The spring watch auctions in New York and Geneva by Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s yielded top results for the usual suspects: rare Patek Philippes and iconic Rolexes. Statistically speaking, the results for the first half of 2023 were down, but they were still robust: Despite falling 18% year on year, timepiece sales were higher than in the first half of 2021, according to The Mercury Project, a Swiss consulting firm that tracks watch and jewelry auctions. There were several spectacular sales in 2022’s first half, which partly explains the slight drop, it adds.
The consulting company, which also factors in results from Antiquorum, Poly Auction and Bonhams, found a notable decline in the number of six-figure lots — 593 compared with 877 a year earlier — and a drop in those lots’ prices. However, the total value of millionaire lots — those bringing in $1 million or more — was up 38% year on year.
“People are looking for safe choices at the moment, and that means Patek Philippe and Rolex,” says Mercury Project founder Thierry Huron. “Models that sold well last year in the six-figure category from brands like Omega, Jaeger-LeCoultre, [TAG] Heuer, IWC, and Panerai are potentially more lucrative in the long term, but also more volatile.”
Paul Boutros, head of watches for Phillips America, takes a positive view. While “more commercial and common modern timepieces have seen a softening of prices, the demand for well-preserved vintage watches, exceptional independent watches, [and] rare or complicated modern watches continues to rise — a sign of a robust and resilient market,” he says.
This is especially true of in-demand independent brands like F.P. Journe. “We are experiencing a real tension between high demand and low availability, which is driving some prices up,” says Emmanuel Danan, global managing director for luxury at Christie’s. “F.P. Journe is probably the best example: There is strong demand for watchmakers like him, who are in a constant search for innovation, creating watches in the purest tradition.”
In the overall pre-owned market, the drop in auction prices was barely a ripple. “The interest in fine watchmaking is far from slowing down,” says Justin Reis, CEO of secondhand-timepiece dealer WatchBox. “We’ve witnessed unprecedented price multiples compared to just a few years ago. Yes, prices have come down from the extreme peaks of last year, but active trading today affirms the enduring allure of fine timepieces.”
Main image: Rolex Paul Newman John Player Special. (Sotheby’s)
This article is from the September-October 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.