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Jeweller to the stars sees no end to gold rush for independent watchmakers

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Leon Adams is the jeweller to the stars and watch expert of choice for Manhattan’s midtown millionaires with views over Central Park or tourists residing at the Waldorf (closed for renovation), Peninsula or Four Seasons hotels.

His Cellini showroom, which was in the lobby of the Waldorf for 41 years before its new Chinese owners closed it for renovation and he relocated up the road to 56th and Park Avenue with a 3,000 square foot luxury watch and jewelry emporium specialising in some of the world’s rarest pieces from low volume artisan independent watchmakers.

Having battled for decades to get traction for brands such as H. Moser, De Bethune, Voutilainen and MB&F, Cellini suddenly has collectors queuing around the proverbial block.

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Leon Adams.

“There has been a lot of movement in the watch industry in the past couple of years for independent brands. A lot of the collectors and watch aficionados out there have already acquired their Vacheron, their AP or their Patek and they are looking for something different, a little more special and unique than the mainstream brands. I see a tremendous outpouring of interest for the independents in the past two years and I can only see that continue to increase,” Mr Adams tells WatchPro in our Big Interview this month.

Social media has transformed the fortunes of many independent watchmakers, because they can promote themselves globally to watch collectors who expose their passion through browsing habits that the likes of Facebook and Instagram track.

This means that, with comparatively little marketing investment, watchmakers without the budgets for mainstream advertising now have a platform where they can shout about their craft.

“In years past, the reason that a lot of these independents have not achieved any notoriety is their lack of finance for advertising and promotion. Over the years, unless you were deep into the watch world, you would not have heard of Philippe Dufour or the others,” Mr Adams suggests.

“One of the big changes that helps them today is that social media lets these guys get out there with little or no expense to launch products. That lets them reach and speak with many more people than ever before. The more people that know about something, the more people there will be wanting to buy it. When you are only making a few hundred pieces or less per year, demand is going to exceed supply for these super-mechanical timepieces,” he adds.

News of rising prices spreads even faster that product information on social media, and this is also fueling the surge in demand for independents’ watches.

F. P. Journe and Philippe Dufour are current darlings of the auction world where their watches are challenging Patek Philippe and Rolex for the bids of high net worth collectors.

At Antiquorum’s January 24 sale in Monaco, both the top lot and the fifth best-seller were by F.P Journe, the former being a platinum-cased 2004 Octa Calendrier with a golden dial and brass movement that more than doubled its high estimate to fetch €188,500.

Demand for Philip Dufour’s Simplicity timepiece, which typically sold for under $50,000 until five years ago, has exploded and examples now change hands for over $400,000 at auction.

That could be because the living legend that is Mr Dufour is in his seventies today, and only recently committed to making 20 more watches after previously saying he was retiring.

Like artists throughout history who cannot create masterpieces after their deaths, it looks as if collectors and/or investors are betting that prices will skyrocket once no more Philip Dufour watches can be made.

“That is one of the biggest selling points,” agrees Mr Adams. “When we are sitting with a client, we tell them they are buying a piece from a brand where the name on the dial is a person who is still alive and actually made that watch. We do not know what is going to happen when they are deceased, but it is like buying art: you buy a painting from somebody who is alive, but when they pass on, the value of the art shoots up.”

 

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