Audemars Piguet Pulls Watch From Charity Auction Amid Governance Questions

Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet withdrew its donation of a unique timepiece from the upcoming Only Watch auction in Geneva after questions surfaced about the charity’s governance practices.

(Bloomberg) — Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet withdrew its donation of a unique timepiece from the upcoming Only Watch auction in Geneva after questions surfaced about the charity’s governance practices.

The Swiss brand’s donation, a Royal Oak with a flying tourbillon and skeleton dial in a white ceramic case and matching bracelet, could have potentially fetched 350,000 Swiss francs ($391,000) according to estimates by the auction which funds research seeking a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Experts and previous auction results suggest the AP watch would likely have sold for much more. 

“Audemars Piguet has decided not to participate in Only Watch this year. We respect this choice and are grateful for their support to date,” Tess Pettavino, the managing director of the Only Watch auction charity, the Association Monégasque contre les Myopathies, said in a message Wednesday.

A spokesperson for Audemars Piguet said the brand “canceled its participation and donation to the 2023 edition of Only Watch,” declining to comment further. 

Questions have surfaced in recent weeks, first in online social media posts and then in local Swiss newspapers and publications, regarding the governance practices and structure of the Only Watch charity auction. Critics have asked for more transparency from the charity detailing how it’s spending 100 million euros ($106 million) of funds it has raised so far, as well as the oversight and personal ownership stakes in some of the research companies it supports. 

Launched in 2005 by the former head of the Monaco Yacht Show, Luc Pettavino, the biannual event features one-of-a-kind timepieces donated by top Swiss watchmakers. It aims to help fund research into curing the muscle wasting disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy — a condition affecting Pettavino’s late son Paul and one in 3,500 newborn boys each year, the Monaco-based charity says on its website.

The charity organization behind the event wasn’t obligated to audit or publicly disclose its financial accounts or spending under Monaco law, but that’s now due to change under amended rules and regulations regarding charity and trust disclosures. The charity says it has now hired an auditor to certify its accounts and has begun disclosing more information on its spending and structures. It has spent about half of the 100 million raised, it recently disclosed. The foundation has not been accused of illegal activity or wrongdoing.

“We have become aware of online publications casting doubt on the financial regularity of our association. While these accusations are serious and disconnected from the reality of our charity, they provide us with an opportunity to review the way we operate, our present and future stakes, and to provide you with additional data,” the charity said in a letter dated Oct. 8, that included links to a number of financial and operational disclosures.

“Beyond the withdrawal of Audemars Piguet, which would have been one the star lots of the auctions, and which will probably trigger more defections, there is the credibility of Only Watch at stake,” said Oliver Mueller, head of LuxeConsult, an advisory firm to the Swiss watch industry. “No one wishes to see one of the very rare events uniting the watch industry disappear, but everyone would agree that time has come to professionalize an event which has taken on a magnitude in recent years that requires high ethical standards.”

Swiss watchmakers ranging from Patek Philippe to Breguet to FP Journe and Rolex sister-brand Tudor developed and donated unique watches for the event slated for Nov. 5th in Geneva and run by auction house Christie’s. 

A one-off Patek Philippe ‘Grandmaster Chime,’ sold for 31 million Swiss francs at the Only Watch auction in 2019, the highest price ever paid for a watch at a charity auction. The buyer wasn’t publicly disclosed. 

In an Instagram post on Oct. 18, watchmaker François-Paul Journe wrote: “I reiterate my total confidence in Luc Pettavino, who I know well and who is a remarkable man. And also of course to the Principality of Monaco that is the patron of Only Watch and is its guarantor … When this terrible sickness – that kills the majority of affected youth before the age of 20 – will be beaten, I will be proud to say that I contributed.”

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