Each year, new fans swell the ranks of vintage-watch buyers. Helping to fuel this passion are the auctions held each May and November in Geneva, where all manner of rare and fine timepieces cross the block. Two brands have dominated the record boards in recent years, and they are Rolex and Patek Philippe. While most observers focus on these exceptional pieces, I suggest taking a look at the upcoming Geneva auctions from a different angle, namely the brands that could be setting the saleroom alight in years to come.
Away from the stratospheric prices that only the major models can command, certain bidders prefer to do their shopping among forgotten brands.
Browsing the catalogues of the big four auction houses reveals that there is a slight shift towards watches in the lower price categories – between CHF 1,000 and CHF 10,000 – and while these “vintage starlets” still have a long way to go, they certainly warrant our attention. “Slowly does it” to borrow a thought from Aesop, and indeed nothing could be truer for these pieces which, while still off the general public’s radar, are beginning to catch the collector’s eye. Away from the stratospheric prices that only the major models can command, certain bidders prefer to do their shopping among forgotten brands, where prices are beginning to climb. Some have been known to rise from their ashes on the back of their success at auction. Triton is a case in point: its dive watches for the Calypso had virtually disappeared from the market. When one came up for auction at Phillips in November 2016, it sold for CHF 8,750.
Well-known brands too
Alongside these now collector’s items, auction houses are making a point of spotlighting brands that are more familiar to the public, at prices within young collectors’ reach. Phillips, for example, deals primarily in watches with an average hammer price of CHF 100,000, which doesn’t prevent it from starting its catalogue with entry-level pieces. This strategy, which includes a scrupulous presentation of all lots, regardless of price, is designed to attract a new generation of aficionados and perhaps also interest some of the more seasoned collectors looking to acquire a quality, simple watch in good condition, still with its original box and papers.
Accordingly, Phillips’ catalogue for May opens with a selection of Omegas that fit perfectly into this category. The very first lot in the sale is a simple stainless steel Seamaster from 1958, still in its box with the original tag. Third up is a pair of watches that Omega produced to commemorate the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. They are in pink gold, again with the original boxes and guarantees. The steel watch is new old stock; the two pink gold pieces have stayed together ever since they were sold two years after the Games, in 1958, earning them the sobriquet of the “Olympic Twins”.
Off the beaten track
Both these lots are characteristic of the direction the vintage market is taking, obliging buyers to veer off the well-trodden path in search of new gems… although more and more well-informed collectors are taking that route. Also part of the Geneva auction season’s inner circle, Antiquorum is known for its selection of brands that spun out of the watchmaking galaxy many moons ago. Its latest catalogue opens with a miscellanea of disparate and poetic names, the likes of Croton, Reston, Ollech & Wajs, Mexa, Mulco, Olma, Aquastar and Ebro. 1960s chronographs for the most part, they lend a sepia tone to a sale that takes us back to a golden era. For between CHF 1,000 and CHF 2,000, bidders can take home the inimitable style of a black or silvered dial, generally with two counters, for minutes and seconds, along with a tachymeter scale. Also crossing the block are two dive watches by Mulco and Olma. They rub lugs with a Blancpain Bathyscaphe of very similar design but estimated at six times the price.
All this explains why collectors with less cash to splash will likely be taking a growing interest in these sleeping beauties. Of course, these ventures into new terrain can only add to the vintage segment’s already rude health. The importance of the vintage market hasn’t escaped the two London-born giants, Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Their catalogues also feature watches at the lower end of the price scale. The ten opening lots in Christie’s forthcoming sale include a 1940s pink gold wrist chronograph by Wyller Veta, followed by half a dozen 1940s and 1950s steel chronos from Imperial Watch, Cyma, Tavannes, Arcadia, Moeris and Moline Watch Co. They are offered without a reserve price, at estimates ranging from CHF 3,000 to CHF 8,000. A nod in the direction of the collectors dusting off these old names, lot 92 is a Philip Watch, a steel dive watch with an evocative name. Welcome to the Vintage Watch Academy!