Aurel Bacs, Christie's watch expert: 'How to spot a World Record collectible watch'
What's it like to sell a $5.7m watch? Aurel Bacs, International Co-Head of Christie's Watch Department, tells us in his own words...
It is a live event where I cannot hide my emotions. Adrenaline is at an all-time high...
In terms of numbers, the Patek Philippe Ref 1527 was indeed the most valuable watch I ever sold. And, of course, it was hugely exciting. The watch was not rediscovered, as such. It was published for some 20 years in a book, and was already on the market once before.
So I cannot claim that I have discovered a treasure that was lost! But we [at Christie's] have done further research that was not done 20 years ago, and have displayed the watch in a new light - historically, technically and aesthetically.
To be on the auction rostrum and to open the bidding at one million Swiss francs (which I believe, last spring, was something like £600,000), that's already exciting enough. Especially when so many parts of our world are considering the planet to be in financial turmoil.
When you see a room full of over 200 people, two lines of telephone bidders, internet bidders, commission bids... And the bidding goes up in hundred thousands, from one million to 5.5m francs, which is when the hammer came down...
I believe it took about 10 minutes. You cannot describe it.
The $5.7m Patek Philippe Ref 1527 - 'Indeed the most
Sometimes people say: 'You are like somebody who is being filmed, it's probably very stressful. Like somebody who is reading the news on TV, or who's holding a speech in front of a large audience.'
The only thing is, whether you read the news or hold a speech, the text is already written. So all you need to do is read it properly. Here, the text is not written, the plot is not known, and therefore the auctioneer does not know what he's going to live in the next minute, or five or 10 minutes.
Therefore, it is a live event where I cannot hide my emotions. Adrenaline is at an all-time high. It's a mixture of joy and excitement; a 10 minute marathon. After the hammer comes down, I probably stop breathing for 10 minutes!
The collector who entrusted us with the sale of the watch, which was part of a big collection, I'm glad for him.
Here are Aurel Bacs' eight tips for spotting a World Record priced wristwatch...
The parameters that a collector attributes when studying a watch give a "score" to a watch, that then translates into value...
1. The signature and model
This may make sense when you look at furniture and paintings. Of course, a vase with sunflowers signed by Van Gogh is a different piece of art than if it carries my signature. So, the manufacturer's signature, which can range from anonymous to a very distinguished or important name, is the starting point.
The World Record sale of Patek
However, the signature cannot be isolated but must be immediately paired with the model. Because every great manufacturer has not-so-great models, and every not-so-great manufacturer has a great model. So it's a combination of the two.
I think it's the same as painters who have 'great days' and did fabulous works. Then, maybe on a Wednesday afternoon, they didn't quite succeed in making a great piece of art.
2. The movement
Immediately we have to talk about the movement because, at the end of the day, it's about engineering, mechanics and complexity.
A watch that simply tells the hours and the minutes cannot, in my view, be a World Record 'triple-A watch' in terms of value. Technically, it doesn't fascinate like a perpetual calendar split-second chronograph minute repeater tourbillion, as those functions are so rare and sought-after.
But then we have to think of rarity. Let's imagine you've got a great name, a great model and a great mechanism - but there are thousands of them.
As you can imagine, it's all about supply and demand. If you have a supply that is outnumbering the demand then it will never be a World Record watch.
A piece produced in larger numbers is never going to be as important as a piece which was, in Ref 1527's particular case, a unique piece.
4. Condition and 'originality'
Condition, for any collector in any field, is always important. I think condition/originality: because anything vintage or antique will have lived a long life, and will probably have seen maintenance or restoration or servicing, especially a watch which is a mechanical instrument. In order to maintain its functionality, watchmakers have worked on it.
At the same time, it did not have the same life as a painting that was hanging on the very same wall in a protected environment for decades or sometimes hundreds of years...
'Patek Philippe doesn't stand for
A watch was accompanying its wearer over a long life, who may have one day got caught in rain, who may have fallen on a sidewalk... The watch can take beatings on-and-off with hits or humidity, or solar light. These together can unfavourably age a watch.
5. Avoid unprofessional restoration
The worst aspect, in terms of condition, is often unprofessional or wrong restoration. Watchmakers, trying to be of help to the owner, are able to fix it from a mechanical standpoint but do not realise they have just altered it in terms of its originality.
Or, when cleaning it, [they] have taken too much of its original finish. Like if you polish an old table too much, the original lacquer or the original surface gets lost. Though the stain is gone, half the table surface is also gone. This is very important and will have an impact on the value.
Aesthetics are, of course, very personal and may also change with time. One day 'this' is popular, the next day 'that' is popular [depending on the views of] the collectors and the people in the business.
And that depends on where they have grown up, what they have seen when they were young and what is for them great design. So the greatness of design is of importance to the current value. But it is obviously changing as the years go by.
Another element is what I often call "the DNA" - or the technical or aesthetical DNA. When looking for a Patek Philippe, a Rolex, a Cartier, collectors do think: 'Is it a good example of that maker?' So what do I mean? For a car collector, you would have a fantastic Ferrari SUV...
Aurel Bacs: 'After the hammer comes
It is rare, it is unusual and it may even be pretty. But is it really what Ferrari stands for? At the same time, Patek Philippe doesn't stand for diver's watches. They stand for complications, for refined complex watches. So it has to fit into the overall history of the manufacturer.
8. Provenance and freshness to the market
Again, this is very typical of the entire market for any antique or collectible.
If something has been locked away in a world famous collection for half a century and then comes onto the market, of course it will be greeted with much more enthusiasm than an item that has been "shopped around".
Or "burned" is another expression: where if 20, 30 or 50 people could have bought it but didn't. Well, why should I then? It's something that your readers with a background in real-estate will know...
"The perfect watch ... the perfect result"
Now if you take all of these parameters then, say, let's give a fictional score from one-to-10. It's not a science or formula that will bring out the results - otherwise it would be science or mathematics, rather than a collecting market!
Take the Ref 1527 that we sold last spring... You would get, in every category, something close to a top score for this watch. And this means you're very close to the perfect watch. And then you get the perfect result.
This is Part One of Paul Fraser Collectibles' exclusive interview with Mr Bacs. Part Two will follow next week...
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