During these unprecedented times it is becoming increasingly difficult, and in fact in most cases impossible, to predict the next 24 hours of our own movement and liberty, never mind the often-impossible task of second-guessing where the markets will move.

In terms of the vintage and pre-owned watch market, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the main temperature checks are the twice-annual watch sales in Geneva and also increasingly New York and Hong Kong.

Like nomadic tribes, the collectors and dealers move from one continent to the next to take part in the important watch sales. This year the first round of Geneva sales has been postponed until the end of June, although at the time of writing I have the overwhelming feeling that this is at best optimistic.

A crowded floor at the Independents' Day: The Legacy of George Daniels: Paying tribute to independent watchmaking, panel session on the eve of Phillips Watches' 2019 spring auction in Geneva (Image © Phillips Watches)
A crowded floor at the Independents' Day: The Legacy of George Daniels: Paying tribute to independent watchmaking, panel session on the eve of Phillips Watches' 2019 spring auction in Geneva (Image © Phillips Watches)

As the world is shutting down, one country at a time and the global population at large retreats into isolation to combat the transmission of the deadly coronavirus, COVID-19, we are witnessing the masses turn to the digital world for solace and refuge.

Never has the Instagram community been so present with new and innovative ways of entertaining followers and consumers are faced with only one viable option for purchasing – online shopping. It is exactly this move that has helped catapult the recent online watch auctions to achieve some pretty impressive results.

Generally, watch sales remain a lot more buoyant than the markets, but tend not to rally as effectively. In the crash of 2008 combined watch sales volume at the then “Big 3” auction houses, (Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Antiquorum) fell by approximately 27% compared to the Dow Jones and other important indices that dropped by more than 50% from their peak in 2007. Of course, these numbers are not really comparable and is a little like comparing apples to oranges – but the numbers are there.

Since the virus crisis hit, there have been three sales with one due to end on the next few days. Christie’s had their second best and Sotheby’s had their best online sales results ever and Antiquorum had a solid private auction.

Let’s take a closer look at the figures:

Sotheby’s NY Online Only Sale (25 February 2020 to 10 March 2020)

Total Sales $1.9m across 191 Lots = $10.1k average per lot

Christie’s NY Online Only Sale (11 March 20)

Total Sales $1.6m across 186 Lots = $9.0k average per lot

Antiquorum Private Auction Sale – phones, written bids and online (21 March 2020)

Total Sales $3.3m across 295 Lots = $11.2k average per lot

Looking at these numbers I believe it’s a surprisingly strong signal, even when we look at the at Antiquorum results a little closer. Antiquorum’s May sale last year and do a comparison we get the following data:

Antiquorum Geneva Private Sale (11 & 12 May 2019)

Total Sales $10.5m across 744 Lots = $14k average per lot

Bear in mind that Antiquorum’s May sale was part of the Spring Auction Season in Geneva with all the big players in town and a live audience and the March 2020 sale last weekend, was done behind closed doors due to the lock down.

What does this show us? Well, there were some great results for watches. A full set Rolex Comex Sea-Dweller 16660 (gloss dial) sold for $97k. That’s a decent result with a similar one selling in the July 2019 sale for $66k.

A full set Rolex Comex Sea-Dweller 16660 (gloss dial) that sold for $97k at Antiquorum’s March 2020 Private Sale
A full set Rolex Comex Sea-Dweller 16660 (gloss dial) that sold for $97k at Antiquorum’s March 2020 Private Sale
A full set Rolex Comex Sea-Dweller 16660 (gloss dial) that sold for $97k at Antiquorum’s March 2020 Private Sale
A full set Rolex Comex Sea-Dweller 16660 (gloss dial) that sold for $97k at Antiquorum’s March 2020 Private Sale

A reference 6241 Paul Newman Daytona sold for $185k, towards the top end of the estimate. And before your heart sinks about the dropping value of Newmans, this was a great price considering the condition! The dial was marked on the sub registers and there were some other marks on the dial, so this was a strong price for such a watch.

A reference 6241 Paul Newman Daytona that sold for $185k at Antiquorum’s March 2020 Private Sale
A reference 6241 Paul Newman Daytona that sold for $185k at Antiquorum’s March 2020 Private Sale
A reference 6241 Paul Newman Daytona that sold for $185k at Antiquorum’s March 2020 Private Sale

There were a number of other lots that performed strongly from Omega, Audemars Piguet and Patek. It’s early days, but the watch buying public are very much out there, wanting to buy and these recent sales are anything but a disaster!

Notes from the author: With thanks to Wulf Schuetz from rareandfine.com for his insight on the markets; all prices converted to US Dollars using XE.com on the 24 March 2020