Watch auctions regularly make headlines for the astronomical prices realised by certain lots. Patek Philippe and Rolex in particular frequently change hands for several hundred thousand Swiss francs. These summits are inhabited by a coterie of wealthy collectors. They are, by no means, representative of the vast community of watch lovers around the world who must make do with far more modest means. Numerous avenues are open to them, from patiently tracking down timepieces at watch fairs to making an instant purchase online. HH Magazine takes novices through the twists and turns along the road to collectordom.
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Arnaud Tellier, an expert in the art world and watch auctions, has one word of advice for apprentice collectors: before anything else, spend some time gathering information. “Online resources make it easy to learn more about the history of brands and different watches’ characteristics,” he explains. “Websites are also, and this is important, a means of comparing prices in order to get a feel for the second-hand market.” Those who prefer the printed page have a roster of books to choose from, either issued by the brands themselves or from specialist publishers such as Watchprint. Auction catalogues also provide a wealth of information.
This may seem like a rather time-consuming way to begin, but forewarned is forearmed. Better to set off with some knowledge rather than make a purchase you might later regret, or be taken in. For this reason, always decide on the maximum amount you are willing to spend, and be sure to have a reasonably precise idea of what you are looking for. Without some guidelines, it’s all too easy to get lost among the thousands of watches on offer.
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Once properly prepared, two doors open: online or the real world. While the majority of newcomers come to collecting via the web, attending venues and events for second-hand watches does have its advantages, not least as an effective means of building up a network of contacts, many of whom will be only too happy to point you in the right direction. The question being, which events to choose. Salerooms are open to the public and bring the promise of exciting exchanges between bidders, but prices can take off. “The average hammer price at Antiquorum is CHF 20,000. At Sotheby’s, it’s CHF 50,000,” warns auctioneer Geoffroy Ader. Enough to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. There are, nonetheless, smaller auction houses such as Hôtel des Ventes in Geneva, Ineichen in Zurich or Artcurial in Paris that can turn up some pleasant surprises. Remember though that the winning bidder will also have to pay a buyer’s premium plus VAT on top of the hammer price.
Second-hand watch shops are another possibility, although despite the reassurance of a fixed address, and the fact they often provide a warranty, collectors seem to prefer the watch fairs that travel between venues. “Most towns have them. For me, they’re the best bet,” comments Xavier Perrenoud, founder of XJC graphic design studio in La Chaux-de-Fonds and something of a collector. “This is how the stallholders earn their living, so they want to make that sale. It’s where the best deals are to be had.” Professional sellers aside, deals are also being done between private individuals as collectors are increasingly inclined to trade watches with others in their personal network, as Xavier Perrenoud confirms.
World wide watches
Hopping from town to town, even country to country, doesn’t exclude searching online too. The internet is even the preferred solution for the modern watch geek. In fact second-hand watch sales online are worth some USD 10 billion a year! But be warned: it’s one thing to have the whole world open up to you from the comfort of your own laptop, and another to navigate the complexities and pitfalls of online buying and selling. Trust is the key. “I know that certain of my online buyers have enquired about me with watch brands,” offers Geoffroy Ader. The risk when buying online is that the watch never arrives, or the hapless buyer receives one of the countless fakes that proliferate online. Although a handful of tried and trusted sites have risen above the crowd in recent years, multiple possibilities remain.
As in real life, there are several ways to purchase a watch online. Most of the traditional auction houses stream sales and allow bidding live on their website. Others, such as auctionata.com, are entirely virtual but stick to the ritual of fixed dates and times. But the web is about the here and now, and in this respect there is a lot to be said for online stores: prices are set in advance, although some sites do allow buyers to make a lower offer. Antiquorum.com, auktionshaus-ineichen.ch and cresus.fr are just some of the many names out there. Forums (onthedash.com or chronocentric.com, for example) and blogs (lesrhabilleurs.com) are equally numerous and also where trades and transactions take place, though not always admittedly.
Still, the major phenomenon right now is unquestionably chrono24.com, which is based in Karlsruhe, Germany. Billing itself as a global marketplace for luxury watches, it follows a different model to other sites by bringing together private individuals who wish to buy or sell a watch. It also secures transactions and guarantees the authenticity of items sold. This winning formula operates in 22 languages in 89 countries and attracts over eight million visitors a month. The site currently lists some 225,000 watches with a 90% sales rate.