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01/26/2016
 3 minutes

Watch Auctions

By Robert-Jan Broer
Patek Philippe Grande Complication Perpetual Calendar Minute Repeater Tourbillon
Patek Philippe Grand Complication Perpetual Calendar Minute Repeater Tourbillon Ref. 5016A-010 Unique Piece, Auction Result: € 6.648.750Image: Bexsonn

Looking for that special piece that Patek Philippe only produced in stainless steel? Interested in the watch that was worn on the wrist of John Lennon or perhaps Steve McQueen’s Rolex Submariner? These types of watches, or one-offs, deserve a special podium where the owner of such a timepiece is able to offer it to collectors from around the world. The auction house takes care of creating a buzz and finding the right audience and, of course, guarantees its authenticity to the new owner.

Famous Auction Houses

Auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips, Auctionata, Antiquorum, etc. often host watch auctions. You can request a print version of the auction catalogue in most cases or view the lots on the auction house’s website. Also, right before the auction takes place, there is a viewing day (or in the case of important auction, multiple days) planned for the potential buyers to take a look at all the lots and examine them more closely in the metal.

In Geneva, for example, a number of these auction houses plan their watch auctions during the same days. As a collector, you are able to join a couple of them in the same time span. The watches are exhibited in the hotels or other venues in advance so you can have a look at the pieces. Most of the time, they also allow you to take the watches from the displays and study them carefully. If there is a special theme or it is an important auction, some of the auction houses actually travel around the world with the collection of watches that will be auctioned. But on the day itself, the auction takes place at one location. Collectors are able to join the auction on location, but bids can also be made by phone or via the internet. The conference room of the hotel or venue is usually packed with bidders as well as collectors who just want to witness a special piece auctioned. Bidders can be collectors, but also dealers or intermediates bidding for one of their clients.

The buyer’s premium is around 25%, so you will have to add that on top of the bidding price. The original seller of the watch also has to pay a cut to the auction house, of course.

From Vintage to Modern

Rolex Triple Calendar Ref. 6062
Rolex Triple Calendar Ref. 6062, Auction Result: € 1.163.800Image: Bexsonn

You can ask yourself whether it is efficient to use an auction house to buy or sell a watch. For special watches like a stainless steel vintage Patek Philippe that is seldom for sale or a unique piece of a certain brand (think Only Watch by Phillips auctions), it is a perfect platform to reach the right target audience and gain a lot of attention from the press.

However, a lot of watch auctions are also packed with tons of watches that can be found in other places as well, including modern watches that are in the current collection of watch brands. What is the use of paying premium and VAT on top for an existing model from a brand’s collection that is widely for sale? So, before you attend or follow an auction for a (vintage) watch you want to have, make sure to do the following:

– Check availability elsewhere (for example on Chrono24), where there is no buying ‘stress’;
– Decide the maximum price you want to pay for the watch, including premium and VAT;
– Check whether the watch is authentic and original;
– Inspect the watch from all angles and make yourself familiar with the grading system that the auction house uses;
– Check the guarantees that the auction house gives on authenticity.

The advantage of an auction is that there might be a watch that doesn’t get attention from the crowd (due to the brand, model, materials, etc.). If you happen to find the watch interesting nevertheless, you might be able to pick it up cheaply by bidding on it. Don’t expect to get a wonderful deal on a vintage Daytona, Speedmaster, Navitimer, Autavia, and so on as most eyes will be focused on those pieces. You will pay market conform prices or perhaps even a bit more. But as some collectors say: better available at a high price than not for sale at all. It might be expensive right now, but it will gain value over time and be worth more than you paid for it at the auction. As always, make sure you know what you are buying.

Universal Genève Tri-Compax
Universal Genève Tri-Compax, Auction Result: € 10.625Image: Auctionata

Read more

Thrills, Adrenaline, and Extraordinary Timepieces: Auctions on Chrono24


About the Author

Robert-Jan Broer

Robert-Jan, founder of Fratello Magazine, has been writing about watches since 2004. However, his passion for watches dates back much further. In fact, he sold his …

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