Swiss luxury watches and the watch auction boom

This column, since its inception in April of this year, has always been from the perspective of a watch enthusiast, namely me. But I’m not that different from other mechanical wristwatch fans you’ll find all over the internet. I spend a lot of my free time looking at watches, reading about watches and watching videos. My Instagram account, at this point, exists primarily for watch content, and the global #watchfam doesn’t disappoint on that. I’m watch photographers, watch publications, vintage watch collectors, used and vintage luxury watch sellers, as well as average watch enthusiasts with a few Seikos and an iPhone to take everyday wrist photos. In fact, it’s the one type of social media content that I like more these days.

The increased digital presence of watch brands has made me, along with hundreds of thousands of other watch enthusiasts like me, a front row observer of the many ways the industry has changed since the start of the covid pandemic. 19. The two key changes that underscored more than a year of intense turmoil were the changed circumstances of the Swiss luxury watch industry and the seemingly indestructible growth of the watch resale market, namely auctions.

Read also: How to admire luxury watches in 2021

Last year, the pandemic threatened to tip Swiss watchmaking into a spin unprecedented since the 1970s. Five decades ago, the combination of the rise of quartz watches and the slowing global economy had resulted in the death of hundreds of Swiss brands, some of which were centuries old. The industry recovered in the 1980s and 1990s in part thanks to the consolidation of large watchmaking conglomerates such as LVMH (TAG Heuer, Zenith etc.), Richemont (Cartier, Jaeger LeCoultre etc.) and the Swatch Group (Omega, Swatch etc.), and by moving mechanical watchmaking towards luxury.

Over the past decade, the 2008 recession and the rise of smartwatches had tarnished the shine somewhat, but things were looking up for the Swiss before the pandemic hit. In January 2020, Swiss watch exports totaled 1,790 million Swiss francs, an increase of 10% compared to January 2019. In April 2020, with Europe blocked and factories closed, watch exports fell by 81 % from April 2019. May was just as bad. The biggest thing that pulled the industry from the brink, so to speak, was the rapid recovery of the Chinese economy towards the end of last year. And until 2021, it was sales in the Far East, especially in China, that kept the Swiss watch industry optimistic. Hong Kong, which has been the undisputed number one market for years, was already slipping from its perch amid pro-democracy protests and resulting repression in China. By 2021, according to several industry reports, it had fallen to number 3, behind China and the United States. Industry watchers doubt it will ever return to pole position.

Also read: Why do we need mechanical watches in 2021?

However, despite the rebound, mainly thanks to China and online sales, the outlook for Swiss watches remains in the “wait and watch” category. The so-called “Big Four” private luxury brands – Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Richard Mille – have become even more dominant. According to a September 8 New York Times Report, these brands have benefited from demand for their watches far exceeding supply, as well as from the super-rich recognizing the brand’s flagship watches as a shock-proof global investment. “Watches from these brands are now universal liquid assets. Of course, they are all well made and recognizable. But collectors are reassured to buy from these brands because buyers and sellers will appreciate their watches as a recognized currency, ”said Geoffrey Hess, a New York-based watch specialist. NYT. In 2020, Rolex alone accounted for 26.8% of the market share, according to a Morgan Stanley report from March, supplanting the Swatch Group.

The high demand and low availability mean that it is now a sellers market, which could indicate why the sale of used and vintage watches, and in particular the auction of high-end examples , is booming. Vintage watches as collectibles have been a craze for at least five years now, and it’s a market that is mostly worn by watch enthusiasts. There are some great bargains to be had in this space, like a vintage Omega Seamaster DeVille or a Universal Genève Polerouter for anywhere in between. ??1.5 to 3 lakhs depending on the state. Besides the pleasure of enjoying these iconic timepieces, even as investments, such purchases are sure to retain value, and perhaps even be appreciated.

Read also: The pleasure of collecting vintage watches

At the high end of this curve, reflected in auctions of watches like Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Antiquorum or Phillips Watches, is where the stupid money is spent, sometimes even on new watches. Take the green dial Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711, which launched in April of this year. Its retail price is $ 34,890, but it’s a coin you may never be able to own even if you have the cash for the retail price; due to a long waiting list, which may require you to wait 10 years. In July, Antiquorum auctioned off a brand new piece in Monaco for $ 492,000.

A work of art, the Philippe Dufour Grande and Petite Sonnerie No.1.
(Courtesy of Phillips Watches)


It is also not an outlier. Last year, Sotheby’s sold a 1968 Rolex ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona for $ 306,378. In May of this year, a 1953 Patek Philippe World Timer Ref. 2523 was sold for $ 7.8 million at the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction XIII. In early August, online retailer A Collected Man sold a 1995 Philippe Dufour Grande and Petit Sonnerie No.3 for a record $ 7.6 million.

Read also: The complicated world of watch movements

While Hong Kong may have moved to the top of the new watch market, it remains the largest market for used and vintage watches. The Phillips Hong Kong Watch Auction XII in June this year saw total sales of $ 24.7 million, the highest to date for Phillips in Asia. All eyes are now on the Phillips Geneva Watch Auction XIV from November 5 to 7. It will be great fun, for a watch enthusiast like me, to watch online on the sidelines with a bowl of popcorn while horological wonders like the Philippe Dufour Grande and Petite Sonnerie Numéro 1 are sold at exorbitant prices.

Manual winding is a bimonthly chronicle on watches and watchmaking.

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