Better than any butterfly... The $465,000 caterpillar at Sotheby's fine watches sale

Sotheby's autumn sale of Important Watches in Geneva is bringing together an impressive range of timepieces charting the evolution of watchmaking from 1620 to the present day.

The auction will be spearheaded by an exceptional selection of very rare enamel timepieces, made for the Chinese and Turkish markets during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the highlights will sound familiar, some less so:

An 18k yellow gold automatic triple calendar wristwatch with moon-phases will be offered early in the sale, showing the classic design skills of Rolex.

It boasts automatic movement, an 18 jewel silvered dial, luminescent accents, with apertures for day and month in French, and the aperture for moon-phases combined with constant seconds. It is listed at 100,000-150,000 Swiss Francs (around $103,000-155,000)

A fine and rare 18k yellow gold Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon-phases and registers is based on a manual winding movement stamped with the seal of Geneva.

Patek Philippe gold wristwatch
Patek Philippe gold wristwatch

The fine timepiece show a 20 jewel silvered dial, applied faceted square and baton indexes, three subsidiary dials for constant seconds, a 30-minute register and the date combined with fan form aperture for moon-phases. The stunning piece is expected to sell for around 200,000 - 250,000 Swiss Francs.

The extraordinary, dazzling and frankly weird centrepiece to the auction however is not a watch at all, though it is a piece of jewellery which required great engineering skill.

The 'Ethiopian Caterpillar' is a rare gold, enamel, diamond-, pearl-, ruby-, emerald- and turquoise-set automaton er... caterpillar, thought to have been created at some time around 1820.

Jewelled Ethiopean caterpillar
Jewelled Ethiopean caterpillar

The body is realistically designed to represent a caterpillar, comprising eleven jointed ring segments, framed by seed pearls, and decorated with translucent red enamel over an engine-turned ground.

Studded overall with gold-set rubies, turquoise, emeralds, and diamonds the underside is decorated with champlevé black enamel and when the automaton movement is engaged, the caterpillar crawls realistically by means of a set of gilt-metal knurled wheels.

It is hoped to achieve a bid of 350,000-450,000 Swiss Francs (up to $467,000) in Sotheby's sale, which takes place on November 14 in Geneva and online.


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