With deserted sale rooms across the world, you might think the watch auction business has hit a wall with the current Coronavirus crisis.
Not so, Sotheby’s worldwide head of watches Sam Hines told WatchPro today. There are some bargains to be had with caution stalking the market, but there are also strong results from recent online auctions in New York and Geneva.
Sotheby’s Hong Kong office, where the pandemic has been brought under control and the auctioneer’s office has re-opened, launched a new series of weekly online auctions today with a sale focusing on Rolex and Audemars Piguet watches.
The catalogue is full of watches certain to draw an online crowd, including a Paul Newman Rolex Daytona, Ref. 6241 from around 1968 (pictured top), which is expected to sell for $129,000 to $258,000.
Weekly online sales will not replace the current calendar of auctions, but will give sellers and buyers more frequent and less complicated way to trade their watches. Future weekly sales will be run from Sotheby’s in Geneva, London and New York when they re-open.
“Each weekly sale will have a smaller and more curated list of watches. In larger sales, it might take months to pull together the lots, but with these auctions it can be done in just a couple of weeks. This means people can be more confident about price fluctuations because watches get to market more quickly,” explains Mr Hines.
So far there has been little evidence that prices are softening. A Sotheby’s sale in New York running from March 4 to 11 saw 94% of watches selling for above their reserve prices and nearly half sold above their high estimates.
In Geneva, a sale from March 17-26 generated sales worth $2.5 million, a record for a Sotheby’s online watch auction. Prices were a little softer, with 41% of lots selling for above their top estimates. The star was a stainless steel 1971 Rolex Paul Newman ‘Panda’ Daytona, ref. 6262 that sold for $168,000.
This week’s sale has 19 watches on the block: 14 Rolex pieces and five Audemars Piguet. Seven of the watches have already reached their reserve prices in the first few hours of the online auction opening, according to Mr Hines.
Highlights include a rare Rolex Daytona, reference 6263 in stainless steel, made for Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, circa 1975 and featuring the highly collectible UAE Quaraysh Hawk dial (est. $206,400- $309,500), and the 1968 Paul Newman Daytona.
Next week’s sale, which begins as the Rolex and Audemars Piguet auction ends on April 8, will be dedicated to Patek Philippe watches, and Mr Hines has revealed there will be a number of Nautilus and Aquanaut models up for grabs.
Firing out weekly auctions is a leap forward for the 276-year-old Sotheby’s, which held its first online-only auctions only two years’ ago, and Mr Hines hopes it will ripple throughout the business. Watch auctions, he explains, are a gateway for people new to the auction world to get their first experience. These are people that may later become bidders at blockbuster sales of fine art and other assets.
Online-only sales doubled in value between 2018 and 2019 and, even in auctions with people bidding in sale rooms or by phone, 65% of winning bids were made online.