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December 18, 2012updated Feb 13, 2013

Watch Auctions Decoded

By Chris Boyle

Corums rolls royce radiator wristwatch / bonhams

Entering the frenzied world of watch auctions may intimidate the budding collector.

The high-stakes blend of outstanding timepieces, lavish amounts of money and impassioned bidding is an adrenalinefueled experience unlike any other. The resulting acquisition of exquisite watches,however,can propel a nascent collection into a respected anthology of timepieces. We decipher how to maneuver—and win at—an auction.

What differentiates one Watch auction from another?

Antiquorum is the only major auction house that exclusively works with timepieces. Unlike other auction houses, the entire operation is focused on this particular field, and all resources are allotted to promotion of a singular product: Horological items.

Do certain auction houses specialize in specific Watch categories?

The major auction houses all deal with high-end timepieces from similar brands including Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Rolex and Vacheron Constantin.

What advantages does a Watch collector have in attending a Watch auction as opposed to visiting a vintage Watch dealer?

A collector has the opportunity to speak and get the advice of the auction houses’ watch experts. As the sale does not directly “benefit” the experts, all advice remains objective.

What should a layman know about Watch Auctions?

The basic and most important thing for a layman when introduced to watch auctions is to become informed and ask questions. Watch auctions are attended by knowledgeable collectors, dealers and casual buyers who take their time to research and speak to the experts at the auction house. New and seasoned buyers rely on result databases, such as the extensive Antiquorum online database, to expand their knowledge and make informed decisions. Auction houses also have several ways of bidding in addition to the room, be it online, absentee or on the telephone. The new buyer should also calculate any commission and fees that may be accrued in addition to the hammer price.

What research should they conduct before attending the auction?

Research is the most important thing to do before heading into an auction. Most auction houses have set previews for in-person viewing of the items, and these should be taken advantage of at every opportunity. Additionally, the experts in the field are there to give you their honest opinion regarding the pieces for sale, whether they are perfect watches for everyday use, restoration or collection. As mentioned before, online databases are wonderful resources for research as well.

What type of competition is there betWeen auction houses in acquiring certain Watches?

Auction houses compete over single watches as well as collections. This typically involves written proposals as well as lots of face time with the client.

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Are there any tricks of the trade you can share that can help a collector beat a competitor?

As of the rules of the auction, the highest bidder is always the winner. As a new buyer the most important thing is to know your limit when bidding and remain as levelheaded as possible.

On the flip side of the coin,what criteria should a collector employ when choosing an auction house to sell a Watch?

Every auction house has its own type of presence throughout the world, including multiple sales rooms, satellite offices and experts. The important thing is to work with someone who you are comfortable with and who will represent your interest to the best of their ability.

What advantages does a Watch seller have in selling through an auction house as opposed to directly to a vintage Watch dealer?

Auction houses are able to give the seller’s watch the What excites you about Watch auctions? proper exposure worldwide. Regardless of whether an item is being sold in Geneva, New York, Hong Kong or any place in between, you are assured that the watch is being promoted by the employees of the house in all their locations and to all interested clients. The benefits of certain auction houses involve tours where the actual watches go on view in multiple cities in multiples countries. Additionally, the majority of auctions are accompanied by a published catalog that is either available for sale or is given to current clients as well as being available online.

What have you learned about the psyche of Watch collectors from Watch auctions?

Watch collectors, as with any collector, come to the table with all different types of personalities and psyches. When you are dealing with collectibles you are dealing with a passion, and each collector has his/her own interests that the expert has to effectively engage.

How does an expert effectively engage the client?

The primary information that an expert needs in order to properly engage a client is the basic desires, interests and goals of said client. Questions such as brand, material, vintage vs. modern, whether it is for strict collecting or for wearing and type of complications all help the expert direct the client to the correct items to be examined and ultimately added to a collection. The most important thing for an expert to do is to get excited about certain items that fit the client’s criteria and transfer that energy to the client.

What excites you about Watch auctions?

What is the most exciting thing about auctions is witnessing the competition on an international level and seeing bidding occurring in real time. On the day of the auction it is fantastic to see all the work coming together and seeing the clients’ interest translating to the auction room via telephone, Internet, through the auctioneer and in the room.

What’s the most thrilling auction you’ve been involved With?

The most exciting auction for me involved the recent offering of an Omega timepiece owned by Elvis Presley. While the watch itself was worth a minimal amount, the fervor created by the provenance allowed the watch to swiftly break its estimate and reach an incredible amount. [The watch sold for $52,500, five times the estimate.] Additionally, a Longines watch owned by Albert Einstein reached astronomic heights [$596,000] in relation to the intrinsic value of the watch. These types of provenance pieces are generally extremely exciting as they bring not only watch collectors but also cultural interest.


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