About 10 days ago, Christopher and I went to Geneva to attend the watch auctions and I just wanted to share some thoughts about what went down. Of course, while the Only Watch Auction grabbed headlines for some crazy prices, most notably the Audemars Piguet Perpetual Calendar Black Ceramic with a blue dial that went for around $800,000 and the Tudor Black Bay Bronze One that went for a simply tilting $350,000. The showstopper auction was always going to be over at La Rèserve with the Phillips Watch Department.
I want to discuss in particular the Heuer Parade auction that took place. In this case, less so about the specific watches that sold and more about the general atmosphere that I feel is important to explore. More on that later.
The lots we highlighted both sold but nothing out of the ordinary with the Longines Chronostop, going for below its low estimate, which surprised me a lot. The Omega CK 988 we highlighted similarly went for around its low estimate but really, the real star of the Phillips auction has to be Lot 182, the Omega Prototype Tourbillon that went for nearly $1.5 million, smashing its estimate of $103,000 – $207,000 and becoming the most expensive Omega ever sold. This watch was always going to do well, being historically important and unique, but the real success of this result lies in the shifting of the publics perception of vintage Omega. Joining the million-dollar club really cements vintage Omega a blue-chip brand to collect.
HEUER PARADE AUCTION
Back to the Heuer Parade auction, a general belief of mine is that disappointment always stems from misaligned expectations. We think something is going to go a certain way and irrespective of whether the outcome is good or bad, if it doesn’t go as expected, we tend to be left feeling dissatisfied.
I would say this is certainly the case with the thematic ‘Heuer Parade’ auction. There is always an expectation placed when the words ‘thematic auction’ and ‘Aurel Bacs’ are used in the same sentence. With sales such as the ‘Start Stop Reset’ stainless steel chronograph auction and the legendary ‘Lesson One: Daytona’ auction it is no wonder why. Most of us follow Phillips and attend their auctions not because we want to bid but because it is theatre. We love to hear of a record being broken or an intense bidding war, or even though it borders on schadenfreude, Aurel Bacs perhaps losing his usual coolness and asking security to escort the attendees who were being loud in the back out of the room. (Which by the way, did happen).
By normal standards, the Heuer Parade auction was a big success with most lots selling above their high estimates. All forty-two Heuer chronographs were sold with strong, expected prices for the rare Autavias and Carreras and therein is the issue. ‘Expected’. Last year Christie’s made headlines when they sold a first execution Heuer Autavia 2446 with second execution hands for $125,000, but nobody bat an eyelid when the example at Phillips sold for nearly $140,000.
Despite the success, I really do think that the fleeting excitement for the Heuer Parade auction was down to the audience coming to expect too much from Bacs and his team, but then again, they can’t be blamed, he is, after all, Aurel Bacs.
All in all, while I wouldn’t say it was a particularly revolutionary auction season, it still showed the market’s appetite for vintage is going strong, with perhaps even modern pieces coming back into the minds of collectors. What I certainly have noticed, is that while previous years have been about certain watch models such as the Omega Speedmaster or Heuer Autavia rocketing up in value, the real revelation of this year lies not in any specific model, but one word in general: Condition. Collectors used to be willing to make concessions and pay good prices for desirable references in mediocre condition, but not anymore. What I am seeing is the gap between mint and poor condition widening significantly and this makes a lot of sense as the vintage market matures and collectors as a whole becoming more selective.