As the dust settles following the whirlwind of auction weekend, the overriding feeling is generally positive. There were no huge market-corrections and the pessimism of the last season was replaced with a return to the comfort-zone of accepting that amazing quality sells high and ‘so-so’ quality achieves ‘so-so’ results. Indeed, there was arguably a light softening of manual-wind Daytonas, but in reality the quality of the passed-on lots or the ‘soft’ results were largely due to b-grade watches. But there were also some staggering results.

Rule of Three

Without wanting to overly simplify the actually very complicated nature of the vintage watch market, there are three simple rules when taking stock of what happened and why.

• Quality is Key – Where exceptional quality watches are sold they will generally make exceptional prices. The one thing we know for sure is that the brands aren’t going to make any more vintage watches; they couldn’t even if they wanted to. So when a beautifully crisp example is presented for sale, you can bet it will do very well. Auctions are good for these pieces as the competitive bidding can help a consignor secure the best possible price. The obvious example from last weekend was the Rolex Submariner reference 5508. Nicknamed the ‘small crown’ Submariners, due to the 6mm winding crown and shoulderless case, these Subs have always been in the shadow of their ‘Big Crown’ siblings. Phillips, however, was offering the very best example ever to appear on the open market on the second night of their weekend sales. What happened? It sold for 500k – that is unprecedented and was quite a shock; but the market spoke. Of course the opposite is true as well when considering quality. Buyers are better educated then ever before and so where poor quality is offered, expect a poor result. This shouldn’t, however, be interpreted as a “softening of the market”!

Lot 213: Rolex Submariner reference 5508 sold for CHF 500,000
Lot 213: Rolex Submariner reference 5508 sold for CHF 500,000

• Rarity is A Factor – Sometimes a watch that isn’t time-capsule quality can be important to collectors. There is nothing more disheartening to a passionate watch lover than people writing a watch off because it’s not totally perfect. There can be watches that are rare and therefore stand on their own merit, no matter what kind of life they’ve lived. In the more accessible area of the market, the white gold Rolex reference 5100 (one of my preview picks) achieved a good result. Known as the Rolex Beta 21, Lot 10 was estimated to sell for 15-25k. The actual result was 62,500CHF including the buyer’s premium. Was it the best example known? No, I’ve seen better ones but the rarity and relative obscurity of these watches make it a great watch to buy and the market responded as such. Arguably, the VC ‘Don Poncho’ performed the way it did for the same reason. This result was a shock to me, but as the phrase goes “find another…”

Lot 10: Rolex reference 5100, known as the Rolex Beta 21 sold for CHF 62,500 (Photo by Christopher Beccan, founder of @BEXSONN)
Lot 10: Rolex reference 5100, known as the Rolex Beta 21 sold for CHF 62,500 (Photo by Christopher Beccan, founder of @BEXSONN)

• Emotional Bidding – This isn’t so much a rule as a fact of the collecting psyche. It’s impossible to quantify or even attempt to illustrate, but we know it happens. Sometimes, people just need to own a watch. Logic, investment portfolios, ROI and market trends become irrelevant when a bidder simply wants a watch and is prepared to stretch to acquire it. This is what watch collecting is all about and these irrational and compulsive buys always happen when two people want a watch simply because they love it. When you buy what you love, it doesn’t necessarily matter what price you pay for it.

Generally it seems that times are still good. Nautilus is still very strong, alongside Perpetual Daytonas. The Rolex Submariner is performing well, as seen by the 5508 and the very rare Big Crown reference 6200 (sold for nearly 600k). The Tudor military Marine Nationale (with ledger extract) was a good performer too selling at 40k. What is key with the Submariner though is quality and rarity – there are literally thousands of them out there and only the best will make such big results. And therein lies the next chapter, what will happen next to the 5508, for example? Now that the Phillips example sold for half a million Francs, will dealers and collectors have a new expectation of their values? Time will tell!

Lot 220: Rolex Big Crown reference 6200 sold for nearly CHF 600,000 (Photo by Christopher Beccan, founder of @BEXSONN)
Lot 220: Rolex Big Crown reference 6200 sold for nearly CHF 600,000 (Photo by Christopher Beccan, founder of @BEXSONN)
Lot 45: Tudor military Marine Nationale Ref. 9401/0 sold for CHF 40,000
Lot 45: Tudor military Marine Nationale Ref. 9401/0 sold for CHF 40,000
Lot 45: Tudor military Marine Nationale Ref. 9401/0 caseback further engraved M.N. 76
Lot 45: Tudor military Marine Nationale Ref. 9401/0 caseback further engraved M.N. 76

And what was the biggest shock of the weekend? Without question a watch that I never expected to sell for what it did. Revolution’s Online Editor and I sat behind one bidder who clearly falls under Rule Number 3 – buying with your heart. During one sale, the aforementioned bidder paddle-battled to win a Rolex GMT-Master reference 16753. This ‘Root Beer’ watch was the non-nipple dial version and was offered without a bracelet or boxes and papers; what dealers term as head-only. On a good condition bracelet this watch can be bought for around 9000 CHF. This auction ended with an inclusive price of 24,375 CHF! That’s a world record I’m sure.

Lot 39: Rolex GMT-Master reference 16753 sold for CHF 24,375
Lot 39: Rolex GMT-Master reference 16753 sold for CHF 24,375