28th January 2022 – (California) Early this evening, California watch collector Zach Lu posted an unboxing video on his Instagram (@zachattack__25) about a piece he had just acquired. That in itself wouldn’t be surprising to the nearly 35,000 people that follow him – he frequently updates the world on his latest acquisitions.
But the video that followed had a pair of unexpected guests: Paul Boutros, the Head of Americas and Senior Vice President for Phillips Watches (as well as an ex-HODINKEE contributor) and the world’s most infamous watch right now – the Tiffany-Blue Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 that sold, with all proceeds going toward charity, at the Phillips 2021 New York Watch Auction in December.
That was the last time we saw both Lu and this very specific, very special 5711. Lu was a memorable in-the-room underbidder on the watch, which eventually sold to an unidentified online bidder based in New York for US$6.5 million, all-in. Or so we thought.
The watch, Boutros told me cryptically, was “unable to go to the original winning bidder.” Speculate all you like about why that happened. In any case, Boutros said, “Mr. Lu, who actively participated in the auction, purchased it shortly after the auction.”
Today, he officially took ownership. Tonight, he revealed it to the world. And now, in an exclusive interview, he shares his story with HODINKEE.
What Happened After The Auction
For the 14 minutes the Tiffany-Blue 5711 (also known as lot 1T) was under the hammer, Lu made his presence felt. He was running late that morning and entered the room just before bidding kicked off. As a result, he was standing by the specialists manning phone bidders and was actively shouting successively higher bids.
Eventually, as the bidding crossed the US$5 million mark, Lu dropped out. He thought that was the end of it and stepped out for a cigarette before returning to watch the rest of the auction. Outside the venue, Lu bumped into a key player in the future of Tiffany & Co. – Alexandre Arnault, the jeweler’s new Executive Vice President of Product and Communications, who thanked him personally for his support. The meeting would prove fortuitous.
Lu, a longtime client of the Patek Philippe salon in Geneva, reached out to Patek Philippe CEO Thierry Stern personally to see if he could receive an allocation of one of the remaining 169 watches, which had been coveted from the moment they were announced – and two of which have been worn, respectively, by Jay-Z and LeBron James.
“I talked to Thierry and asked him, since I tried so hard, ‘Do you think I could have an allocation?'” Lu said. “He told me, ‘No, this is really Tiffany’s decision. We don’t have any say.’ So I was a little disappointed.”
What Lu didn’t know was that he’d get another shot.
How Zach Lu Was Selected
Skip ahead now to six weeks after the auction. When it became clear that the winning bidder would be unable to complete the original transaction, Lu said, Arnault and Stern set out to identify who among the underbidders had a strong enough buying history to purchase the watch. A certain smoker came to mind.
“I’ve known Thierry for 16 years,” Lu said. “I’m 31, and I’ve been collecting since I was 15, so Thierry knows me very well.”
After the blessing from Geneva, Arnault emailed Lu to set up a meeting. After a chat at Tiffany’s iconic Fifth Avenue headquarters, Arnault gave Lu the weekend to think about whether he wanted to purchase the watch for what his final bid would have been, plus the commission – an approximate total of $6.2 million. Phillips, however, has confirmed that the original sale price of $6,503,000 will still benefit The Nature Conservancy, as originally intended.
It didn’t take Lu nearly that long to make his decision. One hour later, Lu texted Arnault the answer.
Yes, The Charity Component Mattered
After the auction, speculation ran rampant: Was the buyer a philanthropist who happened to appreciate a nice watch? Or perhaps a watch collector who happened to value the environment? The answer was, well, yes.
“This is not my first time participating in a charity auction,” Lu said. “I’ve participated in Only Watch. I’ve participated in Children Action. This is such a historic moment; we have two super-prestigious brands that have come together to help out the environment. I think it’s fantastic.”
It is, however, his first time purchasing a Patek that’s double signed by Tiffany & Co., which is a prize for any big-time collector. Lu also walked away with a bonus gift from Alex Arnault – a Tiffany & Co. x Supreme bracelet and shirt. “I do get my fair share of good stuff from Geneva, so I don’t want to be greedy,” Lu says. “I don’t push too hard, but this opens up the door for me to Tiffany America, and to Tiffany Patek. I think this will be the beginning of an adventure and a long relationship with Alex and [Patek USA President] Lisa Jones. Charity, Phillips, Patek, Tiffany, it just brings everything together. It just feels right.”
If right about now you are reading this and feeling just the slightest pang of jealousy, please know that even Lu – who has just obtained the ultimate un-obtainium watch – looks out on the horizon and spies pieces he can’t have. For instance, another Patek of the same hue, the previously unknown Tiffany-signed Patek Philippe Nautilus 5740 Unique Piece with a Tiffany-Blue dial, which broke the watch internet this past weekend. The owner? Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive of LVMH, which as careful readers will know is a minority investor in HODINKEE.
“That watch is out of this world,” Lu said. “I texted Alex and said ‘If anybody deserves this watch, it’s your dad. No jealousy – just pure respect, he totally deserves it. This watch I bought is the closest thing to that watch in terms of uniqueness, since it’s Tiffany Blue, it’s the one from Phillips, and it will potentially come with a unique certificate from Geneva.”
Lu is aware that his freshly acquired 5711 has stirred up its fair share of controversy, with vocal skeptics calling it a totem of exclusivity and hype. Lu also does not care.
“I really don’t have any feelings about what other people say,” he said. “This is the most iconic watch model by the most iconic watch brand partnered with the most iconic jeweler, now under LVMH. I don’t know what more I could ask for. There are so many angles to appreciate it from – it embodies fashion, horology, jewelry, all in one watch. A sapphire Richard Mille sells for $5 or $6 million, I don’t see why this wouldn’t.”
All images by James K./@waitlisted.