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Q&A: Timepiece expert tells us all about bidding at vintage watch auctions

It takes more than a money briefcase and having the fastest finger first. We asked an expert how to prepare for bidding at online watch auctions.

These novelties are manufactured at the highest degree of jewellery and mechanical craftsmanship. Surviving decades, they offer not only monetary value but also a heritage and story. Hence, bringing a sentimental value with them. These pieces and the process of collecting them certainly has a charm of their own. However, on the financial side of things, vintage watches have always been fantastic assets to own, and it’s no surprise that their prices have skyrocketed in recent years.

As a unique investment and novelty, the financial values of these elegant artefacts also have unique determinants. And for first-time bidders, it can be easy to find themselves lost in this rabbit hole. More so, as online watch auctions are slowly replacing traditional ones, there’s much to learn about the new auction process and the market. To help us understand this better, we spoke with Mr Deepak Krishnamoorthy, a timepiece expert from AstaGuru, one of India’s finest luxury auction houses. 

Here’s a crash course you can take before bidding at online watch auctions.

online watch auctions

What are the key factors to be taken into consideration before investing in a  watch?

You begin by understanding the brand. This is where you begin your research. When was the brand founded? Who owns it today? What are their current strategies? What type of watches do they produce? What level of quality do they offer? One must investigate this before “investing” in a watch brand.

Apart from its aesthetical value, take note of the true quality of that model. There are particular models from brands that always garner value. Take the Rolex Daytona, World Time by Patek Philippe or a tourbillon piece by Breguet as examples. Iconic pieces have a proven record of popularity among collectors that transcend all generations.

Once you get its name, take a look at its heart – The movement. A well-kept movement not only delights watch lovers with its functionality but also inspires a degree of intellectual stimulation for its engineering. I strongly believe that quartz or battery-powered movements rarely count as an investment. On the other hand, mechanical movements and their complexity of craftsmanship are always great investment pieces.

Next, the rarity. How rare is that watch? How many pieces were manufactured?

Rarity is always a difficult puzzle to solve as limited editions and limited productions are two very different points. Limited editions are intentionally numbered. However, limited productions are due to discontinuation. Patek Philippe is probably the best example where production levels for each model are low, making each Patek Philippe highly sought after.

Finally, the condition. It’s perhaps the last on this list but the most important. The condition of a dial that hasn’t seen any cosmetic treatments, a case that hasn’t been re-polished, an intact box, and the original certificate — they all matter. It’s a true collector’s dream to be able to go “back in time” and purchase the desired watch in the same condition as if he or she were the original owner.

online watch auctions

For buyers who’ve identified their timepiece of interest, what are the details they must further research?

Well, once you’ve identified the perfect investment timepiece for you, these are a few details you must note.

  1. Circa or year of production.
  2. The physical condition of the watch.
  3. Wear & tear on the leather strap/metal bracelet.
  4. Reference number
  5. Limited or special edition.
  6. Has it been factory serviced or third party serviced?
  7. Supply and demand of that particular watch.

I’ll never be able to emphasize enough the importance of research. Do your due homework and have the utmost clarity on the timepiece. Compare prices in the market, read, and understand the market trends related to that watch. If required, reach out to the manufacturer or auction houses for more information.

What advice would you give when it comes to setting a budget?

Watch collection can either be a strategic or sentimental affair. More so, it’s an immersive game, which is why I think it’s better to set the budget in three categories:

Most expensive aspiring watch brand – $100,000 >
Medium range with great movement and strong history – $10,000 >
Initial foundation in setting up a good watch collection – $1,000 >

online watch auctions

For buyers interested in old vintage watches, is there anything specific they could look out for?

Standing the test of time and not having too many around — that’s always the winning combination.

Pristine condition will definitely attract higher value which is why you must keep an eye out for scratches. Then, if it’s been repaired, does it still retain its original parts? Service history is certainly one of those hidden details. Next, a ‘rare’ piece doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be a limited edition. Hidden gems that don’t make too many public appearances also count and drive value, remember that. On the other hand, if it’s made too many appearances, more so, on a wrist of a famous celebrity, that’s another big price ticket for vintage watches. Take Steve McQueen’s Rolex for instance. It’s really nothing more than a standard Submariner, and in the 70s, Rolex actually removed them from stores due to low sales. However, after Steve McQueen was spotted sporting a Submariner in the 1971 film Le Mans, it turned into a cult model.

Consider that with time, components of the watch box may go missing. Look for documents, papers, and the box itself. A complete set will always be worth more than just the watch alone. Missing papers and/or the box would hamper the overall valuation. Finally, the patina. What’s interesting about ageing watches is that the dial’s original colour slightly changes due to its patina, which makes the watch unique and gives it character. Collectors and watch enthusiasts appreciate this unique touch.

Could you name a few brands and models that command the most value in the vintage watch market today?

I’d say Rolex, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, and Jaeger-LeCoultre are strong names. Considering recent trends in the vintage watch category, these models have garnered consistent appreciation over time and are great investments:

Patek Philippe: Steel Nautilus, Reference 5711

Audemars Piguet: Royal Oak Jumbo, Reference 15202ST

Rolex: GMT, Reference 1675

Rolex: Daytona, Reference 16520

Rolex: Submariner, Reference 16800

Patek Philippe: Nautilus, Reference 3700

online watch auctions

What are the pre-and post-auction formalities one should be aware of?

For first-time bidders, they must first register on www.astaguru.com and once relevant verification is completed, they’ll be given bidding access. On the other hand, existing bidders simply need to reactivate their bidding access by connecting with the auction house 48 hours prior to the auction. Post-auction, as soon as the amount is cleared, arrangement for item dispatching begins.

Tips on what not to do at online watch auctions.

The most important piece of advice I would give to a buyer is to do their due diligence and research the contended lots. This is very important before committing to a bid. With regards to an online auction, it’s best not to wait till the last minute to place a bid. Information needs to be relayed in time from the bidder’s terminal to the server. Secure your bid at the earliest opportunity.

What are the auction fees bidders must be aware of?

Bidder is required to deposit a token amount of Rs 5 lakh. This amount is then either adjusted depending on the success of your bids or duly transferred back within 7 working days. The auction house charges a 15% fee on the hammer price.

All images: Courtesy brands & Getty Images

Mikhail Gomes
Features Editor, Lifestyle Asia India & Contributor - Augustman
A watch aficionado, Mikhail also enjoys learning about fine whiskies, and one day hopes to establish his own menswear label. At Lifestyle Asia India, he writes on watches, menswear, auto and tech.
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