Auction houses remain the primary access to rare and vintage luxury timepieces, allowing collectors to acquire them with peace of mind.
Christie’s, a renowned platform for some of the biggest watch auctions in recent years, just wrapped its bi-annual Watches Online: The Dubai Edit. A curated selection of 138 noteworthy novelties was presented, attracting old and new generations of watch collectors. Standout pieces such as a full gold Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref. 5066J with matching bracelet; stylish Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 3800; a vintage Rolex Datejust Ref.69028 set with sapphires and diamonds; a vintage gold Vacheron Constantin with sapphires on the dial and the Hashemite Crown crest on the dial; a vintage Piaget gold and lapis lazuli-set wristwatch a vintage white gold Audemars Piguet Day-Date wristwatch all went under the hammer.
Here, Emirates Woman speaks to Remy Julia, Christie’s Head of Watches Middle East, India, and Africa-Russia, on the art of the watch auction process both digital and offline.
Talk us through the auction process for vintage and contemporary pieces and how these pieces are selected.
The Watch Department at Christie’s Dubai strives to curate an auction that offers collectors as well as seasoned and first-time buyers the chance to acquire some of the most collectible and in-demand timepieces. The Dubai Edit comprises a mix of modern and vintage pieces and takes place twice a year. Curation is driven by demand and relevance. Sometimes as we begin consigning, if we spot a pattern or notice that a particular watch might be the missing piece of the sale, we try and find one that can fill that requirement anticipating the demand. It takes expertise and skill as well as a finger on the pulse of the market to curate an auction that has something for everyone – from the most seasoned collectors to watch aficionados at an early stage of collecting trying to set out the direction of their collector’s journey.
What are the different factors that determine the value of each piece?
There are three factors that decide how well a watch does at the auction: rarity, condition, and provenance. Watches are presented locally in the UAE and internationally in our Christie’s offices for approximately two weeks during which, clients can see and try them before the auction goes live online. The watches are also presented on our platforms – website and app, digitally with multiple images, a complete description of the watch, and a condition report prepared by one of our highly experienced watch specialists based in the Middle East. The final price is dictated by the market at auction during which clients bid online until the sale closes lot by lot on the final day of the online auction.
What does it take to successfully buy and sell a rare novelty at an auction?
The timepiece – it could be a wristwatch, a rare pocket watch, or a desk clock has to be that is desirable, something that has been on collector’s wish list, or a rare example of a limited edition that is highly sought-after. If a timepiece like this is consigned and there is an attractive market estimate, this will drive a level of interest and is more likely to lead to competitive bidding. Our team of watch specialists around the globe is involved in every auction and they inform and advise their clients about bidding and buying. For an online auction, bidding can be done from anywhere in the world which makes online sales more accessible and enables the Dubai Edit: Watches Online to attract international registrants and bidding.
Do you see both clients investing pieces to keep for a lifetime and others looking at these purchases more as an investment?
Both scenarios tend to play out – some timepieces are for keeps and find a permanent place in their collection. Some are bought merely as investments – a highly portable asset class but one driven by the collector’s own style and passion as well as their own desire to create a collection as an asset. As years go by, taste and trends change as well and collectors – we find that collectors regularly revisit their collection with our team and will decide to consign a piece for sale that may no longer meet their criteria for a growing collection. This is where the expertise, experience, and opinion of our team of watch specialists are key and make all the difference when a collector requires expert service in the curation of a collection.
Auction viewings afford a great opportunity for potential bidders to interact with the exceptional pieces up close prior to sale. Are these viewings free and open to the public?
Yes, the preview is open to the public and everyone is welcome. It’s a great opportunity to get a hands-on look at some rare watches. There are specialists present at the preview and I would urge those interested in watches to have a conversation with them to learn more. We are always happy to talk to people about watches and share our combined passion and knowledge whether you are a first-time buyer or looking for a particular model.
As pioneers, how does Christie’s localise its expertise for its auctions such as ‘Watches Online: Dubai Edit’?
Developing our relationships and engaging with existing and new clients across the Gulf on a very regular basis; identifying and consistently finding timepieces that are relevant and important to this region and being able to bring the very best models and brands to auction enables us to continue to meet the expectations and tastes of our regional clientele.
“We are in a business where relationships and reputation are everything, and we must invest time in nurturing and building them. Time truly is a precious commodity.”
How does Christie’s approach client development and retention?
Our client service, quality of expertise, and brand reputation combined contribute to why collectors come to Christie’s but ultimately it is the quality and breadth of the timepieces in the bi-annual Watches Online: The Dubai Edit which brings clients back and attracts new clients from around the world.
How has technology changed the role of auctions in today’s market?
Our online auctions enable clients from all over the world to bid. It also enables clients to monitor interest in a timepiece in real time until the day that the sale closes online. On average each Dubai online auction has around 700-900 participants from more than 40 countries across the world. During the auction, we sometimes speak to clients in the Far East and Australia in the morning and engage with those on the West Coast in America in the evenings. Applications like WhatsApp and Zoom have bought the world closer, and it is no longer unusual to sell high-value timepieces online. In April 2021, a rare Patek Philippe Ref. 5002P sold for $1.5 million at an online auction in Dubai – at that time, it was a record for the most expensive wristwatch ever sold on any online platform.
With the rise of second-hand and circular fashion, how does Christie’s stay at the forefront of luxury?
Through the strength of our curation and expertise. Aside from watches, Christie’s has thriving handbags and jewels departments that also offer for sale via the secondary market some of the most sought-after luxury pieces from the top brands in the market today.
Which has been the most exceptional piece you’ve ever seen sold at auction and to which country was it sold?
I have to say that to date the watch I am the most emotionally attached to is a watch I found (or that found me): the Haile Selassie Patek Philippe Ref 2497 which sold for 2,9M CHF in Geneva, May 2017. An exceptionally important, possibly unique and previously unknown 18K gold perpetual calendar wristwatch with sweep centre seconds, moon phases, black luminous military-style dial, luminous Alpha hands, engraved case back, formerly the property of His Majesty, King of Kings, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia.
This is The Horology Issue – time is precious, how do you optimize your own time for productivity or pace?
I like to plan my week and set short objectives for the day for the team and I like to respect moments so I tend not to take more than 3 appointments per day in order to spend quality time with the other party to understand exactly how we can help and assist. We are in a business where relationships and reputation are everything, and we must invest time in nurturing and building them. Time truly is a precious commodity.
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