As the cacophony of the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) – the fair for new watches that takes place each January in Geneva – fades, it’s worth turning our attention back to the ever-changing supply of collectible vintage timepieces, says Justin Mastine-Frost in the Robb Report. Take the Bovet Mono-Rattrapante Chronograph (pictured), powered by the Valjoux 84, whose chronograph complication includes the ability for split timing.
It’s not as high-tech as a full “rattrapante” (split-seconds) chronograph. Nor is it the most affordable vintage chronograph out there (selling for at $5,900 on MentaWatches.com). Yet this functionality gives it “a leg up” over other similar watches – hence we “don’t expect this one to stay listed for too long”. Selling a secondhand watch can be a bit of a headache, says Kathleen Beckett in The New York Times, who discovered this first hand after inheriting her husband’s 1930s Patek Philippe.
Having had the watch authenticated by the watchmakers in Geneva, she went first to auction house Christie’s, where she was told that, despite being out of fashion (yellow gold instead of white, and too small), with a bit of a polish and a new strap it could fetch between CHF8,000 and CHF12,000. But there were other charges to consider, such as insurance, catalogue photography, customs charges, shipping and commission – usually 6% to 20% of the final sale price.
Meanwhile, at a watch shop, not having the original box or certificate of origin threatened to knock 15% off the value. Selling the watch online was another possibility, but the Swiss-based website Iconeek.com charges 15% commission and valued the watch at up to CHF7,000, with a reserve price of CHF5,000 – much lower than the Christie’s estimates. Another online shop, US-based Hodinkee.com, offered to price the watch at $7,500 (CHF7,540), charging 15% commission. “So if it sold, I’d get $6,375 (CHF6,400). I was tempted,” says Beckett.
In the end, Beckett opted for a private sale organised by auctioneers Phillips in New York, where she was offered $6,200 (CHF6,230) “pure and simple”, with the unspecified commission paid by the anonymous buyer. The reality is that “for watches that are not one-offs, auctions don’t make any sense”, Hamilton Powell tells Larry Olmsted in Forbes. Powell founded Crown & Caliber after both he and a friend got ripped off buying and selling watches.
The US-based start-up has 40 employees, including half a dozen full-time Swiss-trained repair specialists, to scrutinise, polish, repair and value second-hand watches. It lists the watches on its website, charging the seller a 19.5% “consignment fee”, plus a “small prep fee” based on the selling price. He believes his venture could change the industry. “The watch market is just like the car market was in the Seventies, it’s just starting to mature in terms of pre-owned.”
The sheer magic of mechanical animation
The Van Cleef & Arpels Fée Ondine (above) was the show-stopper at January’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. The bejewelled objet d’art – featuring a fairy automaton contemplating a water lily – had visitors hypnotised, says Rebecca Doulton in The Jewellery Editor. “No matter how accustomed we might be to all the electronic wizardry available today, it is refreshing to be enthralled again by the sheer magic of mechanical animation.”
The bejewelled spectacle comes alive at the touch of a hidden lever. The lily unfolds delicately, petal by petal, as music plays. The fairy awakes, flaps her wings and admires a fluttering butterfly that emerges from the centre of the flower. The butterfly retreats back inside the petals, the lily closes and the fairy returns to rest in her original position.
This “mechanical tableau vivant” lasts around two minutes, but it is a decade since Nicolas Bos, the then-creative director of Van Cleef & Arpels, and now chief executive, first had the idea of creating a tabletop automaton, says Nick Foulkes in the Financial Times How to Spend It magazine. Making automata such as this is “like a game of multidimensional chess… So finely balanced and coordinated is the maze of cogs [and] levers… moving the figures that an extra gram of weight… will have far-reaching effects”. Get it right, however, and the result is mesmerising.
• Price on request – see VanCleefArpels.com
Going: An intricately painted porcelain wucai fish vase from the reign of Emperor Jiajing of the China’s Ming dynasty, who ruled from 1521 to 1567, sold for 450 times its guide price this week at an auction in Birmingham held by Fellows.
The auction house had valued the vase at just £1,800, believing it to be a 20th-century copy, lacking the sophistication of an original piece. But bidders, one of whom had travelled from Japan, had spotted that the vase was 500 years old. The winning bid of £810,000 came from an anonymous telephone bidder.
Gone: In September of last year, a rare 250-year-old teapot from China’s Qianlong dynasty fetched over ten times its £225,000 guide price when it sold for £2.6m at auction house Sotheby’s in New York. The green teapot, one of only two known to exist, depicts a figure, believed to be the emperor, being served tea in an ornate garden while examining a hand scroll.