Luxury watches are having a moment. As online forums, blogs, and social media brings communities of collectors closer together, brands and retailers have responded by making their businesses more convenient for modern consumers. Last month, Christie's opened its first ever online watch shop, an e-boutique of rare and vintage timepieces. The launch signaled a major step forward for the legendary auction house, which has long dominated live auctions and art sales, in reaching new generations of collectors who primarily shop online.
On Wednesday, June 11, Christie's will offer 360 rare watches valued at more than $9 million in Important Watches, a sale that has enthusiasts across the world salivating, prodded by teasers on the the auction house's Instagram and Twitter accounts. Men's Journal spoke with Reginald Brack, the international head of watch retail at Christie's, about the hottest new brands, how to navigate the online luxury watch market, and why Instagram loves #wristcandy.
What's more important when buying a watch: gut instinct or return on investment?
At Christie's, we consider watches to be art and advise clients to buy what they love, not just for investment purpose. That said, when you're spending a substantial sum, we're constantly thinking of our clients' exit strategy. What happens if they change their mind? What will it be worth? Based on past sales and where we think the market is going, we're able to give recommendations.
For new watch collectors who don't have a ton of spare cash to invest in new timepieces, where to begin?
My go-to watch is an Omega, either the Speedmaster or Seamaster. The value is great for what you get. One of the highlights from our upcoming Important Watches sale is a stainless steel 38mm 1936 Omega with scepter dial. The estimate is $5,000 to $8,000, though I’m sure it'll go for the tens of thousands. But you can get a great entry level vintage Omega for a reasonable price – and it gives you instant street cred.
Do most expensive and rare timepieces still go directly to auction, or is the Internet changing that process?
There are plenty of dealers bidding and winning those pieces in order to resell them, and plenty of clients who have shifted to buying online. Our online watch shop came about due to an overwhelming demand from collectors asking us to find this watch or that watch. In many cases, we'll do a video on a particular watch along with full cataloging and conditioning reports. For the younger generation that's used to buying online, it's more convenient.
Why are vintage watches so popular right now?
Savvy collectors recognize that buying on the secondary market is a safe bet because the watch is valued right at market. With brands like Rolex, their modern product has evolved so greatly from what it used to look like that people seeking a different look– particularly with Rolex sport models – are after that elusive, perfectly-preserved time capsule.
This year is Patek Philippe’s 175th anniversary. Next year is Vacheron Constantin’s 260th. Do milestones influence prices for collectors?
I think they do. A lot of Patek collectors are eagerly awaiting the new releases [in October]. It brings awareness back to those legendary brands. Also, themed sales, like Christie's record-breaking 2013 50th anniversary auction of 50 Rolex Daytonas, can be powerful for brand awareness.
What three brands are on the verge of becoming major collectibles?
F.P. Journe has a cult following. They're great machines and beautiful works of art. Greubel Forsey is pushing the boundaries of conventionality; those watches are so appealing to collectors who want something over-the-top and different. And Richard Mille is always doing well at auction; they have such a different look and were so cutting-edge when they debuted.
How has Instagram impacted watch collecting?
Instagram has been a community builder. It's a powerful tool for watch collectors because there's nothing watch nerds love better than wrist shots. Social media and watch collecting go hand-in-hand. I'm constantly checking out what world-class collectors and dealers around the world are buying, selling, what they like and don't like. [For weekly wristcandy, follow @christiesinc]