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A guide to watch auctions: the best 4 auction sites

All about watch auctions

Antiquorum (Switzerland)

Established in Geneva in 1974, Antiquorum has carved its own unparalleled niche in the auction world by cultivating a thriving collector’s market for timepieces worldwide and consistently obtains the highest prices for timepieces, auctions timepieces with exceptional provenance and rarity and has set many world records.

A perpetually innovative source for collectors, in the early 1980s Antiquorum pioneered the sale of wristwatches at auction, creating a new and exciting market. Next came the thematic auction devoted to a single subject, the first of which was the Art of Patek Philippe held in 1989, the 150th anniversary year of that prestigious watchmaking firm. Antiquorum regularly offers thematic sales at which enthusiasts may enrich their collections and, through Antiquorum’s authoritative and informative catalogues, acquire invaluable knowledge on each specific subject.

In 2005, the historic thematic auction “The Quarter Millennium of Vacheron Constantin” achieved a total of US$ 15,110,000 (SFr. 18,123,069). A record for Vacheron Constantin, this was also the second best result, after Patek Philippe, for a single-brand sale. Among the world records: the “Tour de l’Ile”, at US$ 1,564,000 (SFr. 1,876,250), set a world record for a contemporary wristwatch and the “King Fouad I”, at US$ 2,755,000 (SFr. 3,306,250), achieved the highest price ever paid for a Vacheron Constantin watch.

(description from Antiquorum’s website)

Sotheby’s (various sites)

On 1 April 2019, Sotheby’s launched Watches Weekly, a rolling calendar of online sales with a new selection of watches being unveiled every seven days. Responding to the confidence and desire of collectors looking for important pieces to purchase online, this series provides a fast and dynamic way to buy and sell watches and has attracted collectors from around the world. Many of the buyers in the first sales were new to Sotheby’s (54%) and under 40 (40%). The sales have already set new benchmarks for online watch auctions, including a record for a watch sold in an online sale for the Patek Philippe Nautilus, ref. 5711 in platinum with blue jeans dial, circa 2014 which sold for HK$ 3,750,000 (US$ 484,000).

2019 proved a record year for watch sales at Sotheby’s, achieving $109 million globally, the highest annual total in the company’s history, and a 22% uplift on 2018. Offering the finest timepieces ranging from the 16th century to the modern day, including the most sought after modern and vintage clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches, Sotheby’s Watch department showcases the thriving and international nature of this category, frequently achieving world record breaking results in all of Sotheby’s selling locations. 

Forming and maintaining strong relationships with the world’s collectors and connoisseurs is paramount to the service provided. With a truly global presence, the department holds sales in London, Geneva, Dubai, Hong Kong and New York with a specialised team in each location whose passion for watches is matched only by their unparalleled knowledge and experience. The market is one of constant change and as such, the worldwide team is dedicated to keeping abreast of the latest trends and developments. Our specialists recognise – and take pride in – the fact that constant learning and the sharing of knowledge both within and outside the industry, is as essential as in any other academic genre or category.

The watch auction department has consistently achieved benchmark prices, including $24 million for the Patek Philippe Henry Graves’ Supercomplication – a longstanding auction record for a timepiece – and the George Daniels ‘Space Traveller I’ which set the highest price for both an English Watch and an Independent Watchmaker at $4.6 million in 2019. Clocks also achieved record prices last year: a contemporary clock by Cartier sold for $1.03 million in Hong Kong, a clock by Vacheron Constantin realised $667,467 in London and a Cartier Comet Clock achieved $350,000 in New York.

Online sales continue to grow rapidly with 56% of all lots sold online in this category in 2019 and 80% of bidders participating online. The top watch sold online in 2019 set an auction record for a Millennium wristwatch by George Daniels, selling for $289,800 in Hong Kong in April. 

Demonstrating the breadth and extent of its collective knowledge and expertise, the department has been entrusted with and sold numerous ground-breaking pieces and collections. Following the success of the first two sales from the Masterworks of Time collection of watches held in London & Geneva in 2019, already surpassing the low estimate for the entire collection when they sold for a combined $15.8 million, Sotheby’s will offer the final two sales from the series in New York in June and Geneva in November 2019.

(description from Sotheby’s website)

Christie’s (various sites)

Featuring the world’s leading names in watchmaking such as Patek Philippe, Rolex, Breguet and Vacheron Constantin, Christie’s watch auctions attract a wide audience of collectors and record-breaking prices for the finest vintage and modern timepieces.

Christie’s holds sales in Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York throughout the year. At Christie’s we also recognize that collectors are often looking for a specific watch, or are seeking to buy or sell a timepiece outside of the watch auction season.

(description from Christie’s website)

Koller (Switzerland)

More than half of the luxury watches sold in the world today come from Switzerland, and the principal brands nearly all proudly display the “Swiss Made” label. As the largest Swiss auction house, it naturally follows that Koller organizes dedicated auctions for rare wristwatches and pocket watches. Men’s wristwatches from major brands from the 40s, 50s and 60s are by far the fastest-growing category in these sales, led by Patek Philippe, and closely followed by vintage Rolex, Vacheron Constantin, A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, IWC and Breguet watches, all of which are regularly featured in our auctions.

(description from Koller’s watch auctions website)

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New Rolex Submariner 2020

The Oyster Perpetual Submariner and Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date, professional divers’ watches par excellence, are unveiled with a redesigned and slightly larger, 41 mm case. They are equipped respectively with calibre 3230, launched this year, and calibre 3235.

Rolex is introducing the new generation of its Oyster Perpetual Submariner and Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date, watches that exemplify the historic links between Rolex and the world of diving. Both timepieces now feature a redesigned, slightly larger 41 mm case – whose profile is highlighted by the light reflections from the case sides and lugs – and are fitted on a remodelled bracelet. They are equipped with movements at the forefront of watchmaking technology – the Submariner with calibre 3230, unveiled by the brand this year, and the Submariner Date with calibre 3235, offering both time and date functions, and used in the Submariner range for the first time.

True to its aesthetic heritage, the new Submariner in Oystersteel has a black dial and rotatable bezel with matching Cerachrom insert. A yellow Rolesor version (combining Oystersteel and 18 ct yellow gold) of the Submariner Date presents a royal blue dial with a rotatable bezel and a blue Cerachrom insert.

Two versions of the Submariner Date, one in Oystersteel and the other in 18 ct white gold, bring original colour combinations, with the dial and Cerachrom insert in different hues. The first watch blends a black dial with a green bezel, while the second proposes a black dial and a blue bezel.

Like all Rolex watches, the Oyster Perpetual Submariner and Submariner Date carry the Superlative Chronometer certification, which ensures excellent performance on the wrist.

AN EXTRAORDINARY HISTORY

The creation of the Submariner is closely linked to the development of deep-sea diving. In the early 1940s, the exploration of the deep marked a significant turning point with the advent of scuba diving. At the time, Rolex played an important role in the development and manufacturing of waterproof chronometer wristwatches, thanks in particular to the Oyster case, patented in 1926. As the brand wanted to create a watch that met divers’ practical needs as closely as possible, in the 1950s it began an experimental process that involved many successful collaborations with diving pioneers. The experiments carried out and subsequent technical advances led to the introduction in 1953 of the Submariner, the first divers’ wristwatch waterproof to a depth of 100 metres (330 feet).

Just a year after its launch, the waterproofness of the Submariner was increased to a depth of 200 metres (660 feet). The watch was soon fitted with other technical innovations, such as a luminescent disc on the hour hand to clearly distinguish it from the minute hand, and a crown guard.

In 1969, Rolex unveiled the Submariner Date, adding the date function. Its waterproofness, then guaranteed to 200 metres, was extended in 1979 to a depth of 300 metres (1,000 feet). The waterproofness of the Submariner achieved the same depth in 1989.

Over time, the appeal of the Submariner and Submariner Date has extended well beyond the marine world. With their proven performance, these tool watches have become archetypes of the action watch on land as underwater.

LEGIBILITY AND FUNCTIONALITY

When diving, being able to read the time with absolute certainty is a matter of survival. Therefore, the dial of the Submariner and Submariner Date is designed to be clean and unambiguous. The hour and minute hands, clearly differentiated in size and shape, and the hour markers in simple geometric forms – triangles, circles and rectangles – enable instant and reliable reading, preventing any risk of confusion underwater.

The Submariner and Submariner Date also feature a Chromalight display: the hands and hour markers are coated or filled with a luminescent material that emits a long-lasting blue glow in dark conditions. On the bezel, the triangular zero marker is also visible in darkness thanks to a capsule containing the same luminescent material.

HIGH-TECHNOLOGY CERAMIC

Rolex played a pioneering role in the development of special ceramics for creating monobloc bezels and bezel inserts. Not only are these materials virtually scratchproof, their colours are also of a rare intensity and are resistant to environmental effects. Rolex has developed exclusive expertise and innovative manufacturing methods that grant it complete independence in the production of these ceramic components.

On these versions of the Submariner and Submariner Date, the unidirectional rotatable bezel is fitted with a 60-minute graduated Cerachrom insert in black, green or blue ceramic that allows divers to confidently monitor their dive times. The moulded, recessed graduations and numerals are coated with platinum or yellow gold via PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition). The bezel’s knurled edge offers excellent grip, to comfortably set dive time even when wearing gloves.

ROLESOR, A MARRIAGE OF GOLD AND OYSTERSTEEL

Rolesor, the combination of 18 ct gold and Oystersteel on a Rolex watch, has been a signature feature of the brand since 1933, when the name was registered. It is a meeting of two metals: one, noble and precious, attractive for its lustre and stability; the other, known for its resistance to corrosion, ensures strength and reliability. All of these qualities perfectly mirror the elegance and performance that come together in a Rolex watch.

On the yellow Rolesor version of the Submariner Date, the bezel, winding crown and centre links of the bracelet are in 18 ct yellow gold, while the case and outer links of the bracelet are in Oystersteel.

THE OYSTER CASE, SYMBOL OF WATERPROOFNESS 

A paragon of robustness and reliability, the Oyster case of the Submariner and Submariner Date is guaranteed waterproof to a depth of 300 metres (1,000 feet). Its middle case is crafted from a solid block of Oystersteel, a particularly corrosion-resistant alloy, or from 18 ct white gold. The case back, edged with fine fluting, is hermetically screwed down with a special tool that allows only Rolex watchmakers to access the movement. The Triplock winding crown, fitted with a triple waterproofness system, screws down securely against the case and is protected by an integral crown guard. The crystal is made of virtually scratchproof sapphire and, on the Submariner Date, is fitted with a Cyclops lens at 3 o’clock for easy reading of the date. The waterproof Oyster case provides optimum protection for the watch’s movement.

PERPETUAL CALIBRES 3230 AND 3235

The new-generation Submariner and Submariner Date are equipped respectively with calibre 3230 – launched this year – and calibre 3235, movements entirely developed and manufactured by Rolex. At the forefront of watchmaking technology, these self-winding mechanical movements led to the filing of several patents, and offer fundamental gains in terms of precision, power reserve, resistance to shocks and magnetic fields, convenience and reliability.

Calibres 3230 and 3235 incorporate the Chronergy escapement, patented by Rolex, which combines high energy efficiency with great dependability. Made of nickel-phosphorus, it is also insensitive to magnetic fields. The movements are fitted with an optimized blue Parachrom hairspring, manufactured by Rolex in an exclusive paramagnetic alloy that makes it up to 10 times more precise than a traditional hairspring in case of shocks. The blue Parachrom hairspring is equipped with a Rolex overcoil, ensuring the calibres’ regularity in any position. The oscillator is fitted on the Rolex-designed and -patented high-performance Paraflex shock absorbers, increasing the movements’ shock resistance.

Both calibres are equipped with a self-winding module via a Perpetual rotor. Thanks to their barrel architecture and the escapement’s superior efficiency, the movements’ power reserve extends to approximately 70 hours.

OYSTER BRACELET AND OYSTERLOCK SAFETY CLASP

These versions of the Submariner and Submariner Date are fitted with an Oyster bracelet. Developed at the end of the 1930s, this three-piece link bracelet is known for its robustness.

The Oyster bracelet on these new versions is equipped with a Rolex-designed and -patented Oysterlock folding safety clasp, which prevents accidental opening. It also features the Rolex Glidelock extension system, designed and patented by the brand. This particularly inventive mechanism comprises a rack located under the clasp cover and a toothed sliding link that locks into the chosen notch. The Rolex Glidelock on the Oyster bracelet has 10 notches of approximately 2 mm, allowing the length of the bracelet to be adjusted easily, and without tools, up to some 20 mm.

On the 18 ct white gold version of the Submariner Date, the Oyster bracelet includes ceramic inserts inside the links to enhance its flexibility and longevity.

In addition, a concealed attachment system ensures seamless visual continuity between the bracelet and case.

SUPERLATIVE CHRONOMETER CERTIFICATION 

Like all Rolex watches, the Oyster Perpetual Submariner and Submariner Date are covered by the Superlative Chronometer certification redefined by Rolex in 2015. This exclusive designation testifies that every watch leaving the brand’s workshops has successfully undergone a series of tests conducted by Rolex in its own laboratories according to its own criteria. These certification tests apply to the fully assembled watch, after casing the movement, guaranteeing superlative performance on the wrist in terms of precision, power reserve, waterproofness and self-winding. The precision of a Rolex Superlative Chronometer is of the order of −2/+2 seconds per day, or more than twice that required of an official chronometer.

The Superlative Chronometer status is symbolized by the green seal that comes with every Rolex watch and is coupled with an international five-year guarantee.

Source: Rolex press release