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Watch out for the barbed wire and the butterfly

MB&F

A blue butterfly trapped in barbed wire inside a watch, or a skull in another, seem hardly likely to capture the hearts of watch collectors.

This content was published on September 19, 2009 - 13:16

But these are just two examples of how watchmakers have turned their passion for their craft into trying to help find a solution for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic illness that affects one in 3,500 boys.

The watches are part of a series of 34, mostly Swiss brands that will be auctioned on September 24 in Monaco at the Only Watch event. Before then, the watches will have gone on a world tour and have caught the eye of those who love timepieces.

"The watch brands create either a unique piece specially for the Only Watch auction, they donate a prototype or they create the first of a very small series, so this is the first one that is made," Ita McCobb, head of marketing at the Patrizzi & Co auctioneer house in Geneva, told swissinfo.ch.

"Most of the watches are engraved Only Watch so that makes it unique anyway, even if it's the first of a small series."

McCobb, who spent several months visiting all the watch brands, said it had been a "once in a lifetime experience" for her to put together the auction catalogue.

A story

As she put it, every watch in the auction has a story and so does the brand behind it.

"For me, it's been a real eye opener because I know that watch manufacturers and watchmakers are really passionate about their subject but they're also passionate about helping people. It's incredible the way they've taken the idea on board and developed it."

It is perhaps a little unfair to single out individual watches because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are those that tend to stick out.

One is the visual concept of a butterfly trapped in barbed wire in a watch produced by MB&F.

"Max Büsser took his Horological Machine No 2 and almost completely redesigned it to be able to carry this barbed wire motif, which is gold, and a little blue butterfly with clipped wings. It's the story of these children; they're like butterflies with clipped wings," McCobb explained.

Controversial skull?

Another watch, produced by Bell & Ross, is also causing much interest. It features a skull, which some people might at first sight consider controversial. But there's more to the watch than meets the eye.

The company produced a piece entirely set with black and white diamonds. The black diamonds covering the case are contrasted with glittering white diamonds on the dial and give a startling light.

Bell & Ross say they chose the model as a strong symbol to represent the risks that children with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy face every day, as well as their courage and will.

Their watch in its original version was developed to pay tribute to soldiers who fought during the Second World War, particularly the paratroopers of the US Airborne divisions.

The skull was one of the emblems they wore on their uniforms as a symbol of courage in the face of death.

If you still think it's controversial, take another look. The skull is smiling!

Working roulette

Other watches that will no doubt cause a stir in the auction room are Vacheron-Constantin's Quai de l'Ile featuring sophisticated security printing, Franck Muller's watch that has a working roulette wheel in it to reflect the casino at Monaco, and Patek Philippe's Celestial with Date.

"The one thing they all had in common was the passion for the event... but then everybody had a completely different idea of how they saw the Only Watch piece being.

"In some places where I went there were hundreds of people working on creating the Only Watch, in other places there was just one. It was a real eye opener," McCobb said.

What she didn't bargain for was the difficulty in finding the watchmakers for the catalogue entries. It seems they didn't make life easy, especially high up in the Jura mountains where some of the more notable houses are located.

"If there's one problem all these watchmakers seem to have, it is a reluctance to put their name on their premises. I can't explain it at all.

"I think they're so passionate about what they're doing, they don't think about that."

The auction is set to attract not only collectors of particular brands but also those who attend the prestigious Monaco Yacht Show, of which the auction is a part.

Elitist?

If it all sounds a little elitist, McCobb says this does not apply to all the collectors.

She explains that those who bid will be collectors whose passion is watches, not their home or collection of toy aircraft. Then there are the people who come to the yacht show who may want to buy something because it catches their eye.

Estimating how much the auction will fetch is anyone's guess.

"It would be wrong to estimate the price of these pieces; the value is whatever people will pay for them because it is going to such a good cause. It's going to be quite a difficult auction to know where to start the bidding," McCobb said.

"The last auction raised €2.7 million (SFr4.14 million) and given these economic times we'd be quite happy if we did something close to that."

Robert Brookes in Geneva, swissinfo.ch

In brief

Suggestion of possible prices:

Confrérie Horlogère: SFr350,000-500,000

Cabestan: SFr280,000-350,000

Patek Philippe: SFr180,000-320,000

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Key facts

World Tour of Only Watch timepieces

Park Hyatt Shanghai: July 29-30
Patrizzi & Co, Geneva: August 27-29
Asprey, London: September 3-5
Tourneau TimeMachine, New York: September 10-12
Pisa Orologeria, Milan: September 17-18
Auction: September 24 in Monaco

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Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

DMD is a rare genetic illness affecting one boy out of 3,500.

It is a severely degenerating disease, characterised by a progressive weakening of muscles and leading to pulmonary and cardiac complications that can jeopardise the functioning of vital organs.

Children affected by DMD are increasingly dependent on constant help.

It is an incurable disease that affects tens of thousands of children around the world.

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