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Sought after: chronographs from Rolex and Longines

The main watch auctions staged during the past two months of 2013 reflected a collecting market in rude health. The three big Geneva sales conducted by Antiquorum, Christie’s and Sotheby’s grossed more than $50m between them.

Prospects for 2014 watch sales – the first of which will be staged by Antiquorum Hong Kong on February 22 – appear to be rosy. But for a true international picture, we asked six specialists to provide their thoughts on the year ahead – and to predict which watches will attract high prices.

John Reardon, Christie’s New York:

“The momentum from last year’s record season has encouraged sellers to offer prized pieces for sale, and new bidders are lining up to try buying at auction for the first time. In addition, our commitment to private sales in the watch area [ie, non-auction sales] is growing exponentially and the world of retail is now meshing with that of the saleroom.

“In both areas, the market for mint condition vintage and modern timepieces seems to be getting stronger, in particular for Rolex, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin pieces.”

Paul Maudsley, Bonhams London:

“Last year proved to be the strongest ever for the department, with £14m of sales worldwide, up from £12.5m in 2012. From a UK point of view, we have to accept that the very best vintage watches – such as complicated Patek Philippes and so on – exist here only in tiny numbers and rarely become available for sale.

“There is no doubt that today’s buyers are both more knowledgeable and have a greater willingness to learn, which means they are being more careful in their purchases and often waiting longer for the right watch to come along.

“I would suggest that Longines chronographs from the 1940s and 1950s might take off. They are beautifully designed and engineered but currently undervalued.”

Julien Schaerer, Antiquorum Geneva:

“There is no doubt that 2013 was another interesting and successful year but, in my opinion, the results were mixed – due, in part, to uncertainties in the Chinese market, which may have affected the international buying habits of Asian collectors.

“On the face of it, the vintage Rolex market is looking very strong – but really it is only for the super-rare Daytonas, early chronographs and moon phase pieces. Patek, too, is set to remain strong for the really rare references, but I envisage some weakening in broader terms.

“This year we will see people looking for alternative dial names. Vintage Zeniths, for example, are enjoying a trickle-down effect from the successful revival of the brand, and certain models of Vacheron Constantin, such as steel versions of the Gérald Genta-designed 222, are likely to perform well.”

Sharon Chan, Sotheby’s Hong Kong:

“The growing number of participants in our sales suggests the Asian market will continue to grow, partly because the brands have been increasing their marketing budgets in Asian cities in order to educate collectors.

“I anticipate a slow change in focus from modern to vintage – generally, Asian buyers like only excellent-condition watches, even if they are vintage.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to consign rare watches due to an increase in competition, and the fact that some collectors are exchanging pieces among themselves before we get to see them.

“I do, however, predict a further increase in female buyers at auction. Many have gone beyond buying for fashion and are now looking at functions and collectability.”

Geoffroy Ader, Sotheby’s Geneva:

“The huge demand for the best Rolex pieces will continue. In the 20 years that I have been in the business, demand for vintage Daytonas has always been high – in that time, the right ones have risen in value from $5,000 to $100,000, and I don’t see why they should start to go down.

“The market for modern watches will remain strong, but more and more buyers are demanding excellent- condition pieces with boxes and papers. The best pocket watches, meanwhile, will still make record sums but average ones will continue to make average prices. The demand just isn’t there.

“As for big money Patek Philippe pieces, they are becoming more and more difficult to find. The people that have them are reluctant to let them go, just as they are with the crème de la crème of pieces by makers ranging from Audemars Piguet to Universal.”

Stefan Muser, Dr Crott auction house, Mannheim:

“China’s anti-corruption campaign has resulted in huge numbers of unsold new watches in the country, and that is bound to affect the residual market.

“Vintage watches, however, will continue to perform well in the saleroom. I envisage collectors looking to take advantage of currently undervalued models – such as Longines chronographs from the 1950s and 1960s, and probably rectangular-cased Patek Philippes from the 1940s and 1950s.

“The trend for huge case sizes is not going to last. A lot of my clients are returning to wearing watches of around 35mm – they are just more comfortable, more elegant.”

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