It's Spring Auction Season 2022 and watch enthusiasts all over the world are going crazy over the newly released catalogues and the prime time lots therein. The auction world is a micro-cosmos that shows us tremendous eye candy. And so many jewels, it becomes hard to keep track. From the classic steel-sports watches to haute horologie and the finest in Independent watchmaking. To not get lost in the sheer amount of watches I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at what is actually offered this season. What brand is hip and what type of watch we are going to see a lot the next couple of weeks? Do we see differences between the European, US and Asian auctions?
May 03, 2022
Watch Auctions - Spring Season 2022 Preview
Marcus Siems @siemswatches
Collector, Author, Data Analyst
It's already May which can only mean one thing... Spring Auction Season is in full swing and watch enthusiasts all over the world are going crazy over the newly released catalogues and the prime time lots therein.
The auction world truly is a fascinating micro-cosmos. It's not exactly representative of the entirety of our beloved watch world but it shows us tremendous eye candy. And here I don't only mean the uber-rare and complicated Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Chronographs and the likes. It also gives us some rather quirky watches you don't come across when only looking into the Instagram bubble.
I see tons of Rolex Oyster Perpetuals every day on IG ... but a golden Ref. 1002 with enameled dial? And then two of them? That's special. Photo Monaco Legend Auction
Two weeks ago the Monaco Legend Group auction featured alongside their platinum (1 of 5) Audemars Piguet 25930 Quantieme (lot 273 - sold for 474500 Euro) and their very successful "Stella" Rolex Day-Date ensemble also a wooden Cartier Baignoire (lot 75 - sold for 7800 Euro) and a "black golden" de Grisogono (lot 203). Where else can you see so many head turning timepieces in one room if not at an auction preview?
However, we are typically only hearing the news about the record-breaking lots. But what about the other 99% of watches offered? Well it's hard to report everything in detail: Taking only the live-bidding auction catalogues we already end up with over 1000 watches - so far. From the classic steel-sports watches to haute horologie and the finest in Independent watchmaking. So many choices.
Phillips has this beauty coming up for auction in their Geneva May auction... an extremely rare 1941 steel & pink gold Audemars Piguet 1532 chronograph. Photo Phillips Geneva
My goal this auction cycle is to not get lost with all that's going on inside the auction rooms. To gain a bit more understanding I thought it would be interesting - well, necessary - to take a closer look at what is actually offered this Spring and use the loupe of quantitative data analysis. What brand is hip and what type of watches we are going to see a lot the next couple of weeks? Do we see differences between the European, US and Asian auctions? What type of lots exceed their estimates?
Figure 1. Distribution of lots by watch brand and auction house.
Here, we are looking at the catalogues from the Monaco Legend Group [catalogue], Bonhams New York [catalogue], Christie's Geneva [catalogue], Sotheby's Hong Kong [catalogue] & Phillips Geneva [catalogue] and the 17 brands we see the most of. Not very surprisingly Patek Philippe, Rolex and Audemars Piguet make up for most of the upcoming lots. The interesting point will be whether the popular brands also perform better than the lesser often hammered manufacturers.
Back in the 1990s Cartier has been a behemoth in the watch auctioning landscape. This is no longer the case but the brand has had quite some pop-cultural upswing lately and additionally has been in the #2 spot in annual revenue in 2021. Photo a stunning Cartier Jumping Hour Privee in Platinum Phillips Geneva
There's a lot to digest and I recommend you take your time looking through all these graphs. But to prime some upcoming storylines, let's highlight here for example Cartier. Cartier back in the 1990s has easily been offered as often as Rolex and Patek Philippe. This cycle Cartier is positioned at #4, yet still far off in numbers from AP, PP and Rolex.
Nevertheless, Cartier has recently been making big waves as the second best-sold watch brand only behind the Rolex ivory tower. The interesting point will be to see how the brand performs at auction and whether we can make predictions about its trajectory for the future - at retail and auction. Similar things can be said about the Independent watchmakers, particularly their frontrunner with F.P. Journe and A. Lange & Soehne - #riseOfTheIndies.
But what's hip and what's trending is not only about brands. When we are talking about watches we are rarely only talking about new watches. It's the vintage watch world that has its own fascination and appeal. A fairytale of age, patina and design.
Figure 2. Distribution of every lots approximate age by auction house.
Well not too surprisingly most of the offered watches are rather new. Arguably it is harder to find 50 or 70 year old watches that 1) have been thought of as valuable enough all throughout its time to not throw it away and 2) that they have not been destroyed or "Frankenwatched" along the way.
Interestingly, there are slight differences between the auction houses when it comes to sourcing vintage watches. When you're after vintage ... the Monaco Legend Group is your place to be. MLG is a real outlier and they displayed the pearls of everything vintage, particularly from the 1980s and before. On the other end of the spectrum we got Bonhams and Christie's, which (thus far) have mainly listed new watches, Sotheby's is strongly invested in the Neo-vintage design of the 2000s and Phillips is spread out between the 1990s up until today.
The Monaco Legend Group Auction brought - quite successfully - the 80s back! Their Day-Date Parade crushed the estimates. Photo (Lot 271) 1983 Rolex 18038 Day-Date with blue "Stella" dial Monaco Legend Auction
But physical age is not everything. Sometimes it comes down to the design language and how a watch appears. Do you remember the Audemars Piguet 1532 I've shown you before? AP just recently launched a heritage inspired homage in the (Re)Master01 ... it's been launched in 2021 but the design comes from a different era.
In the same spirit I tried to generate the "design age" of every watch from the auction catalogues using key characteristics - from the hands, hour markers, case-shape and size all the way to dial color and applied materials. As such I want to find out which time in history every watch would fit right in.
Figure 3. The Design Age - or in other words the time in history a watch would fit into best - for every lot ordered by Auction House.
And the result look amazing. From design language standpoint, things don't look all too modern. All houses offer pieces that vary over a wide range of Zeitgeist. For the Monaco Legend Group and Christie's auction the distribution becomes quite flat all throughout the 20th Century. However, Phillips is highly invested in timepieces with late 60s to early 80s vibe. So did Bonhams but with an additional focus on early 1940s appeal. And finally Sotheby's shows a clear 1950s peak.
Potentially the epitomy of a modern brand with a clear eye on classic design features: A. Lange & Soehne. Photo Lange & Soehne Lange 1 Phillips Geneva
As you can see it is not always about when a watch has been made but also what the design team had in mind when envisioning a particular piece. But the interesting question will be how do these pieces fare when the room closes and the auctioneer lifts the hammer for the first time?
What brands will outperform their estimates? What model, what age, what vibe do these watches have? Now you have a little overview of what to keep an eye on during the next weeks. We will also prepare for the results and will keep you posted on any interesting outcome we see and we will try to spot as many hidden trends as possible.
 Exclusive Timepieces; Monaco Legend Group, Monaco;
 Fine Wristwatches And Clocks; Bonhams, New York;
 Rare Watches - Featuring the Kairos Collection; Christie's, Geneva;
 Important Watches I; Sotheby's, Hong Kong;
 The Geneva Watch Auction: XV; Phillips, Geneva;
All Rights on the text and graphics reserved to the Author.
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