Power List: The Power Players

Start your year off right with the leaders, the wonders, the visionaries and all the people in watchmaking who have make it such an incredible, fascinating industry. These are Power Lists.

At the beginning of 2022, prices on pre-owned watches were reaching eye-watering levels that had never been seen before. At the top of the peak were pieces from the “Big Three” that we now refer to as “hype watches,” such as the Daytona, Nautilus and Royal Oak. This was fueled by a number of unique moments in modern history. Despite the cataclysmic nature of COVID, the fact that people were unable to travel, and it was not possible to eat, drink or dance the night away outside, meant that disposable incomes were at an all-time high. Secondly, the entire crypto economy went berserk, with investors making millions and billions in digital currencies. People liked to spend, and spend they did on watches … and plenty of them!

The smart operators could see that this was a bubble and whilst demand is still high, prices do seem to be stabilizing. To be fair, it’s not really surprising when we take into account a number of factors in the global picture that 2022 has so far painted. The global markets, the (inevitable) crypto crash, geopolitical tensions including a European war, levels of inflation not seen for decades and volatile currencies have all made their presence known in all facets of our lives, including watches.

The numbers have been crunched and, according to WatchCharts and Morgan Stanley’s latest report, the market for pre-owned Rolex, Patek and Audemars Piguet is down between seven and eight percent for the third quarter of 2022. This trend continues on from quarters one and two, and it is expected to be a similar picture in quarter four. It’s not all bad news, however, as all asset classes are down this year and luxury watches are comparatively down less than other assets. Another key point for those holding their assets for the medium term is that, from a more macro point of view, watches from the “Big Three” are still up 21 percent from January 2021. Interestingly, there was a winner in all of this, with A. Lange & Söhne having steadily increased since January 2021.

The sector least affected by the market turbulence is, however, vintage. A market that seems to march to its own drum, there has been very little turbulence from trends or customers’ buying and selling activity. What we know for certain is that the spring auction season was incredibly strong, in spite of people’s worst fears. Echoing the pre-owned sector, vintage is still dominated by the same “Big Three,” with Audemars Piguet having a particularly interesting run this year, thanks in part to the Royal Oak 50th anniversary monothematic sale held at Phillips. There were other incredible record sales, though, such as for Rolex’s “Stella” Dial Day-Dates at Monaco Legend Group, a very rare Cartier Crash at Loupe This, and various other records at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

With the demand for luxury watches, across the entire patch, at an all time high, brands are simply unable, or unwilling, to supply enough watches to meet the demand. Even though supply has eased slightly, it’s still not enough to cater to a half or a quarter of the demand.

Step forward the secondary players whom, I would strongly argue, are as important as the brands themselves in the industry today. Whether modern pre-owned, independent or vintage, there is a dealer that can help secure you the watch that you desire. Whether you are buying watches as investment or for the love of the hobby, both of which are equally valid reasons, the secondary market is a key power player in the industry as we know it.

A Collected Man (Silas Walton)

A Collected Man's Silas Walton

A Collected Man, or ACM, is the London-based watch dealer founded and helmed by Silas Walton and his team of watch specialists. Known for its eclectic and off-the-beaten-path approach to curating its offerings, ACM is considered a key tastemaker in the market, and where Silas and fam go, others follow.

On the state of the current market, Walton says, “We’ve seen a serious price adjustment in some areas, notably modern steel sports watches from Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. The decrease in price for steel sports watches seems to be caused by a decrease in the number of collectors who are involved in this particular market. Whether these collectors are slowing down their collecting entirely or merely shifting their collecting is difficult to say exactly, but we presume it’s a combination of the two.”

Nevertheless, he adds, “We’re still seeing some very strong activity in areas such as independent watchmaking, complicated Patek Philippe, neo-vintage Cartier, or early A. Lange & Söhne, just to name a few. True rarity, rather than artificially created rarity, and quality seem to remain strongly desirable. Some collectors appear to be refocusing their interests on areas which they see as safer stores of value, in more uncertain times.”

Amsterdam Vintage Watches (Jasper Lijfering)

Jasper Lijfering from Amsterdam Vintage Watches

The sentiment that buying watches for passion, not investment is central to the ethos of Jasper Lijfering of Amsterdam Vintage Watches. Lijfering is a second-generation watch dealer who has taken the family business and transformed it into one of Europe’s leading vintage watch outlets, specializing in special and rare vintage pieces, which is the perfect fit with his love for the finer things in life.

“I’m happy to see the market is being cleansed!” states Lijfering. “Since wristwatches have been experiencing something of a bear market, the dealers playing into the hands of ‘investors’ by fueling the financial hype are rapidly diminishing, leaving space for the people that are in the market for the right reasons; first and foremost, passion. This seems to the recurring reason why the vintage market is in rude health, compared to a lot of volatility with the modern market, as it is primarily underpinned up by collectors.”

Roy & Sacha Davidoff

Roy & Sacha Davidoff

As well as being the heartland of the watchmaking industry, Geneva also hosts some of the most important watch auctions twice a year as part of “Geneva Watch Weekend” each autumn and spring. The city is also home to the brothers Davidoff, whose eponymous shop is the go-to place for vintage pieces in general and Speedmasters, in particular.

On the biggest challenge that watch dealers are currently facing, the brothers’ view is the following: “Currently, the market is slow because many buyers are adopting the approach to ‘wait and see.’ Collectors can stay out of the market for months at a time to see where prices will settle and what trends become apparent. This is not the case for dealers as we need to buy and sell watches almost every day.”

“In turn, many dealers are not laying out big sums for higher end pieces, and although asking prices don’t seem to be dropping anymore, it is clear that the trade volume is still low. As traders, we are less speculative on prices and focus more on what is selling or moving and at what margins. Right now, both are thin.”

Graal Limited (Zoe Abelson, aka “Watch Girl Off Duty”)

Graal Limited's Zoe Abelson, aka “Watch Girl Off Duty”

Having cut her teeth at leading global watch resale platform WatchBox, Abelson is one of the new-generation watch dealers living a nomadic life, leaving a large horological footprint in her path. Her clients list is as vast as her contacts book, with a serious assemblage of collectors and dealers on her various WhatsApp groups.

Says Abelson, “My biggest challenge today is competition with other dealers. There are so many of us now, buyers and sellers have a lot more access to great watches in today’s market. This challenge has pushed me to focus on a more curated offering of higher value and rarer pieces (such as independent brands) that are harder to obtain.”

Loupe This And 10 Past Ten (Eric Ku)

Eric Ku of Loupe This And 10 Past Ten

When it comes to vintage Rolex, a dominating force in that hugely important market is Eric Ku. Founder of 10 Past Ten and online auction house Loupe This, as well as owner of the Vintage Rolex Forum and specialist watch restoration company L.A. WatchWorks, Ku knows his
Oysters and is partly responsible for the major rise in interest in Cartier watches. He feels that there is a certain issue around quenching the watch collecting community’s ever-growing thirst for luxury watches.

“There is a growing issue of demand far outstripping supply,” he states. “I can’t think of an instance where any of the main brands have really sizably cut production, and yet every year there are more and more people interested in watches. I believe that brands’ production generally grows five to 10 percent a year, but if demand grows 10 to 20 percent a year, the impression is that there is seemingly less product out there.”

Monaco Legend Group (Davide Parmegiani)

Davide Parmegiani of Monaco Legend Group

One of the watch industry’s most prominent experts and dealers, Davide Parmegiani is known as the “Big Boss” of watch dealers. He is one of the vintage watch world’s leading lights, having curated many of the most prominent watch collections in existence. Parmegiani is also chairman and co-owner of auction house Monaco Legend Group. He sees a big opportunity in the current market.

He says, “There are currently some very good opportunities to buy at this moment in time. People can make the best investment, as there are going to be a lot of very nice watches on the market. I think it’s going to be a very good opportunity for people to increase their collections.”

However, he cautions, “It’s important that people don’t think that the watch market is a market for short-term investment. These people should invest in other ways, maybe the stock market or crypto. Watches should be bought for the passion of collecting. This is my absolute belief. I’ve seen for 30 years that the vintage market is actually a very niche and yet stable market. Vintage is all about the quality, it’s all about the rarity and it’s its own community. I think the vintage market is as good as it gets at the moment!”

Phillips Watches (Aurel Bacs)

Aurel Back of Phillips Watches

For approaching 20 years now, one man has swung his gavel more than any other over some of the most staggering watch auction results of all time. Aurel Bacs is one half of Bacs & Russo, who in association with Phillips Watches, has positioned the house as one of the industry game changers. Equally adept at selling world-class vintage watches and modern independent creations, the powerhouse that is Phillips is an annual litmus test for how the market is faring and, in some people’s eyes, what is “hot or not.”

Bacs is not concerned about any crash in the market. He says, “I can foresee a couple of things that I expect to come to fruition. First of all, we have all seen the so-called hype watches in the last couple of years selling at incredibly high prices. We can all now also see that some of those pieces are slowing down.

“I don’t think it’s fair to call it a crash; I think that people start to eventually reason that paying 15 to 20 times retail isn’t a long-term smart move. Secondly, vintage is still very strong. When I ask people if they have an unpolished [Patek] 1463, they are saying, ‘No, but I’d like to buy one!’ Simply put, there is just not enough good material out there.”

Watchbox (Justin Reis)

Justin Reis of WatchBox

When it comes to the secondary market and, in particular, independent watchmaking, one of the global leaders is WatchBox. The company recently bought De Bethune, and these boys are certainly plugged into that scene, having been early adopters and champions of this emerging sector of watch collecting. But it’s more than just identifying those watchmakers and even taking positions on them.

WatchBox’s CEO Justin Reis explains, “Since we founded the company almost six years ago, we’ve always been supporters of independent brands and truly believe in the incredible talent of the modern independent watchmakers. Journe and De Bethune, which have two of the leading watchmakers of the world at their helm, are probably the finest timepieces that are being made today. In the case of independents, we have found that demand is now outstripping supply, which is a blessing for many of these brands that have been starved of attention for many years.”

Watch Brothers London (Ben Dunn)

Ben Dunn of Watch Brothers London

Ben Dunn of Watch Brothers London is focused on not just acquiring and offering watches that he truly loves, but he’s also passionate about educating and sharing his knowledge through his website. At the moment, he can see some new and emerging opportunities.

He lets on, “For me, it’s buying season. There are lots of opportunities to be calculated and bought intentionally with clear and consistent curation. Neo-vintage is all the rage and is still grossly undervalued compared to modern offerings, in rarity, historical importance and craft. Complications such as perpetual calendars are in and sports watches are out, with a strong shift to strap models in 36mm or less.”

As for the watch brands to look out for, he says, “It’s a wonderful time to be exploring timeless designs and complications from brands such as Vacheron Constantin, Breguet and Blancpain. Green dial steel Subs from Rolex, or a ’90s ultra thin yellow gold perpetual calendar from Vacheron? I know where my money’s at and I like to advise my clients the same. Now is the perfect time to explore models beyond your comfort zone, spend time researching, learning and connecting with others, and you might just find something out there that you’ve never seen or considered, [but] that has everything you’re after. Happy hunting!”

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