Insiders’ thoughts: who is bidding at watch auction?

With Only Watch and Phillip’s leading the way, watch auctions have attracted a lot of attention breaking records after records. Many observers are quite concerned about these bidding wars, especially watch lovers.

The million dollar mark

It was only a decade ago that the first Rolex ever, one of a dozen ref. 4113, sold for over CHF 1 million. Today, we are counting about 30 Rolex watches that sold for over a million. In just a few years, it has become almost impossible to get hold of a handful of references.

Before that, there was a time when it was essentially Patek Philippe watches that were selling for over a million on a regular basis. This was admitted by most as legitimate.


The role of auction houses

Auction houses have done a great job in gathering and sharing knowledge about collectible timepieces. Records after records, they have attracted a broader media coverage. Resulting to an event such as Only Watch that gathered 100 members of the international press. While the intentions were good in the first place, we might have reached a point where things are out of control.

Speculation driven by emotions

At first, it was private collectors who took over the bidding over watch dealers and institutions. More recently, newcomers, who were initially curious, started to play the game of fetching the most treasured timepieces. Essentially, the intensity of emotions attached to timepieces and the watch community is driving the game, leading to what some are calling these bidding wars speculation and others money laundering.

Talking to several people after the latest Only Watch auction, it became clear that none of the expected usual buyers had won a single lot of the sale. All lots were dispatched amongst new buyers [eventually at the head of large fortunes] to the watch industry.

At a time when everything in our world seems so superficial and manipulated, it feels a bit odd to discriminate the watch industry for succeeding where others might have failed.

Predicting another cycle of deflation?

However, it might be a good time for the industry as a whole to step back for a moment and do a thourough analysis of where it comes from and where it is heading. Such questions as the sustainability of the current model or what is at stake if prices continue to increase at this pace should be raised. Will it become increasingly difficult to travel with a watch on the wrist leading to another cycle of deflation?


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