They say the luxury watch market is in crisis. They say that the future of high-end watchmaking is uncertain with many brands set to crumble thanks to the continuingly austere economy. They say the next generation of collectors is unforthcoming, and brands are in dogfight to lower their entry-level price point in the hope it will attract a younger, less affluent clientele…
The Record Setters
Seems they forgot to mention these concerns to auction goers, who at May 2017 watch auctions set record after record as the hammers fell at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillip’s.
May 2017 watch auctions saw some heady amount being spent on some classic pieces that will likely spend a few years in a private collection before winding their way back to the market and blowing the lid off the record books once more.
Sotheby’s Mixed Bag of Success
Let’s begin with the mixed bag of projections and results witnessed at the Sotheby’s auction held in Geneva on May 14th: On offer for the first time since 2009 was a Patek Philippe Calibre 89, the most complicated pocket watch in history.
The Calibre 89 was released in 1989 to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary. Boasting 33 complications, it eclipses the complexity of the world’s most expensive watch (the Patek Philippe Graves Supercomplication), which has a mere 24 complications and only garnered the stratospheric $24,000,000 (£18,738,288) it did because of the identity of its owner and commissioner (Henry Graves).
Last time the Calibre 89 went under the hammer it sold for just over $5,000,000 (£3,903,810). It’s projected value this time around was between $6,400,000-$10,000,000 (£5,000,000 – £7,800,000), but it fell marginally short of the lower estimate and thus went unsold. This may not sound like the success story you were expecting, but the highest bid was still almost $1,500,000 (£1,171,143) more than the amount the watch commanded eight years ago. That’s progress even if the watch remains with its current owner…for now.
Phillip’s Daytona Madness
Both Christie’s and Phillip’s went Rolex crazy this month, with the latter auction producing one major and one minor world record for watch fans to bank for forum trivia.
On May 14th, the yellow gold Oyster Paul Newman Daytona (ref. 6263) became the most expensive Daytona ever when it sold for over 2.9 million pounds.
The Daytona is one of the most popular collector’s models in the world, but it is just one model. The record, as impressive as it is, doesn’t come close to the jaw-dropping price achieved by the watch that can now be known as the most expensive Rolex ever.
Christie’s Takes the Ultimate Crown
That honour falls to the Bao Dai Rolex. One of just three Rolexes featuring a black dial set with diamond hour markers known to exist, this piece was owned by the former (and final) emperor of Vietnam, who ascended the throne aged 12 in 1926. The Bao Dai Rolex sold for a staggering $5,060,427 (£3,950,989) and is the new benchmark for one of the world’s most collectible brands, capping off the most astounding feat during the May 2017 watch auctions.
About the Author: Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.