This story was originally published in XXIV magazine 2018
Sam Hines, worldwide head of watches at Sotheby’s, lives and breathes rare, luxury and vintage timepieces. Working for the oldest company listed on the New York Stock Exchange is not for the faint-hearted, but Hines knows his trade.
“What we do is a very competitive market,” he says. “We sell about 3,000 watches a year at Sotheby’s. I think this year we have sold over US$88 million worth of watches. When a watch comes up, we have to immediately go see it if it is something important.”
Time is of the essence, though often it needs to be balanced with a healthy dose of patience.
“I like to go fishing because when you are on a lake or river you can escape, your mind is just on catching the fish,” says Hines. “It’s very rewarding when you do catch something. It is a lot like the treasure hunt that we do when we look for watches.”
Hines’s return to Sotheby’s at the start of 2018 has proved lucrative. “We have been able to increase the sales at Sotheby’s since I started,” Hines says. “We are up around 61 per cent this year already. And the nice thing at Sotheby’s is that it is a very young team, so there is a lot of energy, and I do have a lot of experience in what I do. I’m thankful that I’m able to work with the younger generation, able to teach them things that I’ve learned over the years.”
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The watch market spans over 400 years of history, and there is something new to be learned on a daily basis, says Hines. “What is fascinating is that mechanical watches today are based on principles that were invented 200 years ago. It’s just the manufacturing that has become more streamlined.
“When I started learning about watches, I was really into contemporary watches. Because they are easier to understand and there is a lot of literature out there. But the more I learned, the more I came to appreciate vintage watches.”
Hines is a proponent of work-life balance, but working in one of the most active watch markets in the world it is not always easy. “I do believe in a work-life balance, however since I started I haven’t had one,” he says, laughing. “In my role, as the international head of department, I’m based in Hong Kong, but when we end our day, New York is just waking up. It’s a lot of work, so it’s good that I love my job.”
Sam Hines’s preferred timepieces
“Another watch I love is this vintage Rolex, with reference 6263. What I love about this watch is the more I learned over the years, I can tell if the bezel is original, the pushers. I got a rare example where it was fitted with a sigma dial.”
“One of my favourite watches, with reference 5711. I love the retro look and the history – it was made in 1976 by Gérald Genta. I bought the watch 10 years ago. Today, the 5711 Nautilus is one of the hottest watches on the market.”
“A vintage watch from the 1930s. The watch is in an amazing original condition. I love this watch because I was able to buy it from one of the biggest Bubble Back collectors of the eighties and nineties.”