We all know that Vacheron Constantin’s original integrated sport replica watches for sale, the 222, is back and better than ever after its yellow-gold revival at Watches & Wonders last month. The question that’s been on my mind ever since, however, is exactly how its resurrection might impact collector attention in the original vintage examples. Well, over the next four days, we’ll find out – Phillips has three 222s, in all three original metals, up for grabs today and tomorrow as part of Geneva Watch Auction XV, while Sotheby’s will follow up on Tuesday with vintage 222 options in yellow gold or stainless steel.
As Jack pointed out in his W&W coverage of the revival release, the original 222 is a fairly rare bird. Over an initial production period of seven years, far fewer than a thousand examples were created, with no more than 500 in stainless steel, 150 or so in yellow gold, and not even 100 in two-tone. That’s far, far fewer 1:1 UK fake watches out there than, say, the original Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ref. 5402 or the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 3700.
Historically, however, that low number hasn’t resulted in any increased desire for vintage 222 replica watches wholesale. Just take a look over in the Shop for proof – we sold a full-set, two-tone 222 from 1981 less than three years ago for $19,000. That’s below the low estimate that Phillips, an auction house notorious for lowballing its estimates, has set for the two-tone 222 going under the hammer tomorrow.
Although interest in the 222 was slow for years, there’s been a gradual increase in attention over the past 48 months, especially as the demand (and prices) for AAA best copy watches like the Royal Oak and Nautilus have risen. The newfound recognition started to peak last November, when a stainless steel 222 sold at Phillips Geneva for CHF 157,500, a world record for the reference at the time and five times its estimated value. That’s a higher number than what comparable examples of the Royal Oak 5402 and Nautilus 3711 went for in the same sale.
Earlier today, during Session I of Geneva Watch Auction XV, Phillips sold a yellow-gold 222 example for CHF 163,800 all-in and a stainless steel 222 for CHF 189,000, breaking the record for a vintage 222 at auction each time once again. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow, when an even rarer two-tone 222 goes up as part of Session II at Phillips, to see where it lands.
“I think collectors are starting to appreciate its design,” says Alexandre Ghotbi, the head of Continental Europe and the Middle East for Phillips Watch Department. “Even though it has that ’70s, Genta-ish look, it’s still very different from the Nautilus and the Royal Oak. I do think that the 222 has been gaining momentum, and the fact that Vacheron has brought out a new version should bring even more interest to the high quality replica watches.”
It’s not uncommon for a new, vintage-inspired release from a watchmaker to spur desire for the original. Examples abound from the past decade-plus, but you need look no further than earlier this year with the story of the Girard-Perregaux Casquette. Interest in the once-ignored 1970s quartz-powered oddball skyrocketed after the now-independent Swiss watchmaker resurrected its long-forgotten digital perfect super clone watches.
Over the past few weeks, collectors have wondered aloud about what seems to be a gradual stabilization in the prices for vintage and pre-owned top fake watches. I plan to delve into this in a bit more detail in my upcoming post-auction week coverage, but I will say now that I think the 222 lots at Sotheby’s and Phillips should be safe from any potential downturn. There’s no manufactured scarcity at play – vintage examples of the 222 are legitimately uncommon, and they were already growing in popularity months before Swiss movements replica Vacheron Constantin watches shined a bright light on its past.
Now that the spotlight is turned on, I can’t imagine it going away anytime soon.