Watch auctions : the complete collector guide

Zenith El Primeo from 1969
Zenith El Primero from 1969 hammered 8320€ by Aguttes

Watch auctions: how does it work and how to get the best deals?

Auctions are looked after by all watch enthusiasts as the place where you can see exceptional pieces, meet collectors and witness world records being hammered in front of you! Just recently, Christie’s sold in 2019 the most expensive wrist watch ever, a Patek Philippe GrandMaster Chime unique piece in steel for 31M Swiss Francs. Over the past years, multiple records have been smashed in the watch auction world!

Famous watch auction houses such as Philips, Christie’s and Sotheby’s are trusting the most expensive pieces and media coverage where the biggest collectors are biding and fighting over some of the most sought-after luxury watches.

But, did you know you could still make good deals by looking at smaller auction houses? A good example would be Aguttes, one of the leading independent auction houses with its dedicated watch department and that kindly gave us access to the backstage of watch auctions for this article.

The complete guide to buy a timepiece at auctions

Aguttes is an auction house that created a dedicated department for watches in 2019, covering a very large spectrum of pieces for everyone’s budget as opposed to bigger players who will only consider ultra high-end pieces.

Independent, they have a 46-year expertise in the global auction business, providing confidence to any seller or buyer unlike some of the shady auctioneers you can find on eBay. They are based in Paris, France but most of their collectors are bidding from all around the world.

As with any serious auction house, Aguttes goes through the 4 below steps:

  • The Valuation
  • The Catalogue creation with estimate values
  • The Viewings, where you can get your own feeling and appreciation of the timepieces
  • The Bidding, physically or remotely
  1. THE VALUATION

Thanks to watchmaking expert Elio Guerin, the Maison can offer estimates of watches to be sold. Valuation is one of the key function of auction houses and below are the 3 key points they look after:

  1. Visible elements: are the case, bracelet and dials genuine? Are they over polished or even changed to newer components? As a seller, to get the best possible value for a watch, it must be kept in its original conditions.
  2. Calibre: what is the state of the caliber, could we find corrosion or damaged components? As a buyer, make sure to check these details to avoid adding a complete service right after the purchase.
  3. The functioning: is the watch properly working, is it accurate? As for the caliber state, beware of the extra cost of a vintage piece. Also, not all Manufacture are able to restore/repair vintage pieces.

Pro tip: to estimate the cost of servicing of a future acquisition, have a look at our complete watch servicing guide with service prices for all the popular watch brands.

Regarding the valuation, Aguttes can also provide some help with this process with their own watch workshop and studio. Feel free to request valuation of your watches.

  • THE CATALOGUE

Once all the pieces for a given sale are sourced, Aguttes will start shooting them to create the auction catalogue, including macro, lifestyle and stand-alone shots for the public to get a first idea of the watch’s overall state without having to see them in person. The pictures go along with a short description, usually describing the background of the watch, the key facts to be known and obviously the estimates. Traditionally the estimates show two values, a lower and a higher estimate, (ex. 500 – 1,500 EUR) and reflect the market price according to past auctions results and the condition of the watch.

What can be appreciated with smaller independent auction houses is the wide range of the offer, from highly sought-after 6 figures watches such as vintage Rolex GMT Master or Paul Newman Daytona but also accessible lots for new collectors such as the below vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre hammered under 1000€ or even pretty rare pieces such as a 1969 Zenith El Primero that we saw being sold for 8’320€ (pictured in the introduction).

Vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre hammered for 950€ by Aguttes

Purchasing from an auction house is a classic step for any watch enthusiast looking to upgrade a watch collection and hunt for good deals.

  • THE VIEWINGS

Here comes the exciting part! For all auctions that are held physically, auctions houses will showcase their pieces in a showroom where everyone can go and check the watch conditions on their own. During the global covid-19 pandemic, Aguttes quickly adapted by offering private viewings via video calls. Whether online or offline, this is a great step to view the piece and create confidence with the auction house as some have been caught offering fakes, like recently with this watch auction scandal in Monaco

  • THE BIDDING

Bidding could be done whether physically in the auction room, or remotely by phone or online.

The process is usually the same across all auctioneers: you need to register (we recommend at least 48 hours before the auction) and then you decide how much you are willing to pay per lot. If you are bidding live, you can adjust the size of your bid accordingly.

TIP 1: Look after the “no reserve lots” as you could get amazing deals! Usually the seller sets a reserve price in order to reach a minimum value (if not reached, the piece won’t be sold). Yet, some lots don’t have this minimal price and could represent an excellent bargain for the buyer 😉

TIP 2: Do not forget to take into account the Auction house premium. For any auction, a 25% charge is added to the hammered price. Depending on the auction house, this fee is usually between 25% to 30%.

TIP 3: You can claim VAT off if you live abroad from the auction house!
At Aguttes, if a watch is hammered at 10k, you would need to add 30% to the price to clear off both the auction house premium and the VAT (13,000€). Without the VAT, you would only pay the 25% premium (12,500€)

The Aguttes house has 70% of international buyers and therefore offers a range of worldwide shipping services. Knowing that you can purchase watches with auctions houses all around the world broadens your possibilities as a collector looking for the best deals around the globe!

The payment conditions with auctions

  • If you are the seller: you would receive the payment within 3 weeks’ time
  • If you are the buyer: you would need to pay in the following days following the auction
Vintage Omega Chronograph

CONCLUSION

We love auctions! From the excitement it procures, to the great deals we can make, auctions are such a specific place for watch enthusiasts. We love going to viewings, looking at all kind of amazing pieces, meeting with friends and collectors and feeling part of the industry.

As a conclusion to this watch auctions guide, we would recommend to watch Phillips auctions live stream for the big sales, but also keep an eye on smaller houses such as Aguttes for building a collection. They provide a valuable and personalized follow-up both for the seller or the buyer throughout the entire journey.

Getting an expertise about your watches, but also advice on the overall auction process is a must to feel confident and you should always enquire with any question you might have.

If you want to sell your watch: ask for an appraisal and if you are looking for your new piece, check the Aguttes auction calendar!

All the best folks and we wish you good hunting for the best auction deals and we’ll leave you with our favorite recent lots hammered by Aguttes below!

Vintage Zenith El Primero
Vintage Royal Oak Jumbo
Vintage Rolex GMT Master