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Antiquorum: a behind-the-scenes look at an auction house

Antiquorum: a behind-the-scenes look at an auction house

Monday, 07 September 2020
By Janine Vuilleumier
Janine Vuilleumier

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4 min read

Antiquorum has a longstanding presence in Geneva and Hong Kong, and recently opened an office in Monaco. A specialist in watches, the auction house recently branched out into jewellery. Romain Réa explains how a sale is put together.

The spring and autumn sales are fixtures of the auctioneering calendar, and Antiquorum is among the houses staging events in Geneva, Hong Kong and now Monaco. How is a sale organised? Where do the auctioned watches come from and how are prices estimated? Who are the bidders? Romain Réa, watchmaking expert and CEO of Antiquorum since 2017, takes us behind the scenes.

Romain Réa, watchmaking expert and CEO of Antiquorum
Romain Réa, watchmaking expert and CEO of Antiquorum

Potential sellers bring their timepieces to appraisal days in different cities around the world, at Antiquorum’s headquarters or in partner boutiques and hotels. These events are generally announced in the press. On site, experts welcome individuals who wish to dispose of vintage or recent models. Every aspect of the watch is scrutinized, although the most important criterion that will influence the price is the dial (70% of the estimate). A watch with an original dial will command a significantly higher value. All other parts can be repaired or even rebuilt, but not the dial, hence the importance of its condition.

The top five

Certain brands are particularly desirable at auction, the top five being Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Breguet, followed by Omega, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines, Universal Genève and Breitling. Irrespective of maker, watches with a famous provenance are also highly sought-after. Recently sold examples include an Omega owned by Elvis Presley (circa 1960), a Vacheron Constantin owned by Evita Peron (1946), a Zenith pocket watch worn by Gandhi (1910) and a Rolex owned by Carlos Coello (circa 1964).

Prices are set in agreement with the seller, who may request a higher starting price than the estimate in which case Antiquorum will respect the client’s wishes. In many instances, the lower the estimate, the better the product sells, and sellers can have the pleasant surprise to find that their watch has sold for much more than the original price.

When organising a sale, Antiquorum personally contacts customers who have expressed an interest in the type of watches crossing the block. But who are these customers? Many are collectors looking for a particular type of watch, such as dive watches or chronographs, a certain brand or even a specific collection. Professionals also account for a large part of the customer base. They tend to be most interested in vintage pieces to expand their range on offer. There is also an ever-growing category of buyers seeking to invest their money in valuable timepieces.

Not all lots find a taker. Unsold items – usually around 20% of the total – are put up for auction at the next sale with a lower estimate. The vast majority sell second time around and, to the seller’s delight, often exceed their initial estimate.

Rolex first

While most sales cover a variety of makers, Antiquorum occasionally holds single-brand auctions, such as its first Patek Philippe sale, in 1989 in Geneva. Another sale focused exclusively on Vacheron Constantin. The auction house has also moved online with its Online Live Auctions. They played a significant and successful role during Covid-19 lockdowns as an alternative to cancelled live auctions. In another development, the Genevan auction house has recently branched out into accessories and jewellery, in addition to its core focus of timepieces.

Antiquorum resumed its face-to-face sales on June 28th at the Hôtel Beau-Rivage in Geneva, as always accompanied by online and phone bidding. This return to the saleroom was crowned with success, with 83% of lots selling for a total of CHF 6,000,000. Rolex was the star of the day with three exceptional lots going for well above estimate. Lot 379 was a 1955 Rolex Ref. 6034 Oyster Chronograph in 18k pink gold and an iconic example of the brand’s chronograph production. Estimated CHF 250,000-350,000, it fetched CHF 600,000 including fees (CHF 480,000 hammer price).

Ref. 6034 Oyster Chronograph in pink gold (1955), lot 379 © Rolex
Ref. 6034 Oyster Chronograph in pink gold (1955), lot 379 © Rolex

Lot 346 was an extremely rare Rolex 1680 Comex Submariner from 1979. Comex, a marine services and maritime engineering company, received only around 60 of these timepieces – the vast majority of which have since been overhauled, with the Comex dial being replaced by an ordinary Rolex dial. The one sold on June 28th had never been worn while diving and remained in incredible condition. In addition, it was sold with its original warranty, another unusual feature. Estimated CHF 150,000-250000, it went for CHF 524,000 including fees (CHF 420,000 hammer price). Lot 345 was an astonishing Rolex Ref. 1680, Red Submariner, Meter First Mark II with tropical dial, produced in 1969 and sold with its original case and papers. The “Red” Submariner is one of the most sought-after vintage Rolexes. Estimated CHF 40,000-60,000, it realised CHF 103,750 including fees (CHF 83,000 hammer price).

Ref. 1680 Submariner Comex (1979), lot 346 © Rolex
Ref. 1680 Submariner Comex (1979), lot 346 © Rolex

The next Antiquorum sale will take place on November 8th and 9th in Geneva.

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