Even if the luxury watch market has experienced a few bumps over the past year (thanks very much global economy), the pre-loved market is booming. But if you want to get in on the action there are some things you ought to know. With Christie’s Magnificent Jewels and Important Watches, Sotheby’s US Important Watches auctions, Sotheby’s George Daniels, Father of Modern Horology and Celebration of the English Watch Sale, and Bonhams Fine Watches Sale on the horizon we thought it’d be a good time to give you potential investors the low-down on the simple dos and don’ts of watch auctions.
Tip 1: Go to the Auction
This might sound obvious, but in this digital age you don’t always actually have to be at an auction house to take part in the physical proceedings. You can place an advance bid via the phone or Internet, but you should avoid this until you’ve had a lot of experience of interpreting auction catalogues or possess an entourage who can examine the pieces on your behalf if you can’t make it to the show.
Tip 2: Talk to Experts
Get involved in the horological community. Talk to watch lovers on forums and especially experts present at the events. Build up as full a picture of the piece you’re interested in before buying. Does it hold its value? Does it run well? Is it comfortable to wear? Is it cool or an academic curio (or both)? Know your target inside and out before you raise your card.
Tip 3: Do your Research
It’s important to look into your chosen auction house’s past experiences with your target model. Look into previous prices for watches of this type. Do they have a regular price or is it a bit scattershot? If it falls into the latter category, you need to find out why…
Tip 4: Turn over Every Stone
Check if the watch has ever had any special edition variants, or any misprints on the dial that might send the price through the roof. The watch might be known for a particular weak spot that could send the value through the floor. If, for example, the apple of your eye is known for being fitted with after-market parts, make sure you know about it. ‘Franken-watches’ (watches containing unofficial parts) lack the provenance and therefore the value of an original. Auction houses should state if a watch has been ‘Frankened’, but you need to know what it means and why it drastically drops the price you should be willing to pay for your new old timepiece.
Tip 5: Don’t Forget About the Commission!
Auction houses need to make their money somewhere, and they do so by charging buyers (as well as sellers) a percentage on the final sale value of the piece. This can vary from house-to-house, but it’s often somewhere in the 10-20% region depending on the sale price (higher hammer prices generally mean lower buyer premiums). There can also be other hidden fees, so watch out!
Very few people manage to make serious money from buying and selling watches. Watches are as much emotional investments as they are monetary. If you are sure you want to own the watch, go ahead and bid for it, but don’t do it if you don’t believe in the purchase. Being personally happy with your acquisition is the only way to guarantee success, so make sure you’re sure before the hammer drops.
Images courtesy of author
Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.