Wrapping up the Spring Watch Auction Season: Watch auction houses had a pandemic-defying spring auction season. With the leading watch auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Philipps in Association with Bacs & Russo far exceeding early 2020 predictions.
Spring Auctions Go Digital
Efforts to adopt a hybridised online/offline model in 2020 paid dividends in 2021. Rare and highly interesting horological marvels were for the first time able to be studied and purchased online. The success of this year’s spring auction season comes hardly as a surprise when one considers the broader shift in the watch collecting landscape which has occurred over the past year. Confined to one’s home, locked-down collectors turned to online watch journalism, social media commentary and a plethora of new forms of content – Zoom get-togethers and live industry interviews – to satisfy and enrich their horological knowledge. The auction houses have nimbly responded with a series of highly curated thematic auction events, which has seen a series of ultra-rare horological marvels offered to auction for the first time in decades. Case in point, Christie’s ‘Auction of the Decade’, The Legends of Time.
In just four months Christie’s netted US$ 93.7 million across its Geneva, Dubai, Hong Kong and New York auctions. This record-setting and market-leading result even pipped Christie’s stellar performance in 2019. What pandemic?
Shifting Demographic Sands of Auction Registrants
In the first half of 2021, 1,681 lots were offered at ten Christie’s watch auctions, with a combined 92% of lots sold, 40% of which sold above estimate. Indicating a healthy appetite from the market. In terms of participation, the tectonic plates under the industry are beginning to shift; 39% of buyers at the watch sales were new to Christie’s, 40% of which are under 40, 41% are based in APAC, 28% in Americas and 31% in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa).
The democratising effect of an increasingly hybridised auction platform shows that more than one in two bidders in traditional sales (53%) also bid online. Bidders are younger, more digital savvy and new to Christie’s; with 35% of auction registrants signing up to the auction house for the first time.
Geographical Mainstays & The Rise of the Middle East
In terms of the geographical location of buyers, the usual suspects reigned supreme, with the US taking the pole position, followed by Hong Kong, UK, Switzerland, and Singapore. Unsurprisingly, based on the rapidly evolving maturity of the watch market in the region, Christie’s recorded a spectacular threefold rise in the number of Middle Eastern registrants. The region has become an important market for the watch industry, with Christie’s poised to reap the benefits of being the only auction house with an active watches department based in Dubai.
Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo Geneva Watch Auction: XIII
Meanwhile, The Geneva Watch Auction: XIII “white glove” sale which took place from the 8 – 9 May 2021 once again demonstrated Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo’s ability to deliver unprecedented auction results. The 233 watches hand-picked by Phillips team of specialists, drew a record attendance of more than 2,500 online bidders from 83 different countries, and achieved a record-breaking CHF 38 million in sales – making it the most successful watch auction ever. Geneva Watch Auction: XIII marked the highest result for a non-thematic or charity watch sale, with a sale total of over 2.5 times the pre-sale low estimate of CHF 14 million.
Record Setting Auction Results for Patek Philippe
Led by the cover lot, the earliest made (and previously unknown to market) Patek Philippe reference 2523 with “Eurasian” dial from 1953 (lot 33). One of three examples known with a cloisonné enamel dial (watch Aurel Bacs impressions), selling for CHF 7,048,000. The watch doubled its pre-sale estimate and broke the record for the highest price ever for a Patek Philippe wristwatch with an enamel cloisonné dial, and for any yellow gold wristwatch ever sold at auction. Also of note, a Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 570 (lot 160) which achieved a selling price of CHF 3,297,000, 16 times its pre-sale low estimate! And, a set four immaculately preserved Patek Philippe reference 2499 (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th series), sold for a combined total of: CHF 5.7 million.
Triumphant Return of Vintage & Modern Cartier
One cannot fail to mention the triumphant return of vintage and modern Cartier watches on the scene, proof that noteworthy and forward-thinking design is the key to success – exceptional results include a rare and unusual yellow gold wristwatch (lot 88), retailed by Cartier London nicknamed “The Pebble” or “Baseball” that sold for CHF 403,200. In addition, an extraordinarily rare and highly important yellow gold tortue-shaped single-button chronograph wristwatch (lot 89) fetched CHF 189,000.
Strong Spring Watch Auction Results from the Independents
The Independents’ Atelier, the now highly anticipated section dedicated to independent watchmaking, saw a Roger W. Smith Series 1 “Onely Theo Fennell” (lot 145) break a world record for any Roger Smith watch sold at auction, selling for CHF 541,800, 14 times its pre-sale low estimate and now ranking as the highest auction price ever achieved for a wristwatch by a British watchmaker. Other notable ground-breaking results include a Harry Winston/F.P. Journe Opus 1 “Turquoise Tourbillon” (lot 142) in platinum that sold for CHF 453,600, and a sculptural Richard Mille Ref. RM022 (lot 31) limited edition red quartz TPT, presented on the market for the first time, sold for CHF 756,000.
This mirrors the results at Sotheby’s Important Watches: Part I Spring sale, with two early ‘Brass Movement’ F.P. Journe watches, an Octa Calendrier in Platinum and an Octa Reserve de Marche also in Platinum, both achieving results more than double the pre-sale low estimate of CHF 100,000.
Building Momentum for the Fall Auction Season
2021 is off to a flying start. With a full event calendar of online and offline auctions planned for the remainder of the year, it’s expected momentum will continue to run through till the end of the Fall auction season, with Only Watch the cherry on the cake of an unprecedented year for the auction market.