The season has barely got under way but the early signs are more than encouraging for this autumn’s collectible watch auctions. While the euphoria of recent years may have passed, the luxury segment remains in good health, despite claims by some that the subprime crisis had left it at death’s door. Already, the spring auctions left no doubt that aficionados of exceptional timepieces still know the difference between an impulse buy and an investment.
Patek Philippe tops sales
Look no further than the Geneva sales held mid-May, when Antiquorum, Christie’s, Phillips de Pury & Cie and Sotheby’s achieved a total CHF 90,000,000. This matches results for last November’s sales and, while admittedly falling well short of the CHF 175,000,000 achieved the previous spring, leaves no doubt that this is still a palpably enthusiastic market. “In a very selective market, the excellent response to our selection of fine and exceptional timepieces dating from the 16th century to the present, demonstrates that rare pieces in excellent condition are still very much in demand,” commented Alexander Barter, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Watches.
Words that could easily be repeated five months down the line. Antiquorum kicked off the season in New York on September 17th. Its auction of 414 rare wristwatches, pocket watches and clocks totalled $9,200,000. The highlight of the sale was the Matsuda collection of Patek Philippe wristwatches, three of which achieved impressive results including two world records. An astronomic platinum wristwatch (Ref. 5016P), sold in 2000, with minute repeater, retrograde perpetual calendar, one-minute tourbillon and moon phases went for $780,000. Its twin (Ref. 3939) minus the retrograde calendar and moon phases found a buyer at $684,000. Close behind, the Ref. 5013P fetched $564,000.
On the road to recovery?
“The spectacular results of the Matsuda collection confirm that collectors today are willing to pay a premium for watches that have been chosen by and were in the collection of well-respected collectors, thereby insuring that their own collection will one day be similarly sought after,” said Evan Zimmermann, President and CEO of Antiquorum. Nor was Patek Philippe alone in commanding remarkable prices at the sale. A N°2 Pendule Sympathique by Breguet, a Blancpain Grande Complication 1735, a Gyrotourbillon 1 by Jaeger-LeCoultre, a titanium Jules Audemars Grande Complication from Audemars Piguet, and a platinum Tortue Tourbillon Chronograph Monopoussoir from Cartier were the other stars of this September sale. Even Seiko enjoyed unprecedented success with a GMT Spring Drive Spacewalk, made as a limited edition of six for the Soyuz TMA-13 space mission.
“The exceptional outcome for our September auction is a clear indication that the market for rare and collectible timepieces is thriving. As the world economy is showing signs of recovery, the demand for collectible wristwatches appears to have recovered to pre-recession numbers,” commented Robert Maron, Chairman of Antiquorum.
Success for Only Watch
Osvaldo Patrizzi, Chairman of Patrizzi & Co which presided over the recent Only Watch auction in Monaco, concurs: “My concern was that months of economic crisis may have dampened bidders’ enthusiasm,” he commented after the sale. “It was a welcome surprise to see this wasn’t the case. The sums achieved by certain lots and the total result prove quite the opposite, which I’m absolutely delighted about.” This auction of 34 unique timepieces, specially proposed by brands for the sale, raised €2,285,000 to support research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. A more than respectable sum and barely 20% less than results achieved at the 2007 auction.
While some of the timepieces were perhaps short on originality, being existing models with slight changes to the exterior, others were genuine one-offs that sparked enthusiastic bidding, such as the Cabestan Tourbillon (€220,000), the Clé du Temps by Confrérie Horlogère (€280,000), the De Bethune Convertible (€90,000) and the HM2 Sage Vaughn from MB&F (€55,000). The evening’s showstopper was the Patek Philippe Ref. 5106 Heavenly Celestial, estimated at €210,000 and which Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of Hublot, bought for an extremely generous €535,000. As these first two autumn auctions show, the collectible watch market is as buoyant as ever.
Confirmation in October
This trend was confirmed at two new sales by Antiquorum and Patrizzi & Co in October. At the former, held in Geneva, 78% of the lots were sold for 115% of their estimated value. The sale achieved a total result of CHF 4,300,000. The latter, in New York, totalled $3,200,000. One of the lots, a Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref. 5002, went for $1,200,000, the highest price paid for a wristwatch since the economic recession, said the auction house. “In the current global recession, this $1.2 million sale result is extraordinary,” Osvaldo Patrizzi declared. His thoughts were echoed by Antiquorum Chairman Robert Maron: “The remarkable result for our October auction is confirmation of the increased strength of the watch market. Collectors are once again enthusiastically bidding on rare and collectible timepieces.” The highlight of the evening came when a new record was achieved for a Patek Philippe Ref. 5059P platinum wristwatch with perpetual calendar and retrograde date, selling for CHF 114,000. The highest price in the sale was also for a Patek Philippe, when the Ref. 1463 from 1946 with asthmometer dial fetched an impressive CHF 372,000.