Thomas Perazzi’s collection merges emotion and erudition
In Wrist Watch – a column devoted to ‘observing watches’ in nature – our resident watch writer Randy Lai chats with key people whose collections exhibit some aspect of excellence (eg, craftsmanship, rarity, historicity) . In the run-up to Refresh: Reload – Phillips’ first multi-category online sale, which will take place later this month – he chats with Thomas Perazzi, the auction house’s director of watches and curator – seasoned auctioneer.
Very occasionally, I get the impulse to surreptitiously slip into the world of professional watch auctions. In the short time I have spent with the various scholars, cataloguers and so-called “white whales” (every big house has a handful of them on the speed dial), “Thomas Perazzi” is a name that is pronounced with alacrity. .
The Italian-Swiss auction veteran joined Phillips in 2017 and immediately set himself the difficult task of growing his watch department. exponentially in Hong Kong. I would say he did well. Despite a series of social and economic challenges (which continue to rock the region), in the end, Phillips Hong Kong walked away with HK $ 330 million in watch sales last year. Much of this market-leading performance is due to new strategies that Perazzi is constantly testing: whether it’s a groundbreaking thematic sale co-hosted with Blackbird; a desire to rapidly change the online auction experience; or chair the first authentic sale “white glove” in Asia.
The financial crises brought on by CoViD-19 have impressed all the major players how vital it is to have a solid infrastructure for digital sales, but Perazzi’s main focus of course remains the very physical watch auctions of Hong Kong. Held every spring for the past 10 years, it is widely regarded as the most publicized watch auction in Hong Kong (and by extension, throughout Asia).
The last time I spoke to Perazzi, he was wading through the difficult process of building the catalog: overseeing the shipping, research and photography of hundreds of pieces that will eventually come up for auction. Coincidentally, this was the perfect time to take a look at some of its own watches – which you’ll see photographed in the style of the Phillips catalog below.
As you would expect from a man who has spent nearly two decades in European auction houses, Perazzi’s personal taste comes across as a blend of diversity and sophistication. The crossing line? Each timepiece is always the best possible version of a given design. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: on some level, you could say that Perazzi was “passionate about watches” long before he even envisioned auctioning as a career. “In fact, my love affair with watches started when I was eight years old,” Perazzi said. “I always tell people that I was a ‘victim of Swatch marketing’ [laughs]. In the 90s, the brand was extremely popular, and for my birthdays and Christmas, I was always very excited to get my hands on the latest Swatch watches.
What is surprising, however, is how sentimental Perazzi can be about the notion of collecting: of five pieces I was shown, three were linked to deeply moving memories of his private life. All were designed by independent companies – many of which are still family businesses, which today value relationships as much as bottom lines. I jokingly hinted that it couldn’t be a coincidence. “Of course, I pay attention to the brand, the historical value, the model and the overall quality,” he shrugged bonhomie. “Corn [and this is the important part] I always buy what I like. Wisdom and affection is a winning combination.
Tissot vintage chronograph
“This watch was given to me by my grandfather, who was a member of the Swiss Olympic bobsleigh team. He wore it the day he won bronze at the 1952 Winter Olympics (in Oslo). Although she is almost 70 years old now, she is still in fairly good condition. It was manufactured circa 1950-1951 and is a reliable and robust steel chronograph with “oversized” pushers. Oversized push-piece chronographs produced in the 1950s are rather rare, which makes this example even more attractive. To this day, this is the only vintage Tissot watch I own and still wear occasionally.
Rolex Sea-Dweller 16600
“The Sea-Dweller is one of the most distinguished diving watches in history and, for me personally, one of the most beloved Rolex watches. My parents bought this example as a gift for my 20th birthday, and at the time (2000) it was a brand new version. Rolex initially released the Sea-Dweller in 1967, with the model’s biggest technical innovation being a helium exhaust valve. In the 1960s, most watches were not equipped to dive to great depths without breaking: the helium exhaust valve allowed gaseous helium, which accumulates as divers. descended, to break free upon decompression.
De Bethune DB25 (unique piece)
“This piece was another very meaningful gift, this time from my wife on our wedding day. It is unique because, unlike regular production DB25s, it does not have a red indicator for the power reserve. My wife had specifically asked De Bethune to change the color of the power reserve indicator to blue – to match the signature blue Roman numerals. Founded in 2002, the independent Swiss company manufacturing De Bethune quickly forged a reputation for excellence in the world of independent watchmaking. The brand only manufactures a few dozen watches per year, combining centuries-old know-how and cutting-edge technology. The DB25 is a perfect encapsulation of De Bethune’s philosophy: it is not beholden to the past, and has a sense of forward inertia; mixing new ideas, traditional aesthetic craftsmanship and extremely technical movement making.
Patek Philippe ‘World Time’ 5230
“I bought this Patek Philippe World Time (circa 2018) to celebrate the birth of my son. In the case of ref. 5230, the manufacturing imbibed the classic designs of its previous models to relaunch the iconic Patek Philippe global timer. The white gold case is beautiful and very carefully crafted; in addition to the breathtaking, handmade guilloche dial. Beautiful and extremely useful, the World Clock Complication was a major breakthrough when it was introduced in the early 19th century.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 26237
“This is a reissue launched by Audemars Piguet in 2018 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Royal Oak Offshore. It was produced in limited numbers and features a redesigned movement.
When launched in 1972, the original Royal Oak took the watch world by storm, changing the watchmaking landscape by introducing the first true sports watch design. 21 years later, the brand was to radically change the situation again with the launch of its Offshore injected with testosterone: the equivalent in high quality watchmaking at the Bentley Bentayga. Talented in-house designer Emmanuel Gueit has been given the seemingly impossible task of preserving Royal Oak’s now iconic design, but infusing it with a more raw and potent quality. It took Gueit and his team four years to bring the concept to life, with the last watch presented at Baselworld in 1993. Shortly after, the Offshore was dubbed ‘The Beast’, thanks to its 42mm case – a size considered amazing at the time. No doubt, I would even say that it single-handedly set the trend for large watches: now sort of a standard in the industry today.
The Refresh: Reload cross-category sale will run May 20-28, 2020. To learn more, visit Phillips online.