A Year in the Life of Watch Auctions

The hammer went down on more than $760 million in sales in 2022, says The Mercury Project. What’s next?

April 3, 2023  |  Carol Besler

The results are in: It was another record year in the watch auction world. The five major auction houses for the category — Phillips, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Antiquorum, Bonhams and Poly Auction — brought in a combined CHF 701.6 million (about $767 million) in 2022, according to the latest report from auction-tracking company The Mercury Project. That’s an 11% increase over 2021’s CHF 634 million (about $693.1 million), and a whopping 80% more than in 2019.

The only hitch was the lackluster fourth quarter, when sales fell by 29%. But there’s no reason to believe this is the start of a downward trend, says The Mercury Project founder Thierry Huron. “The 2022 spring season set the bar very high, with 14 [auctions] that totaled above CHF 10 million [about $10.9 million]. Those spring sales included 28 millionaire lots” — items that sold for over CHF 1 million ($1.1 million) — “so it would have been difficult to go higher in the fourth quarter.”

Another reason for this blip may have been “speculators being distracted by a stronger offering in other luxury categories, such as jewelry, which rose 10% during the same quarter,” Huron suggests. There was also a drop in online watch sales, which accounted for 19% of the total in 2021, compared to 14% in 2022.

Remy Julia, head of watches at Christie’s Dubai, agrees that speculators seemed less active in the fourth quarter. “There were fewer watches in current production or that had been produced in the last two years, which tells me it may have been a drop-off in activity by flippers — people whose hobby is to make money [by reselling] watches without [having] a real interest in watches.”

2022’s biggest sellers

Patek Philippe
Ref. 2499
Sold at: Sotheby’s
Achieved price: CHF 7,255,605 ($7,935,072)

Richard Mille RM 52-01 Skull Tourbillon
Sold at: Antiquorum
Achieved price: CHF 6,663,737 ($7,286,801)

George Daniels Spring Case Tourbillon
Sold at: Phillips
Achieved price: CHF 4,083,500 ($4,465,077)

Richard Mille RM 56-01 in sapphire and titanium
Sold at: Christie’s
Achieved price: CHF 3,654,000 ($3,995,550)

Rolex Paul Newman Daytona
Oyster Lemon in 18-karat yellow gold
Sold at: Christie’s
Achieved price: CHF 3,414,000 ($3,730,502)

For the record

There were several world auction records in 2022. For one, the top three houses achieved their highest annual watch sales to date. Phillips took the lead with year-end sales of CHF 219.1 million ($239.6 million), a 31% market share. Next up were Christie’s at CHF 207.3 million ($226.6 million) and Sotheby’s at CHF 171.2 million ($187.2 million), or 30% and 24% of the market respectively.

Christie’s has been gaining market share from Phillips in the past two years, which Julia attributes to the former’s acquisition of several important collections. Still, of the top five auction events by value last year, four were at Phillips and one at Christie’s.

Price ceilings shattered as well: 2022 yielded the all-time highest number of millionaire lots — 98, compared to 57 in 2021 — and of lots over six figures. The average price was CHF 49,901 ($54,567), a 27% increase over 2021 and 70% more than two years ago — a sign that auction houses are consigning fewer but more valuable pieces. The CHF 100,000 to CHF 1 million ($109,335 to $1.1 million) price point is now their core business, the report says; lots in that range were up 44% from 2021, accounting for 53% of 2022’s total sales.

High-rolling brands

Patek Philippe and Rolex continue to reign as the top-value brands, respectively making up 40% and 16% of all millionaire and six-figure watches last year. But several independent brands — Richard Mille, F.P. Journe, George Daniels and Audemars Piguet — made it into the top 20. Audemars Piguet was the third-highest seller, accounting for 14% of the total with 229 lots. F.P Journe was also strong at 131 lots, and two Richard Mille references were among the top five best-sellers.

Other solid performers were A. Lange & Söhne, Cartier, Vacheron Constantin, Omega and De Bethune.

The 2023 spring season will confirm whether the fourth-quarter dip was a glitch or whether the market is indeed slowing down, says Huron, noting that it really depends “on the offer of the houses.”

Things look promising so far. Phillips’s March auctions included an F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain ref. 040-04TN and a Patek Philippe ref. 5270 perpetual calendar chronograph. The Christie’s Hong Kong sale that month offered a much sought-after Patek Philippe ref. 6002G-100 Sky Moon Tourbillon, and its April auction in Dubai features a Parmigiani Fleurier Hijri perpetual calendar, one of only 25 made.

Get your paddles ready.

This article is from the March-April 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

Image: Patek Philippe Reference 2499 2nd Series rose gold perpetual calendar chronograph, which sold last year at Sotheby’s. (Sotheby’s)


A Year in the Life of Watch Auctions

Share with others


Clear all search filters