Huge collection of more than 5,800 Swatch watches up for auction in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AFP) - One of the biggest private collections of Swatch watches in the world will go under the hammer in Hong Kong this week and is expected to fetch more than US$1.3 million (S$1.76 million).

Credited with breathing new life into the ailing Swiss watch industry after its launch in 1983, Swatch quickly became a cultural phenomenon with its multi-coloured plastic designs and largely affordable price tags.

The massive collection of more than 5,800 Swatch watches - including limited editions by artists including Kiki Picasso and Keith Haring, as well as a James Bond 40th anniversary collection - will be sold as a "superlot" at Sotheby's on Tuesday.

It is the pride and joy of Luxembourg-based Paul Dunkel, 68, who has spent more than two decades tracking down almost all the watches Swatch created in its first 25 years. And it is clearly a wrench for the retired insurance broker to say goodbye to the collection. "For me, it's not possible to continue (collecting). It's so much work. The young people must continue," he told AFP. "The collection was just in a safe and no one could see it, what is the point of that?" he said, adding that he hopes the buyer will put it on show to the public.

Mr Dunkel's obsession started in the 1980s. Already a collector of abstract art, he realised that some of his favourite artists were designing for Swatch, so he began collecting the watches and related artwork.

"It began with a few watches, then it was a passion," he said.

Mr Dunkel has travelled far and wide to seek out pieces and has paid thousands of euros for some.

But his favourite is a simple 1994 design covered in white sheep, with one black one tucked away on the strap. He has a tie to match.

"Swatch is universal," says Mr Dunkel. "You can have one for every day of the week. I often wear one."

Mr Dunkel adds that the best reward for his years of hard work has been the reaction to the collection that has gone on display ahead of the auction.

"I'm not interested in the price. The past two months have been so satisfying, seeing the collection go around the world.

"I didn't expect so much interest in it."

Sotheby's head of watches Sharon Chan says that "serious luxury watch collectors" are also fans of Swatch.

"Each watch in this collection translates into a chapter of contemporary art," Ms Chan added.

Hong Kong has a precedent for successful Swatch sales - in 2011 another large collection sold for more than US$6 million to an anonymous Chinese collector at auction in the city.

After Tuesday, a philosophical Mr Dunkel said his focus would switch back to family life.

"I'm a grandfather and my hobby is the two kids now," he said.

Asked whether he will be sad to see his collection go, he shrugged, saying: "That's life."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.