Report III: Independents taking on Worldwide Auction Market
Mr. Geoffroy Ader, former Head of Luxury Watch Department at Sotheby’s in Geneva, comes from a family of Parisian auctioneers, with over 20 years’ experience in the fine watch auction market.
INDEPENDENT BRANDS LEAD THE AUCTION MARKET FOR 1ST SEMESTER 2018: ROLEX TAKES THE LEAD IN GENEVA!
THE FIRST PART OF THE YEAR LEADS US TO THINK MORE CAUTIOUSLY ABOUT THE IMPACT OF INDEPENDENT HOUSES IN THE AUCTION WORLD. STATISTICS ON THE LEADING ROLE OF INDEPENDENTS ARE EVEN CLEARER ONCE ALL RESULTS FROM MAJOR CAPITALS ARE COMPARED.
AS WE LOOK CLOSELY, PATEK PHILIPPE AND ROLEX STILL HAVE THE LEAD BY FAR. NEVERTHELESS, OTHER BRANDS LIKE FP JOURNE OR EVEN RICHARD MILLE ARE MAKING A BIG BREAK THROUGH IN TERMS OF MARKET SHARE, ESPECIALLY IN HONG KONG, DUBAI AND MONACO.
ALMOST EVERY SEASON WE SEE A NEW TWIST. AMONGST THE TOP THREE MOST WANTED, IT IS AUDEMARS PIGUET WHO HAS RAISEN AS A STRONG AND ESTABLISHED MARKET LEADER ON THE AUCTION BLOCK, WITH PATEK PHILIPPE AND ROLEX BECOMING CHALLENGERS. AUDEMARS PIGUET’S “TREASURES AND THE FUTURE MUSEUM”/HOTEL THAT IS SCHEDULED TO OPEN IN 2020 WILL GREATLY BENEFIT THE BRAND IN YEARS TO COME.
CLEARLY ONE CAN SEE THE IMPORTANCE OF INDEPENDENT HOUSES DURING THE FIRST SEMESTER OF 2018. IN GENEVA FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY ROLEX WAS AWARDED THE FIRST RANKING POSITION AHEAD OF PATEK PHILIPPE (BASED ON THE SALES FROM LAST MAY). THE DAYTONA ULTIMATUM AUCTION WAS CERTAINLY A BIG GAME CHANGER WITH THE MOST IMPORTANT RESULT OF THE SEASON.
APROPOS WHICH, PATEK PHILIPPE STILL HOLDS ITS CROWN WORLDWIDE. AS THE SALES TOTAL OF THE INDEPENDENTS WORLDWIDE AMOUNTS TO ALMOST TWO THIRDS, LET US ANALYSE MORE THOROUGHLY THE IMPACT OF EACH CAPITAL ON INDEPENDENT WATCH BRANDS AND WATCHMAKERS ALIKE.
Among all capitals of the watch auction market, the hometown of watchmaking is the most influential one, setting the trend for the season. During the May sessions we have noticed a true appetite from Rolex collectors, especially for famous Daytona with all its variations. Rolex was the number one independent watch brand for the first time ever in Geneva! This gives us a new indication about the market and its influence by the online world which is so present in
these recent years. Rolex has well and truly established itself as the market indicator for most collectors. It was striking to see the atmosphere around the recent thematic sale of Daytona Ultimatum watch at Phillips with amazing results. These results were also strongly followed by other players such as Antiquorum and Sotheby’s. The average price for Rolex was 142’000 USD with the totl of 38 million USD sold, accounting for almost half of the total sold in one week for more than 75 million USD. This is unique in the history of watch auctions and needs to be mentioned to collectors. Although Rolex has dominated and shown major results in most auctions, Christie’s and Sotheby’s had Patek Philippe as their number one for global results. It is now very clear that there is a market for exceptionally rare watches, although collectors have not yet decided to part with their treasures of Patek Philippe. The match is now open and game is still to be continued with some outsiders such as Audemars Piguet, who also achieved great results. Finally, it is interesting to notice that independent brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet represent more than 80% in terms of market share over the sales total.
The second place worldwide goes to Hong Kong which, following Geneva, is a main hub for independent watch brands. Patek Philippe comes in first position ahead of Rolex with almost double in terms of total sales. It is interesting to notice that the most expensive watch sold by Sotheby’s, a chronograph wristwatch reference 1579, was a vintage example. This clearly shows a new appetite from Asian collectors towards vintage timepieces. The competition is tough between all auction houses and the arrival of a new director at Sotheby’s, Sam Hines, gave this auction house a strong position to take the lead once again in Asia. The most important factor amongst independent watchmakers is the rise of Richard Mille as one market maker with its third position.
Truly developing both markets for modern as well as vintage watches, Hong Kong remains a very strong marketplace where collectors have a discerning and keen eye to choose the pieces in all watch categories. If Geneva is mostly focused on vintage and antique timepieces, it is refreshing to see that Hong Kong is also moving its direction, and isn’t focusing only on the sale of modern watches as it used to be the case in previous years. Finally, it is interesting to observe independent brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet represent more than 70% in terms of market share over the total sale.
New York is the place to be for the auction market in general. Results from Contemporary & Modern Art give the tempo of the season for the two tycoons; Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Watches are less regarded as a specialty locally, nonetheless this approach has shown very good results over the past few years. All now comes down to the fierce competition between Sotheby’s and Christie’s with two different concepts. Sotheby’s is more traditional in its approach towards the auction. The selection between modern, vintage and antique timepieces is always very exquisite. Their highest result being for a sale of singing bird box from the late 18th century, signed by Frères Rochat. Christie’s on the other hand has introduced since last year a new concept based on only few watches being selected for an “Evening of Exceptional Watches”. This might be the example for future of watch auctions whereby you limit the offer and therefore increase the demand. As watches are everywhere online, it is becoming even more difficult to find rare watches, so it is now the role of auctioneers to do so; but only if auctioneers could see the tremendous changes in the digital world as I do. One would immediately stick to Christie’s strategy which to my point is the only one that will bring strong prices on the watch market. This certainly was the case with the new world record for Rolex Submariner that was sold above 1 million USD. Finally, it is noteworthy that independent brands like Patek Philippe, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Greubel Forsey and Richard Mille represent almost 80% in terms of market share over the sales total. The diversity of independent brands represented is slightly larger and the dynamics are also very strong from all market sectors. New York like any sedentary market represents great opportunities to find small treasures at auctions.
This market is very special for independent brands and watchmakers. London is the place where a world record was broken last year with the George Daniels Masterpiece at Sotheby’s. Even if the market is not big in terms of volume, it is nonetheless good to observe and see where the vitality comes from. Independent brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet are once again clearly the outsiders with fourth position in terms of total sales. Other players like Bonhams have a strong role locally and will be the key in the future with recent developments in Asia, especially following recent nomination of Tim Bourne who was previously worldwide head at Sotheby’s. This is very specific to European watch auction capitals where Rolex comes in first position ahead of Patek Philippe. This interesting element shows the dynamics that this year leaned towards Rolex and mostly its sports watches.
Dubai & Monaco:
These two markets are alike in terms of their market share and brand positioning for independent brands. Antiquorum and Artcurial are the two local key players in Monaco, whereas Christie’s is alone in Dubai. The presence of independent watchmakers shows further resemblance with the likes of FP Journe for Monaco and Richard Mille in Dubai. Although these two markets share strong similarities there is a potential that in years to come they will establish themselves locally as strong watch markets. With two sessions conducted in January and July, Monaco has the opportunity to do so if their selection is made with care and discerning eye. Particularly as it already attracts strong international bidders.
For Artcurial in Monaco, one of their concepts to organise thematic auctions on ladies’ watches has broken all established codes within the auction world. For now in terms of total sales Dubai has shown the bigger number. However, neither Patek Philippe nor Rolex are number one brands as these markets are solely trusted by Piaget.
Innovation and selection are the key aspects of today’s world of watch auctions. This is also why independent brands are still not present in the first positions. It is not quantity that leads to quality as collectors are more and more aware of today’s market trends and the current records made on auctions were for pieces that have been carefully chosen by specialists. If our daily lives are becoming more and more digital, and the offer online is even bigger than ever, the auction world needs to do the selection based on demands from the buyers. The trend where “less is more” has never been so present in today’s auction world. The watch market is booming and will be even more with the rise of Certified Pre-Owned watch brands rising with their heritage in front of the eyes of the general public.
Images from Phillips, Sotheby’s, Christies.