When Provenance Doesn’t Matter

A few years back, a Miami antiques dealer asked us to partner with him on a Breguet watch. I was skeptical about this, since 99 percent of the Breguet watches brought to us are not authentic. (Breguet is the most faked watch in the world.) Complicated men’s Breguet watches have brought almost a million dollars at auction. In addition to my skepticism about the manufacturer, the Miami jeweler said it had belonged to a princess.

breguet watch
back view breguet watch


A Genuine Breguet Watch Owned By A Princess

In our business, pretty much everyone has an item that once belonged to some sort of royalty. Typically, this family lore is ultimately discounted. Nevertheless, I asked that it be sent to me to see if I wanted to partner with him for $5,000, which would be a steal if it were a genuine Breguet and owned by a princess. Much to my surprise, it indeed resembled a later Breguet — and did appear to have a Russian royalty symbol on the back. I called my contact at the Breguet factory in Switzerland and he quickly confirmed via email that this was a genuine Breguet watch and indeed belonged to a Russian princess — Princess Wolkonsky.

A quick Google search showed that she ran in a circle with many famous people — including the composer Rachmaninoff, who was her grandfather. Breguet noted that they even had the service records for this watch; however, it had been converted to a wristwatch from a pendant watch and the conversion wasn’t done by them.

sophia wolkonsky photo



Now I had a decision to make. This would be only the second Breguet I’d owned in my career and the provenance was rock solid, but the watch had problems. It was converted to a wristwatch, the winding crown was a crude replacement, the bracelet was a more recently manufactured gold-filled one, and, finally, it was a ladies’ watch. (For some reason, women’s watches have never commanded the premium of men’s watches. The most prevalent theory about that is that mostly men collect watches — which isn’t always true.)

At the end of the day, I partnered with the Miami dealer. Sadly, the results were not good. In spite of it being the finest watch made in the world and the Russian princess provenance, we ultimately lost money. Of course, this was years ago and today the results might be different. The retail value is way over $20,000, but, in this case, the fair market value was less than $5,000.

This is an archival article formerly written and is for informational purposes only. The valuations in this article have likely changed since it was first written.

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