How To Sell Your Watch At Auction

Watches

How To Sell Your Watch At Auction

What makes a watch the star lot of an auction – and how do you get it to the auction block in the first place? Here we get an expert’s insights on how to find a new owner for one of your valuable timepieces.

Published on 5 September 2017

There may come a time in every horologist’s life – usually as they’re unable to close all their watch boxes – when they’re forced to admit their collection of timepieces has grown slightly too large. Or perhaps they’ve inherited a watch that they feel doesn’t quite suit them, but would certainly make another collector happy. Then comes the question: how best to share the timepiece with enthusiasts and collectors, in order to find it a new home and also potentially make a handsome profit on its sale?

Fortunately, as Saori Omura puts it, “Watch-collecting is a global phenomenon.” The director of the New York department of watches for Antiquorum – a New York-based auction house that specialises in modern and vintage timepieces – remains highly enthusiastic about the worldwide collector’s market for timepieces as it continues to thrive and prosper, with Antiquorum itself setting many world records for its sales.

“The most memorable discoveries are always ones that have been carefully tucked away for years,” says Omura. “When there are background stories, it makes the watch even more interesting because it provides a historical perspective. For instance, years ago, we came across an unusually large silver Patek Philippe pocket watch, still with its original fitted box and papers, which the gentleman had traded for cartons of cigarettes during one of his trips to a flea market in Paris, while stationed in France during the Korean War.”

Sell Your Watch, watch, sell, auction, luxury investment, luxury portfolio, luxury, wealth, portfolio, Pope Pius IX’s Patek Philippe Pocket Watch

Pope Pius IX’s Patek Philippe Pocket Watch. Image sourced from Christie’s

“Or the gentleman whose first Rolex – purchased by chance – turned out to be a Paul Newman Daytona. He only found out its rarity because someone asked him to sell his watch on the spot for an exorbitant price while having lunch at a local restaurant. But there are fewer discoveries like this in which people have no idea that their watches have become extremely valuable, since most people can find out something about their watches by doing a search online. For this reason, it is more precious when we find that ‘treasure’.”

For those who suspect they have horological treasures tucked away that an established auction house like Antiquorum might be interested in, they’re still accepting consignments for their upcoming New York auction on 4 October, along with their next major sale in Hong Kong on 14 October. Take a look through Omura’s tips, and you could bring one (or more) of your selected timepieces to auction as soon as the season begins.

Sell Your Watch, watch, sell, auction, luxury investment, luxury portfolio, luxury, wealth, portfolio, OMEGA Speedmaster X-33

OMEGA Speedmaster X-33 presentation box, outer box, hang tag, operating instructions, international warranty card, and framed photographs of cosmonaut including one where he is wearing the X-33. Image sourced from Christie’s

Valuations begin from clear photographs

The simplest way to have your watch valued, besides visiting one of the offices of an auction house like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, or Antiquorum in person, is to go to their website and fill out a valuation form. “Generally speaking, we start with a valuation based on photographs,” Omura explains, “Today, most people have smartphones with decent camera quality, so this gives us a good base to start the conversation with our clients.”

Be as detailed as you can in your description, listing any accompanying accessories like the certificate, box, warranty card, and extra parts, and try to include clear images of the dial, case, and movement. In certain cases, Antiquorum experts may take the trouble to travel to a client in order to conduct a valuation: “Depending on the piece or the size of the collection, we have made special trips to meet the clients in person.”

Sell Your Watch, watch, sell, auction, luxury investment, luxury portfolio, luxury, wealth, portfolio, Rolex presentation box, hang tag, operating instructions, and international warranty card

Rolex presentation box, hang tag, operating instructions, and international warranty card. Image sourced from Christie’s

Condition is key to catching collectors’ attention

Although factors such as the watchmaker, dimensions, existing paperwork, and provenance of a timepiece play a large part in determining its value at auction, Omura feels that, “In today’s market, discerning collectors have become extra-focused on the condition of the pieces.” Potential sellers who are seeking to offer a watch that has been damaged or kept in challenging conditions, however, are advised to check with an auction house before attempting to restore or repair it.

“For the most part, I recommend clients to leave the aesthetic part of the watch – say, the dial or the case – as it is, and not have it restored,” she says. “But for the movement, we prefer the watch to be in running condition. If it is not, the timepiece is perceived to be disadvantageous in general, since the repair process may become a project in itself.”

Sell Your Watch, watch, sell, auction, luxury investment, luxury portfolio, luxury, wealth, portfolio, The Stephen S. Palmer Patek Philippe Grand along with certificate of origin and warranty.

The Stephen S. Palmer Patek Philippe Grand along with certificate of origin and warranty. Image sourced from Christie’s

Original accessories and clear documentation add value

Omura highlights the enormous advantage of possessing a watch that has its paperwork and accessories in order, stating, “It is always best for a timepiece to have its original accessories or a detailed history of ownership. However, it is not a complete deal-breaker. With vintage pieces, especially, the accessories are often misplaced or without any clear documentation of historical ownership. That is why, for a sought-after piece, collectors will pay a premium for a piece with original accessories or those that are fresh-to-the-market with clear provenance, because they are more difficult to come by.

“It is always better to have a clean, original strap or bracelet. For a leather strap, a replacement is more acceptable since anyone who wears a watch on a leather strap understands that it wears out. For a bracelet, it is best to have a clean, original one with tight bracelet links. As far as spare parts inside a watch’s movement goes, it would be preferable to have the brand’s genuine parts – though of course, that always depends on the parts themselves.”

Sell Your Watch, watch, sell, auction, luxury investment, luxury portfolio, luxury, wealth, portfolio, 18k gold, enamel and diamond set openface, vacheron constantin pocket watch, pocket watch

A fine 18k gold, enamel and diamond-set openface Vacheron Constantin pocket watch. Image sourced from Christie’s

For the right timepiece, the time is always right

“As the world goes through rapid globalisation, with a 24/7 social media presence, it seems that buyers have become more borderless and season-less. It’s more about instant gratification,” says Omura, spelling good news for impatient sellers (and buyers). “For example, approximately 50% of the buyers we have in our New York auctions are from Asia.

“And while there is still a strong demand during the holiday season in December, we have also seen exceptional traction and results in our September and October auctions. It ultimately comes down to the pieces themselves, because when something spectacular comes up on the auction block, collectors are ready to bid anytime and anywhere.”

Sell Your Watch, watch, sell, auction, luxury investment, luxury portfolio, luxury, wealth, portfolio, Heuer stainless steel automatic chronograph wristwatch, wristwatch, pocket watch

An extremely rare Heuer stainless steel automatic chronograph wristwatch. Image sourced from Christie’s

Collectors of vintage sports timepieces may be in luck

“Right now, vintage sports models are the most popular category, especially the vintage Rolex sports models, which have been stronger than ever,” Omura comments, when asked to comment on the current auction trend for timepieces.  Regardless of category, though, the quality of a lot continues to take precedence: “Collectors tend to focus on a particular category and purchase the best example they can afford, so condition is paramount.”

What’s Affecting Your Money?
Sign up to receive investment news and ideas

SIGN UP