Watches to watch
Forget French burgundy, suddenly watches are the luxury auction items to watch. While Chinese art bounces about in an uncertain market, watches have caught the imagination of Chinese investors, culminating in wildly successful sales of rare watches at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on April 7 and May 28. Records were broken all over the place, with the spring sales achieving HK$221,470,003 (US$28,393,590) in April, the highest amount at any sale of timepieces in Asia followed by HK$35,248,752 (US$4,519,071) for the May sale.
Unless you’re into haute horlogerie (fine watchmaking) the sought-after brands will be no more than unpronounceable tongue twisters. While Patek Philippe is not too much of a mouthful, try Vacheron Constantin, A. Lange & Sohne and Greubel Forsey.
The language around these exclusive timepieces is as mysterious as their inner workings. The German A. Lange & Sohne honey gold tourbillon watch sold in the April sale was described as “a very fine and particularly rare boutique exclusive limited edition honey gold tourbillon wristwatch with patented stop seconds mechanism and engraved honey gold pivoting segment dial.” But watches don’t have to be old to be valuable – this one was only made in 2012.
The estimate was HK$1,300,000 - 1,800,000, but it made $HK2,920,000 (hammer price with buyer's premium).
Then there was the Greubel Forsey, also sold in April: this time in white gold and equally complicated: “24-second inclined tourbillon wristwatch with 72-hour power reserve indication reserve, circa 2009.” Estimated to fetch HK$800,000 - 1,200,000, it was knocked down for HK$ 2,080,000.
Time for a bit of de-mystification from Sharon Chan, deputy director and senior specialist in Sotheby’s Hong Kong watches department.
The recent sales show it’s all about limited production and high complications – those are the ones to look for investment, she says. And watches are for long term. “A collector will not buy today and sell tomorrow.” Big brands are good news, like Patek Philippe is Vacheron Constantin - “It’s all about complication and rarity.” Preferably the line should be discontinued, with a high complication too, like tourbillion.
Big is in
Going out of fashion now are smaller watches, especially for ladies. “Even ladies are looking for timepieces with a mechanical movement, they’re now using their watch as an accessory, for fashion matching,” Sharon adds. They go for “very impressive sized watches, so that people would notice.” Big is best when giving a watch as a gift, too. Small wristwatches with a simple cross movement have definitely slid down the market rankings.
Most of the brands when they create new models in coming years will be going for big and bold, she predicts. Expect the diameter of the main models to be quite large, 40mm or even larger, and the movements will have functions – “power reserve indicator or chorograph function so that the dial will look more interesting.” When it comes to metal, honey and pink gold are in, as demonstrated by the recent sale of the A. Lange & Sohne piece. Honey gold was “quite loud” in the market when they first promoted it, and the Asia market was quite fond of those models, says Sharon. As well as honey and pink gold, people are definitely looking for platinum and white gold. Mainlanders really know their watches and go for ones with jewels, especially diamonds. “They will go very aggressively after the brand new pieces in the auctions, bidding against each other and paying higher than retail prices.” The A. Lange & Sohne German honey gold high complication made double Sotheby’s low estimate and soared above retail price. Only 15 were made and they sold out. Mainlanders really love their watches and seek something special. “They are looking for something to be a topic during dinner, not just for time only.”
Sharon’s hot brand for 2013 is Greubel Forsey. Their watches tick her boxes: independent watchmaker, high complication, limited series and detailed craftwork.
“And don’t neglect the ladies market: it’s gone beyond time telling, for women watches are now characteristic to themselves.”