now Philippe Dufour is about to make an additional twenty admirers exceedingly happy thanks to this limited edition of seven Simplicity in white gold, seven in rose gold and seven in platinum, one of which he is keeping for himself. They are identical to the first 200 pieces as regards the magnificently finished movement, with some small changes to the exterior. The 37mm case has been slightly modified to include a hinged back which is engraved with the watchmaker’s name, that of the watch, and the initials PD. These same initials are found at 12 o’clock on the grey dial with its guilloché centre and applied Breguet numerals, and also on the crown.
A sale held mid-October at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong gives a foretaste of what we can expect in Geneva on November 8th. Very few Simplicity have come under the hammer: the first sold in 2016 for US$ 250,000. The next two, both 37mm in white gold, fetched US$ 325,000 each at Phillips in 2019. The auction in Hong Kong is where prices really began to climb. The first specimen to cross the block – 37mm in white gold with movement n° 68 – found a taker at US$ 455,200. The second – 34mm in platinum with movement n° 100 – tripled its low estimate at US$ 662,700. For Number 00/20 in the Philippe Dufour Simplicity 20th Anniversary edition, Phillips has announced an estimate of CHF 200,000 – 400,000 (US$ 218,000 – 436,000). Collectors take note.