'Unknown' rare watch owned by Picasso offered for the first time at auction
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'Unknown' rare watch owned by Picasso offered for the first time at auction
Rare ‘Picasso watch’, Michael Z. Berger Co pour Pablo Picasso, c.1960, estimate €12,000 – 18,000. Photo: Bonhams.

PARIS.- Picasso is revered in the art world and beyond for such masterpieces as Guernica, La Vie and Girl Before a Mirror, but in the world of horology, it is a small collection of relatively humble timepieces owned by the Master of Modern Art which are admired rather than his artistic talents.

The Picasso watch bears the name of the artist himself, with the letters forming the hour markers on the dial, considered a more prestigious name than Patek Philippe or Rolex. They were worn by the artist while he painted and only two were widely known to exist, with awareness of a third, but its whereabouts unknown …until now.

The third such watch has been discovered and is, for the first time, being offered to the worldwide market by auction house Bonhams at its Paris Luxury Watch Sale at the city’s Park Hyatt Hotel on Thursday 20 May at 14.00 CEST. Its estimate is €12,000 – 18,000.

The watch offered is a manual wind steel bracelet watch by little known Swiss watch producer Michael Z. Berger, circa 1960. The silvered dial features the all-important name Pablo Picasso in black, with the letters forming the hour markers, which the case is signed M.T. Co.

This rare jewel was personally gifted by the artist to his friend and fellow creative, the late Greek sculptor Lela Kanellopoulou. She met Picasso at the Cahiers d’Art publishing house, having collaborated with Christian Zervos, who published the important Cahiers d’Art magazine and the catalogue raisoné of the works of Picasso.

According to the vendor, one of Lela’s relations, she was someone of intrigue for Picasso who gave her the pet name ‘La Belle Helene’ as a nod to her beauty, Greek nationality and background in archaeology. She told her relative that one day in the 1960s, Picasso took the watch off his wrist and gave it to her, one of a few gifts along with a ceramic of his then wife Jacqueline.

The vendor said that Lela always treasured the watch, and it was something of a talking point.

Although Picasso possessed a collection of fine watches, including a Jaeger-le-Coutre and Rolex GMT-Master, the Berger watches, which are comparatively more modest – are far more valuable as it is understood Picasso wore these watches while he painted.

Jonathan Darracott, Bonhams Global Head of Watches, commented: “This is an extraordinary find and we are thrilled to be offering this very special timepiece in our Paris Luxury sale. Just occasionally I have had a chance to hold history and intrigue in my hands in the form of a watch and this has to been one of the most befitting to make a lasting impression - the like of which I will not see again.

The fact it is clearly visible in many portraits of Picasso like the one by Cecil Beaton in his studio gives a keyhole through which to peer into a part of Picasso’s life.”

This watch is also a superb example of the 12-digit name tradition, replacing the numerals on the watch dial with the owner’s name, which goes back to the 1700s. It is rather fitting that Picasso followed this trend as he was famous for being a great self-publicist.

Two of the named dial watches are in the possession of the Picasso foundation, so this is likely the only example to be offered in the public domain – and with the unique provenance of being gifted directly by one of the 20th Century’s greatest artists.

Jonathan continued: “This is of great interest not only to watch connoisseurs but also to collectors of Picasso and we very much look forward to seeing how it is received in the saleroom.”

The Picasso watch can be viewed in advance of the sale during the auction viewings from 10 – 12 and 14 - 19 May 11.00 – 17.00 CEST and 20 May 11.00 – 12.00 CEST or privately by appointment.

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