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Watches under the hammer

by Michael Weare
3 March, 2011
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About the author

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

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A Patek Philippe watch will come under the hammer on March 10th in an auction by Antiquorum Auctioneers.

It is expected to fetch between US$300,000 to US$500,000.

So why is it some people lay down big money when an old, well-worn watch goes under the hammer – especially when a new and better version can be bought at a fraction of the auction result?

Watch blogger and estimator Kristian Haagen writes: Most people with even a slight interest in horology know that vintage Patek Philippe chronographs and worldtimers are among the most sought-after wristwatches at auction around the world.

A watch that cost 1,000 euros in 1960 could well bring in over a million today pursuant to a bidding frenzy between nostalgia lovers and the manufacturer.

Auction Records Galore

Certain Patek Philippe watches make record-breaking results every time they come up at auction – as do some Rolex and Panerai models. And Patek Philippe aside, these vintage timepieces are just about as simple as they can be: time-only or perhaps sporting a chronograph. It does not always have to be a complicated timepiece to demand a very high result for a vintage Panerai from the 1940s.

Collectors often pay a cool 100,000 euros when they change hands.

These large 47-millimeter watches with a wartime pedigree were originally fitted with a Rolex-modified Cortebert movement or an Angelus with eight days power reserve. Nothing fancy at all, but very expensive to collect today.

Simple Instrument Watches

Looking at what the past had to offer compared to the timepieces of today, the collectable pieces had a tendency to be instrument watches. Back in the 1950s and ’60s Swiss horology was all about making a watch that was water-resistant, precise and not overly big (except for the aforementioned Panerai’s that were strapped outside a diving suit and fitted with large luminous numbers to sustain visibility under water) to differentiate them from pocket watches, whose era had just passed. A watch on the wrist was still somewhat of a novelty to many well-dressed men.

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Heritage=Storytelling=High Value

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But why do experienced collectors spend this much money on old, simple watches and not on modern triple tourbillon minute repeaters with perpetual calendars housed in platinum? Dutch Rolex collector Philipp Stahl shares his view on this matter: “A brand of today can only survive thanks to its heritage. The old brands show their vintage pieces in their showcases next to the new ones; Louis Vuitton shows off vintage trunks that belonged to royalty and Gucci shows old photos of celebrities wearing its clothes and leather goods in a different decade.”

Heritage, of course, is important to collectors, as is provenance. If a historic or famous person once owned a watch, i.e. John F. Kennedy’s Omega, Ghandi’s Zenith or Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco, the timepiece in question is certain to attain much higher auction results compared to the same model without the celebrity pedigree. This type of storytelling is worth hundreds of thousands of euros, millions even, when offered at auction.

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A new watch, regardless of the complications and material, only has a short pedigree; from dealer to end-user. Even if it was expensive when it was bought, it does not mean that it will do well at future auctions. It needs more than just a Midas touch and a flying tourbillon. It needs heritage and provenance.

Kristian Haagen has written two books on watches, and published hundreds of watch related articles in International magazines around the world and works as watch estimator for an auction house.

Michael Weare | Website

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

Discuss: Watches under the hammer

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  1. Chinese take-away: Rare Patek Philippe Ref. 2419 minute repeater bought for US$710,500 by Chinese bidder | Click Tempus

    […] Philippe watch due to go under the hammer at Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York on March 10th. (see: Watches under the hammer). The watch, a Patek Philippe Ref 2419 minute repeater was produced in 1946 and was originally sold […]

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