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Luxury watches are now fetching record six-figure prices at online auctions

The sales rooms may have gone quiet, but the bidding wars are no less furious as auction houses move their lots online.

Luxury watches are now fetching record six-figure prices at online auctions

A Cartier Gold and Diamond-set Tank Francaise and a Franck Muller White Gold Diamond-Set Crazy Hours, both from Christie's inaugural weekly online auction. (Photo: Christie's)

Just because the pandemic has emptied the streets and stores of shoppers doesn’t mean those wallets are staying as isolated as their owners. On the contrary, online sales are seeing such an incredible surge that even traditionally offline channels like auction houses are getting in on the action.

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To be clear, auction houses have been guiding bids online for a while now. In 2019, 64 per cent of Christie’s global clients opted to buy or bid online. A year before that, Sotheby’s reported that online bidding accounted for 25 per cent of all auction house sales.

But such auctions were typically for more accessible items, while big-ticket items like jewellery and watches were reserved for those who bothered to physically show up. For better or for worse, that’s starting to change.

Sotheby’s recently launched its Watches Weekly initiative, a weekly online-only watch auction. Beyond the obvious benefits of safe distancing and a way to attract a younger demographic, online watch auctions offer a swifter turnaround between appraisal and sale.

For example, a Rolex Daytona Ref. 6263 in the first sale was consigned only a few days before the opening of the sale, and was listed within 48 hours of Sotheby’s receiving the property. That piece sold for HK$2 million (S$366,600), joining a HK$2.7 million Paul Newman Daytona Ref. 6241 and a HK$3.7 million Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711 in the first two rounds of Watches Weekly, the latter setting a new record for a watch sold in an online sale.

READ> A Patek Philippe Nautilus sells for almost S$700,000 at an online watch auction

Christie’s is following suit, with its first weekly online watch auction opening from May 6 to May 20. It will also be enhancing its digital experience via 360º virtual tours for remote viewing, visually-driven online showcases of top lots, interactive e-catalogues and more. Phillips is also in the midst of setting up virtual bids for its watches and jewellery, though details have yet to be released.

Successful as these online moves are, it doesn’t signal the end for live auctions during (or even after) this global crisis.

“I believe live sales will be further curated for the best of the best,” said Sam Hines, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Watches. “The lot count will get smaller but the quality will go up. There will likely be more online sales in the future but the greatest collector’s watches will be reserved for live sales.”

After all, the glamour, atmosphere and interactions that come with a live auction can’t be replicated on a screen. This might explain the decision to simply postpone some of the most anticipated live auctions rather than move them online.

Christie’s Hong Kong’s Titanium Collection and Ruby Collection auctions, featuring what it claims to be the most valuable single-owner collection of Patek Philippe timepieces ever offered in Asia, will now be scheduled for July and November respectively. Sotheby’s Masterworks of Time and Important Watches sales will continue in New York in June.

READ> A S$17 million Patek Philippe collection belonging to a single owner is up for auction

It’s anyone’s guess what the world is going to look like in the following months, but if you want to gaze at something pretty while counting down the days (or hours or minutes), ready your mouse for the the sixth Watches Weekly sale, happening from May 6 to May 13, promising sporty vintage Rolexes from the 1970s to contemporary modern timepieces from luxury makers Bulgari, Montblanc and Hublot.

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Source: CNA/ds