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[HONG KONG] One of the biggest private collections of Swatch watches in the world sold for more than US$6 million in Hong Kong on Tuesday, smashing pre-auction estimates.
The "superlot" comprising over 5,800 watches - featuring limited editions by artists including Keith Haring and a James Bond 40th anniversary collection - was snared for over four times its estimated sale price after intense bidding.
A packed Sotheby's sales room saw three rivals tussle for the collection, which was finally sold for HK$46.7 million (US$8.24 million) to a phone bidder.
It had been expected to fetch US$1.3 million.
The bidder was identified by Sotheby's as a "European institution" but the auction house said they could give no further details.
Retired Luxembourg insurance broker Paul Dunkel, 68, who amassed the watches over more than two decades, was tearful as he left the sales room.
He said the feverish interest in his labour of love as it went on display leading up to the auction had been overwhelming - crowned by a result beyond expectations.
"In the last two months... everybody's been very interested (in the collection) and that is my heart, my work," an emotional Mr Dunkel told AFP.
"The material result is for me not the most important, (although) it's very nice!" he added.
An auctioneer sealed the sale with an oversized transparent gavel, which was created by Swatch for a charity auction in the 1990s and is part of the collection.
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.
It is the world's biggest watch group although it saw net profit dive 26.6 per cent in 2014, despite record sales.
The company attributed the profit dip to a massive investment drive.
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.
"Swatch is universal," he said ahead of the auction. "You can have one for every day of the week. I often wear one."
Sotheby's head of watches, Sharon Chan, said that "serious luxury watch collectors" were also fans of Swatch.
Mr Dunkel's daughter and grandson accompanied him to the auction. He also has a son and granddaughter.
It is they who would benefit from the windfall, he said.
"It's for the children and the kids, to have a good life," he told AFP when asked what he would do with the money.
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.
"I hope the new owner continues to add to the collection, to show it," said Mr Dunkel. "For me, it's too much work and it's not possible to continue."