2018 has been a good first half year for the watches department at Sotheby’s. Our sales are up over 70%, our auction in HK made 18m USD, which was the highest for the last five years. In addition to that, we got a record result for an original Rolex tropical Paul Newman in Geneva. Every season the demand for exceptional pieces becomes greater and the market is striving higher due to the scarcity of those exceptional pieces.
What are the most coveted factors driving the vintage watch market?
Driving factors behind the vintage watch market can be put into 5 different categories. The first and most important is the brand DNA; who manufactured the watch. Second, it is the rarity: how many were made, how often is it seen on the market. Third, it is the complications: what is the watch doing other than telling the time. Does the watch have a perpetual calendar? Does the watch also have a chronograph? Or is it a minute repeating watch? Fourth is the condition: is the dial completely original? Has it been washed or repainted? Then we have the case, has the case been polished. When a watch case is polished, it reduces the definition and its original proportions. The hallmarks can be rubbed or removed. The movement – is the movement running? Fifth is provenance – who owned the watch? Was it owned by Paul Newman, for example? Finally, the overall quality.
The main factor that really is driving the market today is knowledge. We know so much more today about rarity and condition than we ever had. The emerging markets are forming groups of vintage collectors who compete against each other and due to the scholarship and knowledge, collectors are willing to pay much more for the very rare pieces.
How has social media contributed to the vintage watch market?
Social media and Instagram, in particular, have changed the face of the watch market and has increased awareness of the collectors. Instagram helps to spread the word and let the market know what’s available.
What other elements can add value?
We have seen exceptional results for wristwatches which combine quality and rarity. For an undiscovered vintage, Rolex Daytona in great condition and with a rare dial configuration will bring today in excess of 1M USD. Five years ago, it would have been 300k. For example, in Geneva last season, we sold a vintage Rolex Paul Newman reference 6239 that was consigned by the original owner. He bought the watch from Watches of Switzerland in 1975 for 145 pounds. He wore the watch every day ever since until he had the watch serviced and the service center pointed out that the black registers on the dial had a defect and turned a tropical brown color. The market today pays a premium for such events and the service center also advised him the value of his watch. The original owner came to us and we offered the watch at auction at 200-300k USD. Due to the quality and freshness of the watch, three collectors battled against each other and the final hammer price was 780k USD.
How would you describe today’s’ market?
The market is completely international and it’s growing all the time. The growth primarily from comes from knowledge of great vintage watches. I and my colleagues travel all over the world advising collectors on their collections and the market. Our auctions draw clients from all over the world and we already have some exciting consignments lined up for the Fall season.