Good, Better, Best: Watch Auctions Record Resounding Success in First Half of 2021By Neha S Bajpai
Switzerland’s watch rebound is gaining momentum not just within the primary market but at auctions as well. In June, while watch exports touched a hearty CHF 2 billion, which was 12.5 per cent up compared to exports in the same period in 2019, the auction market reported a seminal first-half for 2021.
According to The Mercury Project’s latest Hammertrack report, the key players—Christie’s, Phillips, Sotheby’s, Antiquorum, Bonhams and Poly Auction—recorded a jump of 49 percent from 2019 with sales worth CHF 241 million in the first half of this year.
Helped by a heavy dose of online events and a wide array of offerings for new bidders, luxury watch auctions picked up steam in the first quarter of 2021 and passed the semester with flying colours, thanks to an amazing second quarter, which recorded CHF 205.2 million, up 38 percent from 2019. “The demographic for watch collectors under 40 are getting into watch collecting these days. For instance, if you look at Sotheby’s clientele, the number of Singaporean buyers aged under 40 went up from 12 percent in 2017 to 29 percent last year. Christie’s auction in Dubai registered 558 participants online from 37 countries. Of these, there were first-time buyers from countries like Norway, Ethiopia and Uganda. Phillips’ Hong Kong Watch Auction XII also reported a 30 percent increase in online participants as compared to the last season,” says Thierry Huron, founder of The Mercury Project.
It is no news that Patek Philippe continues to rule the pole position in the auction world with sales worth a whopping CHF 81 million in the first six months of 2021. However, what is surprising is F.P.Journe’s rise within the top three ranks this year. With total sales of CHF 9.8 million from 44 lots, Journe now stands next to Rolex, which recorded a bumper first half with CHF 21.1 million worth sales so far.
As per the latest Hammertrack report, there have been eight events that have generated sales of over ten million CHF in the first half of 2021. Of these eight events, four were run by Christie’s, two by Phillips and two by Antiquorum. Out of the 8’383 timepieces sold at auctions so far, 18 watches were priced at over one million Swiss Francs. “With such growth, the market is set to beat the 2019 figure of CHF 390 million and pass the CHF 400 million mark for the full year of 2021,” states the report.
Millionaire lots at various auctions accounted for 17 percent of the total sales and have already generated CHF 41.4 million, which is a huge boost as compared to sales (CHF 42 million) from an entire year in 2020. The credit for this extraordinary rebound goes to blockbuster auctions like Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction XIII, Christie’s Rare Watches, Phillips’ HK Watch Auction XII and The Legends of Time by Christies, which set the ball rolling for what seems like a remarkable year for auctions.
Amongst the top auction houses, the new market leader, Christie’s sold nine watches with a price tag of more than one million CHF, followed by Phillips that sold five, Antiquorum, Poly Auction and Sotheby’s each sold one timepiece.
Web Auctions Takes Lead
Out of the 64 events organised in the first half of 2021, 38 were held online. Essentially driven by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, online sales rose 486 percent in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. Contributing to 22 percent of the total sales, online auctions touched CHF 54 million by June this year. “The rise of online events, which went up from just 22 in 2019 to 144 in 2020, favoured the arrival of a younger audience — a new generation of collectors aspiring for good value bargains. They aren’t responsive to all price segments, nevertheless Patek Philippe and Rolex seem to be the most popular brands at these events. Despite the fact the watch auction results declined 19 percent in 2020, they confirm the appeal of vintage pieces,” says Huron.
During the first half of 2021, the average price of a lot sold online was pegged at CHF 10’298, as compared to lots from live auctions at CHF 59’345. “Online auctions offer a different category of timepieces, more accessible and adapted to demand from new buyers, specifically millennials joining the traditional watch collecting community,” states the Hammertrack report.
Christies Claims Pole Position
With a series of world records to its credit in spring 2021, Christie’s accelerated to the number one position in the market this year. The auction house almost doubled its sales from 2019 to touch a record CHF 84.5 million in the first half of 2021. The strategy for Christie’s seemed pretty straightforward as it made its events more inclusive with a wide range of “affordable” timepieces to lure in younger, first-time bidders from across the world. The auction house has organised 18 events so far, including 14 online auctions which offered watches at an average price of CHF 7,800 per lot.
“It’s been an exceptionally strong first half of the year for Christie’s watch teams in Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York. Not only in terms of curating a fantastically diverse spectrum of timepieces at the highest levels of rarity, importance and value, but also opening the market to a much larger client base. Whether it was an iconic legend to wear every day, a foundation timekeeper to begin a collection, or that rarest of finds to end a decades-long search, our leadership position speaks to the expertise of our specialists and delivering our client wishes,” says Aline Sylla-Walbaum, Christie’s Global Managing Director, Luxury Division.
The “Auction of the Decade” for Christie’s was “The Legends of Time” event in Hong Kong that witnessed an impressive average selling price of over CHF 930,000 for its 18 lots, including 13 Patek Philippe timepieces. The event attracted world record prices for 10 lots, eight of them Patek Philippe, along with a Rolex and an F.P. Journe.
With more volume (121 lots), “An Exceptional Season of Watches”, also organised by Christie’s, was the preliminary session to “The Legends of Time ”. “Together with “The Legends of Time”, both sessions, held during the afternoon and the evening of the same day, achieved total sales of CHF 31.2 million. This has been the best-ever result for a watch auction in Asia,” states the Hammertrack report.
Unlike Christie’s, which populated its events calendar with a huge number of web auctions in the first half of the year, Phillips organised just two events online. However, the auction house brought in some of the rarest watches in excellent condition that contributed CHF 69.2 million to its sales, an increase of 42percentcompared to the first half of 2019. The average sales price of CHF 117,310 at Phillips was also far higher than any of its competitors.
Up by 141 percent as compared to the first half of 2019, Antiquorum’s performance was mainly driven by two events held in Geneva and Hong Kong, which accounted for 63 percent of their sales. This helped the auction house boost its market share to 16 percent as compared to the full year of 2019 (8 percent) and 2020 (7 percent).
Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Poly Auction shared the remaining 20 percent market share.
Hong Kong Overtakes Geneva
Thanks to four events organised by Phillips, Christie’s (two events) and Antiquorum, Hong Kong overtook Geneva reaching CHF 100.8 million this year. In June, Phillips held its biggest watch auction ever in Asia with total sales of nearly CHF 22.8 million. The auction house sold 100 percent of all its watches offered not only in Hong Kong and Geneva but also online. The Hong Kong Watch Auction XII reported a 30 percent increase in online participants as compared to the last season. It also marked the first various owner, non-thematic ‘white glove’ watch sale in Asia in history.
Christie’s Geneva “Rare watches” also notched up sales of CHF 22.7 million. 58 out of 215 lots here were six-figure value timepieces and two were seven-figure. Besides Hong Kong and Geneva, Christie’s Dubai auction and Antiquorum’s two auctions in Forte Dei Marmi and Monaco registered strong sales in the first half of this year.
Winners All the Way
The biggest success story in the auction world in the first half of 2021 has been Phillips’ spectacular Geneva Watch Auction XIII that recorded total sales worth CHF 38.1 million. The star performer for this show was the spectacular Patek Philippe, reference 2523 with “Eurasia” dial from 1953, one of the only three examples known to date with a cloisonné enamel dial. The watch sold for CHF 7.804 million, the highest price ever for a Patek Philippe wristwatch with enamel cloisonné dial and for any yellow gold wristwatch ever sold at auction.
Patek Philippe continues to demonstrate its supremacy this year with an impressive presence in 16 out of the 18 millionaires watches. According to the Hammertrack report, the brand dominated the top four slots for the most expensive watches sold in the first half of this year’s auction season. On number five was the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref. 16516 sold by Sotheby’s for CHF 2.85 million in April, 2021.