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Opinion Post: Have auction houses created a luxury vintage watch bubble ?

In our WhatsApp watch group we regularly discuss the increasing prices of vintage watches - especially for Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe - but usually just account it to demand and supply for these special watches by collectors wanting to own a piece of history of a manufacture. However, there’s a key player to consider in all of this beyond your known vintage watch dealers and that is the big auction houses like Phillip’s, Christie’s, Sotheby’s etc. All very reputable auction houses with a lot of reliability in their due diligence of any wristwatch that comes their way as well as having in-house watch experts to appraise each piece they will list accurately for their upcoming auction.

I’ve been going to these luxury vintage watch auctions at different auction houses for the past 4 years so you could consider me as a newbie in the scene. It has become a bit repetitive in what’s listed even seeing some of the exact same watches come up within 12-18 months in another auction at a higher price. Your usual highlight piece is a Rolex Daytona 6263 Paul Newman or a Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar 2499 or 1518. I’ve seen a considerable change in the both the pricing, bidding and sentiments in the auction rooms for watches over these past few years. One obvious insight is the increasing prices I’ve seen for basically any reference of Paul Newman watches - whether 6241 or 6265 in gold or a 6239 and the list goes on. I’ve seen the upward trend for most references from when you were easily able to get one in the ballparks of £90k-120k whereby most references now are in the ballpark of £300K in most auctions. Now this is just a personal opinion on this but a 300% increase in 4 years - I don’t think that is necessarily something that’s natural unless you’re talking about property in Hong Kong or Amazon’s stock price. Most auction houses now seem to be playing a role in over hyping each Rolex Paul Newman or Patek Philippe World Time from the 1950s to the extent they are able to create a buzz themselves in the watch world about that specific piece and accommodate buying power in a room to be able to set a new market value. I believe in free markets of course but this is just an interesting phenomenon that’s occurring right now and I’m curious to see how much longer it will last and how far buyers are willing to go to own that hyped up vintage piece. The Rolex Daytona Paul Newman’s are quite different to the Patek 2499s or 1518s you see come up. I believe the prices of those are well within their real market value because of the depth of craftsmanship that’s gone in to them, however, I do believe auction houses are trying to get the best selling prices for themselves and their consigners as at the end of the day it is a business. That’s not to say Paul Newman’s are not worth a lot of money but when you compare craftsmanship there are considerable differences - but at the end of the day it’s about the story attached to each watch and what the man or woman in the auction house is willing to pay. My experiences of course have been based in Hong Kong, and generally the Asian market is growing considerably in this arena but even the sentiment in auction rooms in the west you tend to find the same trends of increasing prices around the clock. There’s definitely a creation of hype in the vintage scene amongst a few timepieces by auction houses and this is further perpetuated by other watch aficionado websites that do in depth reviews and discussions with collectors about these watches. Nothing wrong with any of this - just an observation.

Ilkay Olmez

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