The last few days have been host to a handful of high-profile watch auctions in Geneva from all the major auction houses, including Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s. More Rolex records were set, a superstar’s special watch blew its estimate out of the water, and a unique steel Lange got collectors’ paddles flying. It was a big weekend. We thought it would be worthwhile now, with the sales all finished up, to have each of our editors look back over the last few days to see what they think we can learn about the watch market more broadly from the results, whether it’s what watches are hot, what bargains you should be looking out for, or what came as the biggest surprises.
The Daytona Is Still King
Well, I’m going to state the obvious here. The market for vintage Rolex Daytonas is still crazy! First we had the Daytona Ultimatum sale at Phillips, which brought in a whopping $22.1 million with 100% of the 32 lots selling (the highlight obviously being “the Unicorn,” which sold for $5.9 million. Though it got much less attention, there was a tropical Paul Newman Daytona ref. 6239 that sold at Sotheby’s for over $900,000, more than three times its estimate. And, rounding things out, there were a handful of unusual Daytonas in the Christie’s sale as well.
Ever since I entered this wild world of watches, the vintage Rolex market has been creeping up. I remember when $80,000 was a lot for a Paul Newman Daytona, and now you can’t find one for less than six figures. So what gives? I think it’s a mix of rarity and demand. Every collector now wants a quality vintage Daytona and there are only so many good ones out there. But, more than that, people want something special, not just something in good condition. The hype around the Daytona is unlike that around any other watch today, and Phillips, who, hot on the heels of the Paul Newman Daytona sale, created an auction around 32 “special” vintage Daytonas, is fanning the flames. I wish I could tell you what was next for the Daytona, but I honestly have no idea. I don’t see how these prices can continue to rise, but crazier things have happened, and who knows when the other shoe will drop.
– Cara Barrett
Omega Is Coming On Strong
One of the important takeaways from this past weekend is the continued strength of Omega at auction. I for one was somewhat surprised by the Omega Speedmaster 2915-1 “Broad Arrow” that sold for $275,000 late last year in Sweden. But then this past weekend, we saw the same reference break the $400,000 mark. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for Broad Arrows and other early Speedmaster executions in upcoming auctions for sure.
And then of course, the same Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: Seven that saw the new Speedmaster record also gave us the new overall record for an Omega wristwatch. Granted, this one came in the form of a “celebrity watch” that was owned and frequently worn by Elvis Presley. It absolutely crushed its pre-sale estimates of CHF 50,000-100,000 on the way to $1.8 million, overtaking a record set by a rare observatory tourbillon sold at Phillips’s November 2017 Geneva sale.
– Jon Bues
Pocket Watches Still Have Their Place
It’s not much of a surprise to see the usual suspects performing well – desirable Pateks and Rolexes continue to do well, although a few Day-Dates that I’d have thought would go quickly, ended up passing. What did surprise me when all the dust settled was that pocket watches performed better than I’d have thought, and it wasn’t just the high end stuff that always draws interest – it seems to have been across the board.
Some of the results were downright odd – not because they were signs of poor judgement, but some of the stuff that sold well might not have done so in even the recent past. Sotheby’s, for instance, had five, count ’em five, skeletonized and gem-set Genta pocket watches from the 1980s (lots 37-41) and they all sold. Somebody likely got themselves a turnkey Genta pocket watch collection. I’d like to think we’d be friends.
Now one strong result does not a trend make – sometimes it’s just two rich guys who hate each other more than they love the watch – but Phillips and Christie’s showed strong results as well, including that AP pocket repeater we wrote about (lot 35) in platinum, which went for a healthy margin over its high estimate, and the Albert Potter pocket watch (ditto, lot 51) that went for CHF 16,250 on a high estimate of CHF 15,000. Phillips had nine pocket watch lots total, and some were very safe bets – lot 266, a Patek world timer, for instance, or lot 263, an AP Grand Comp, which though it hammered for CHF 70,000 on a low estimate of CHF 60,000, was still an absurd bargain at that price. However, there were also three Breguet pocket watches that all sold, two for well over their estimates. Lot 227 sold for CHF 11,250 on a high estimate of CHF 5,000. When we start seeing E. Howard railroad chronometers going for mid-four figures, we’ll know we’re on to something.
– Jack Forster
Oddball Watches Deserve Love Too
What stood out to me were the interesting outliers that performed well beyond their estimates. While many lots were rewarded for their rarity, quirkiness, and somewhat oddball appeal, here are a few that seemed to blow right past expectations.
Remember those Breguet Type XX chronographs from Phillips that Jon surveyed earlier this month? Well, they all destroyed their estimates, with the Pre Type XX (lot 119) more than doubling its high estimate at CHF 102,500 and the remarkably cool one of three gold civilian Type XX (lot 122) hammering for CHF 200,000 on a high estimate of CHF 60,000. As always, rarity helps, and we also saw that funky Breguet diver (lot 230) sell for CHF 131,250 on a projection of CHF 40,000-80,000. These are obviously very cool and collectible watches, but these Breguet lots turned out to be a set of rather hot tickets.
While Omega had an undeniably big weekend, it wasn’t just one of Elvis’s watches and the CHF 400,000+ Broad Arrow that achieved. The oddball choice goes to Phillips lot 158, a NASA-delivered Omega ST 188.0002 chronograph from the late ’70s dubbed the “Project Alaska III.” Powered by an electromechanical movement, the Alaska Project III was in the running to be one of NASA’s Space Shuttle-qualified watches and this lot features one of the three examples provided to NASA for evaluation. Not your standard Speedy by a long shot, this space-age Omega fetched CHF 162,500 against an estimate of CHF 10,000-20,000.
And sometimes it’s good to remember that auctions can be just plain weird. Christie’s lot 153, an Omega Seamaster 300 Spectre LE, arguably sold for well above market price. With an estimate of CHF 3,000 to 5,000, this James Bond LE from 2015 is one of 7,007 produced (#3,845 to be specific) and it sold for a remarkable CHF 15,625 after fees and premiums. Why is this remarkable? Because a good example on the secondhand collector market today is likely to sell in the neighborhood of $10,000 USD (with USD and CHF at 1:1, currently). Surprises and big numbers are all part of the allure of these high profile auctions and there’s always a market for the oddball entries.
– James Stacey
You Should Look Where Others Don’t
One of the first things I do any time an auction house puts its catalog online is to find the “sort” function and view everything from lowest estimate to highest estimate. By that point, I probably already know the star lots (and have, in all likelihood, already written about them here), so it’s the other end of the spectrum that interests me. While its the record-setting prices that get most of the attention, and many highly-desirable references end up getting bid up beyond normal consumer prices, you can still find a good deal if you look hard enough.
The snipe of the weekend for me goes to a Patek Philippe ref. 3483 in steel with a matching steel bracelet (lot 146 at Sotheby’s) that sold for CHF 21,250 on an estimate of CHF 15,000 -25,000. The fact that the bracelet is neither Patek-signed nor original kept the die-hards away, but someone still got themselves a 35mm, time-only Patek from the 1960s that looks like a million-dollar watch for under $25k. Likewise, you could have gotten one of two Vacheron time-only dress watches at Phillips for under $15,000 (lot 193 and lot 194) or a even an awesome looking Heuer Autavia ref. 2446 for around $15k at Christie’s if you were paying attention. If you’re not looking to set a record or obtain a watch to be the star of your safe, there are still a ton of cool, wearable watches to be had for totally reasonable sums.
Something that doesn’t get talked about too much is the occurrence of “passed” lots, or those that don’t sell because nobody is willing to bid the reserve price. Sometimes this is due to soft markets or greedy consignors, but it can also be a sign of watches that aren’t everything they appear to be. One of the watches I was most excited about going into Monday’s Christie’s sale was a Tiffany-signed Tru-Beat that still has its deadbeat mechanism intact (lot 116). Even better, the estimate was just $20,000-30,000, meaning someone might have been able to pick up a really unique and wearable Rolex for less than a stock-standard gilt Submariner. However, the watch failed to sell, immediately giving me pause. In all likelihood, this is a case of something sounding too good to be true actually being too good to be true, though I didn’t see the watch in the metal and can’t say for sure. Either way, it’s good to remember that not everything you find in a catalog is going to be sterling and you should always attend previews, do your research, and talk to other collectors before raising the paddle.
– Stephen Pulvirent
Photo (Top): Courtesy Phillips