Further evidence that the super-rich stretched their advantage over the rest of us during the pandemic comes from the auction world where Antiquorum, Bonhams, Christie’s, Poly Auction, Sotheby’s and Phillips saw luxury watch sales rocket by 239% in the first half of 2021 compares to last year and by 49% over the pre-pandemic six month period in 2019.
Luxury watch sales at the six auction houses reached a record CHF 241 million (£190m) from 8,383 lots, according the Hammertrack report produced by Switzerland’s The Mercury Project.
Physical sales rooms were open again for the major spring auctions of 2021, but the acceleration of online bidding that was super-charged by the pandemic is continuing.
Online sales rose 486% to CHF 54 million (£52.6m) in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019 and accounted for 22% of total auction sales.
Christie’s switched quickly to high frequency online auctions at the height of the pandemic last year, and is capitalising now on the wider audience it attracted to become the world leader by value of watches sold.
Christie’s H1 sales of CHF 84.5 million (£66.6m) was almost double the value of watches sold in the first half of 2019, causing it to leapfrog Phillips to become the biggest auctioneer for timepieces in the world.
Christie’s operated 18 events, of which 14 were online, a model that is attracting a new cohort of younger watch collectors.
The company’s rising market share is not simply because it is running more online auctions, its headline physical sales have also been booming.
Eight events generated sales of over CHF 10 million, four of which were run by Christie’s, two by Phillips and two by Antiquorum.
Phillips can take comfort that it has held the biggest event of the year so far with its Geneva Watch Auction: XIII generating sales of CHF 38.1 million (£30m).
Since Mercury Project provided these figures, Sotheby’s has issued a statement saying that its total auction sales for watches for H1 2021 were CHF 45,841,185, making it the third highest performer (Mercury Project figures omit the CHF 17.3m made in Hong Kong, which makes it the fourth largest auction by total sales in H1).
When it comes to watch brands, Patek Philippe dominated in H1 with sales totaling CHF 81 million (£63.9m) for its watches, almost four times higher than the total spent on Rolex (CHF 21m / ££16.5m).
F. P. Journe, which makes fewer than 1,000 watches per year, compared to around 60,000 for Patek Philippe and one million for Rolex, generated sales at auction worth almost CHF 10 million (£7.9m), almost half the total for Rolex.
Nine of the top 10 watches sold so far this year have been from Patek Philippe. Rolex had just one watch in the list.