Collector's watches go under the hammer

The late Theodor Beyer only collected the best pieces. Antiquorum

The private collection of one of Switzerland’s greatest watch experts, Theodor Beyer, is set to attract attention from all over the world on Sunday.

This content was published on November 15, 2003 - 11:46

A major auction is taking place in Zurich of pieces that have been described as a “collector’s dream”.

To those in the know, Theodor Beyer, who died in July, was a man who knew everything about watchmaking.

“It was his passion, it was his life, it was everything for him,” said his son, René, who now runs the family watch business in Zurich’s plush Bahnhofstrasse.

René Beyer is the seventh generation of the Beyer family and chairman of Chronometrie Beyer, which is the oldest watch store in Switzerland, with roots dating back to 1760.

He told swissinfo his father had travelled the world looking for the most outstanding pieces he could find.

“My father was just basically buying the best that was available. He never went for second best. He did not compromise on quality,” he explained.

Theodor Beyer’s interest in collecting timepieces came in the 1950s when an avid collector advised him that he should continue the collections of previous family generations and also start a museum.

Today, that museum has more than 500 top-quality pieces and is housed beneath the Bahnhofstrasse shop. It is a must for watch lovers visiting Zurich.

Strict instructions

It was Theodor Beyer’s love of his museum and his desire to secure its future that prompted him to leave strict instructions about his private collection.

“It was his last will that his private collection - which was not in the museum but in bank safes in Zurich - would be sold, so other and new collectors could follow in his footsteps,” said René Beyer.

“Another reason was that my father wanted to ensure that the future of the museum would never be put in doubt.”

It was perhaps typical of Theodor Beyer that he wrote down years ago that he wanted his private collection sold after his death.

He even chose the auction house and the venue for the auction.

“It’s always hard for a son to speak about his father but I must say he was a man of his word. He was a real gentleman, as many people have said, and he was a father who was very dedicated to whatever he did,” said René Beyer.

157 lots

The sale, conducted by Geneva auctioneers Antiquorum, features 157 lots. It has had previews in Geneva, New York, Tokyo and Zurich.

Osvaldo Patrizzi, chairman of Antiquorum, told swissinfo that, from a historical and technological perspective, there were two outstanding pieces.

“One is a self-winding watch made by Charles Oudin in 1807. It is important because it is one of the first self-winding watches. The craftsmanship is really, really fabulous,” he said.

“The second is a Dubois tourbillon, with very high precision made in 1820 or 1821. What is fantastic about this piece is the condition. The watch looks as though it was made yesterday,” he added.

Price tag

Patrizzi said a conservative estimate for the price of the Oudin was SFr300,000-SFr400,000 ($225,000-$300,000). He put a price tag of SFr150,000-200,000 on the Dubois.

“But I would not be surprised if they fetch much more,” he said.

But Sunday’s auction does not bring to an end the story of Theodor Beyer.

His son says he is committed to carrying on his father’s work, collecting the best horological pieces he can find to put in the museum.

“I am absolutely dedicated to do it and I feel even honoured,” he said.

“I think we have to keep up that spirit because Beyer has been very proud to be a part of the most interesting and most valuable watch brands in Switzerland,” he added.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

The roots of the Beyer family go back to the 14th century.
The first documentation of the family and watchmaking dates back to 1760 when a watchmaker called Beyer started a workshop in Feuerthalen, canton Zurich.
Around 1800, Stephan Beyer moved to the old part of the city of Zurich.
In 1875, Chronometrie moved to 25 Bahnhofstrasse.
In 1927, the company moved to its present address: 31 Bahnhofstrasse, because the Swiss Credit Bank (now Credit Suisse) needed more space.

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In brief

Theodor Beyer was considered a gentleman in the world of horology.

His private collection is considered a “collector’s dream”.

He travelled the world looking for only the best timepieces he could find.

His son, René, is the seventh generation of the family and now chairman of Chronometrie Beyer.

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