Will Million Dollar Auctions Turn The Watch Industy Into A Bubble?

2017 was a year filled with record breaking watch auctions. The whole 18 million dollar Paul Newman mediastorm wasn’t over yet, and the Patek Philippe 5208T Onlywatch surprised us, fetching $6.2 million. Not even a week later, the Patek 2523 caught $2.8 million in Hong Kong. And the $5 milion Rolex Bao Dai? Boring old news.

There is no denying: million dollar auctions are no big news anymore. Even Omega passed the million dollar mark in November. But is this a good thing, or is the industry turning into a bubble?

Let’s start with some quotes:

  • A 10 million dollar vintage Ferrari gets sold: The buyer must be a connaisseur, what a smart investment.
  • The 450 million Da Vinci gets sold: What an investment, the price might double over time.
  • A million dollar watch gets sold: What a lunatic, just a rich idiot who has too much money.

These are no random statemens, but real tweets, posts and quotes from real people. But why?

The unique Rolex 6062, previously owned by Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam. The watch was sold for 5 million dollars in may, making it the most expensive Rolex for a few months

There is a reason why people call it a bubble. The price of most expensive Rolex went times 7 in less than 2 years.
In may 2016, the Rolex 4113 Antimagnetique held the record for most expensive Rolex for the second time in its life, being $2.4 million.

In may 2017, the Rolex Daytona 6263 ‘the legend’ fetched $3.7 million dollars.
Only a few days later, the previously mentioned Rolex Bao Dai sold for $5 million. Fun fact about this particular watch: The Bao Dai was auctioned before in 2002, and sold for $235.000. In 2002, this was the world record. In just 15 years, the price went x21.

In October 2017, the lost Paul Newman Cosmograph Daytona ref. 6239  was sold for $17.7 million.

Short recap: $235.000 in 2002,
$3.700.000 in may 2017
$17.700.000 in october 2017. This may sound like textbook bubble.

The Rolex Antimagnetique 4113 broke 2 records in its lifetime.

There is a fairly simple explanation: the market is still in its babyshoes. While art has been linked to status and exclusivity for over 3000 years, vintage and exclusive watches only became mainstream popular in early 2000.

Before the quartz crisis in the early 80’s, steel watches were tools. Divers wore divewatches, pilots wore pilotwatches, men in suits wore gold watches, period. Wearing a steel divewatch as an accountant was just as awkward as wearing a wetsuit at work today.
You bough a Rolex as a workhorse, not for status.

An old Rolex commercial, showing that Rolex designed their watches for action, not status.

Even Patek Philippe was frowned upon, even laughed at when they launched the Nautilus in 1976. A steel watch that costed more than a gold Rolex. Who in their right mind would buy that?

So, 2000 was a turning point, but why?

After almost 20 years of crisis in the mechanical watchmarket, people started to once again gain interest in mechanical watches. The magic of turning wheels and springs powered only by the force of gravity is something you just can’t find in a battery operated watch. Clever marketing by brands like Blancpain sure helped spreading the image.

The slogan that made Blancpain a big player again. Risky move, but genius marketing.

Another argument: big auction don’t only grab attention from big collectors and potential investors, they also grabs attention with the ‘common’ people, you and me.

This is something I noticed in my own circle: I have some friends who have 0 interest in watches, who started talking to me about the Paul Newman Daytona. Interested or not, it sure as hell made a lot of noise.

The watch that shook the watch world. Paul Newman’s Paul Newman Daytona, fetching $17.8 million and shattering every single record.

This doesn’t mean that they become a collector, don’t get me wrong, but it sparked an interest. They might start looking for an automatic Seiko or a vintage Omega, and we all know this gets the ball rolling.

If you are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, let me recap: million dollar auctions are the best thing that could happen to the watch world in my opinion. It doesn’t mean that everyday watches will become more expensive for you or me. It means that public awareness is growing.

But hey, who am I, right?

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