We kinda all knew 2016 would be a tough year for watches. Jack made mention of seriously slumping new watch sales here, and talk to any retailer and you’ll hear the same story â things aren’t like they used to be. The changed buying patterns of the Chinese make up a big part of the global drop, and the most turbulent election cycle in, well, maybe ever, isn’t helping things here in the US. But, vintage is a different story, right? Kind of, yes. The Phillips Steel Chronographs sale was a smash success, and Christie’s Geneva also proved strong. The result from Hong Kong, however, told a slightly different story, as Arthur wrote here. So, how would two sales do in our own backyard of New York? Well, it was a mixed bag, with some notable glitches, and just a few shining lights. Let’s look into what happened this week at Sotheby’s and Christie’s New York.
Christie’s New York, June 7th, 2016
Great Collection Of Early, Honest Daytonas Prove That People Just Care About Condition
First things first â the June 7th, 2016, sale at Christie’s was notable because it had a wonderful selection of fresh-to-market vintage watches. This included an impressive array of early Daytonas (Arthur talked about them here) that received a lot of attention from collectors. The two most watched were the TWO fresh early 6239s â the archetype of the Daytona â and the results varied. The black dial watch sold for a solid $81,000 all in, while the white watch failed to make its reserve. Neither of these results are outstanding, obviously, but the fact that Christie’s was able to find two of these fresh to market is wonderful. It is a shame that they were not rewarded for it, but it’s clear that condition trumps all in today’s market, and these watches simply did not have the clean condition that connoisseurs look for â in particular, in expensive, early Cosmographs.
The next few lots, equally fresh though slightly later 6239s sold at $37,500 each â not bad, but also not an exceptional price for these fairly uncommon and attractive watches. The 6239 Tiffany, which came from a direct descendant of the original owner, pulled in $137,000, with the final bidding taking place between two dealers. These double-signed watches are tricky, because signatures are often assumed to be incorrect, so many collectors are reticent to bid on them at auction â which I believe was the case here. This left the watch to dealers, who can take it and package it to a client down the road.
Lange 1 in Steel With Black Dial Sells For $233,000 â Somehow Disappoints Onlookers
So you all know about the steel Lange 1 with black dial that Christie’s consigned â I wrote about it way back here. This is a monstrously rare and special watch in the Lange community â and IMHO, one of the coolest watches you can own in the world of Lange. The watch belonged to a well known Lange collector in the U.S., with direct and crystal clear provenance from Pisa in Italy â it was as good as you could’ve asked for, really. Christie’s put an estimate of $200,000 to $400,000 on the watch, and frankly, I think that was less than ideal. Why? Steel Langes are special watches, for sure, but this estimate is simply beyond what anyone, including the market, it seems, deems reasonable for a watch like this. If a silver dial steel Lange One, the most accepted style of steel L1, sells at say $130k to $150k, can you really justify a top estimate of $400,000?
Now, I am sure Christie’s chose to give the consignor such an estimate to set the stage for a big sale, but here, it seemed to have the opposite effect. All the collectors I spoke with, including two who actually bid on the lot, scoffed at the high end of the estimate â and it seemed to drive potential bidders away. The watch hammered at $190,000 â below the low estimate, and sold, all in, for $233,000. Now let’s be clear â this is a great price for any Lange 1, even a steel Lange 1, and it’s the new world record for an L1. Had the estimate been $100,000 to $200,000, we’d be singing praises of this result â but at an estimate of $200k to $400k, it feels a little lackluster. Watch auctions, as with life, are all about managing expectations, and this one, I think, could’ve been managed a little better.
Other Modern, High-End Watches Get Absolutely Hammered, Save Sealed, Lemania Pateks
Now the Lange 1 result was special because it’s hardly a common watch. But high-end, though standard production watches, took an absolute beating in this sale â with a modern PP 5170J going for just $42,000, a Vacheron perpetual calendar chronograph selling for just $32,500, and a Breguet QP selling for $15,000! You could’ve also purchased a platinum Lange tourbillon ON PLATINUM BRACELET for $87,500. I’m fairly certain the bracelet cost more than half of that when new. This has to hurt â but should send a serious message to Switzerland about production numbers and quality.
Now it wasn’t all bad â some sealed, Lemania driven Pateks did very well, like a 5970P at $233,000 and a 5070P at $149,000. These were the exact opposite of lot 160, which was a freaking 5004G that sold at only $161,000! This is the price of a loaded BMW 5 series below where it should be selling â condition here must have been a serious issue.
Other Vintage Watches Show Mixed Results, Proving Quality Matters Above All Else
Now vintage is always the saving grace, right? In most cases, yes. We saw strong results for great watches like this Universal with two-tone dial, this golden Carrera, and this white-gold 570. The fresh to market Killy pulled in $233,000, which is about right for a decent but not-mint example. The two fresh-to-market 8171s proved tricky too â the gold watch passed and did not sell (and has seemingly been erased from the Christie’s website) while the steel watch, with mint case but severely damaged dial brought $161,000. As a reminder, Phillips sold a mint example of this watch for close to seven figures not long ago. Yeah, #conditionmatters, #alot.
First Platinum Minute Repeater (Ever) From Vacheron Brings Down The House
So the Christie’s sale was a really mixed bag, but one intense and beautiful shining light in the sale with this 1950s minute repeater from Vacheron Constantin in platinum. This is a watch I really paid attention too â after all, a 50s VC repeater in platinum is a lottery watch for me, and frankly I can’t imagine one being more desirable than this example. Fresh to market, with its original box, strap and buckle, it features an amazing two-tone silvered dial with vertical satin finish to the dial, trademark slim case, and simply tremendous elegance and wrist presence. Oh, and it’s the first platinum repeater ever made. The estimate here was $200,000 to $400,000 (same as the L1 â seriously?) and when the dust settled, it sold for $605,000. This is a superlative result for a superlative watch, and this was easily one of my top three watches of the entire watch auction season. The take away here is that no matter what the watch climate is like, a great watch will yield a great result. This also marks the second time the Christie’s New York team has unearthed a truly world-class watch seemingly out of nowhere â the other being this Audemars Piguet perpetual calendar.
Christie’s June 2016 Sale By The Numbers
This sale netted Christie’s $9,067,125 and featured an 87 percent sell-through rate. It should be noted that this was the third major international auction by Christie’s in less than a month, giving the New York team clearly the most difficult position. You can see the full catalog and results here.
Sotheby’s New York, June 8th, 2016
The Sotheby’s sale, which took place one day after the Christie’s auction, showed very similar trends, though in a slightly different way. The sale netted $11.7 million, more than the Christie’s sale, but with an exactly equal 87 percent sell-through. The Sotheby’s sale was bolstered by the Mechanical Marvels collection (featured by Cara here), which itself accounted for $4 million of the total sale.
Modern Watches, Even Great Ones, Got Hammered (Again) â Bad Ones Got Downright Destroyed
Modern watches, just like at Christie’s, really suffered. We saw an ALS Terraluna at $112,000, or roughly half of current retail, and a Patek 5170G (black dial!) sell for $47,500 (retail is $82,000), and those are two great watches from great brands! Next, we have a diamond and steel Hublot Big Bang that retailed new at over $20,000 selling for $7,500.
Vintage Watches Still Did Okay âÂ Again With Special Pieces Pulling Special Prices
While over all the vintage pieces at Sotheby’s did not do as well as those at Christie’s â they simply didn’t have nearly as many â there were a few strong results. This rare Daytona with “Tiffany” stamp seen at the six o’clock register pulled down over $56,000 â a very strong price for a neat watch. A platinum PP 96 brought in over $25,000, which feels about right and there weren’t too many notables on the vintage side of things elsewhere here.
The Patek Philippe World Timer With CloisonnÃ© Dial Did Well, But Not That Well
Now this Patek Philippe 1415 from 1949 was the clear highlight of the sale from a wristwatch perspective â and it should be. This watch is one of the most beautiful Pateks made last century, with a stunning hand-painted cloisonnÃ© enamel center dial. This is only the second to feature a “Eurasia” enamel decoration, and the dial here is simply gorgeous. Now the 1415 is a small watch, but cloisonnÃ© Pateks are incredible rare and special â so much so that this one pulled an estimate of $600,000 to $1,200,000. Like the steel Lange at Christie’s, this was a high estimate for a watch with a seemingly small audience, and though I don’t believe it was too aggressive â I know of another enamel dial 1415 currently on offer for $1.4m â the watch selling at $730,000 with a top range estimate of $1.2m feels as if it did not do that well. I do think that simple watch auction fatigue played a role here, being the very last lot in the last sale of the spring 2016 season â after literally a dozen other high end sales between Geneva, Hong Kong, and New York. To me, this should be a $900,000 to $1.2m watch.
You can check out the entire Sotheby’s catalog here.