With a passion for vintage timepieces, Sarah Fergusson, joined us as Head of Watches in autumn of 2020 with a decade of watch auction and market experience.
Sarah completed her MA Hons, MLitt and MSc all at the University of Glasgow, all with a focus on jewellery. Later she studied gemmology at the Gemmological Institute of Great Britain. Her continued academic interests led her to speak at the ‘Recycling Luxury’ Conference at Christies Education in London in 2019. Her paper, ‘The Virtue of Auction Houses,’ will feature in the journal ‘Luxury,’ published in October 2020.
In line with the exponential growth in the pre-owned watches market, in her previous role, Sarah spent several years focussing solely on watches, finding for sale several rare vintage Rolex pieces and setting several auction records.
Here, Sarah discusses the strengths and success of watches and wristwatches on the auction market today...
The wristwatch auction market started properly gathering momentum in the 1990s. However, it was not until around ten years ago that it really began to take pace, within the context of the explosion of the wider pre-owned watch market. Of the most popular categories, stainless steel sports watches are a good place to start this discussion. A sports, or tool watch, is one that has a specific use – the Rolex Submariner is for diving, and the Daytona is for car racing for example. Here, we can think of Rolex as an Apex brand, with their new and pre-owned/vintage watches both highly sought after and with prices that are still, in many cases, on the rise. There are countless other brands that are very much in demand however, from TAG Heuer to Omega to Tudor to and beyond, all of which have been making these watches with a special purpose for decades. In Lyon & Turnbull’s watch auctions, a variety of watches is included, with many of the highest sellers having the most unassuming of appearances. The most ‘well-loved’ of these timepieces are often the most popular. The hope among collectors being that it is in a kind of original condition – their worn looks suggest they will not have been serviced regularly and will therefore be without later replacement parts. Hopefully this will make you consider seeking a valuation for that tried old watch you inherited – its value may surprise you.
You would be forgiven for assuming that with the current unfamiliar and often uneasy situation that we all find ourselves in, that you should hold on to your assets, waiting for a better time to sell. Quite the contrary, Lyon & Turnbull’s auctions over the last eight months have been some of the most successful in the company’s history, across all categories. In a trailblazing fashion, L&T was one of the first houses to hold a completely ‘behind closed doors’ auction close to the start of lockdown. Embracing multiple live bidding platforms to allow maximum participation from keen bidders all over the world, the sale saw exceptional results – with a selling rate of 83% and a total of £570,000. Shortly after the lockdown was lifted, on 15th July the Scottish Paintings & Sculpture achieved a selling rate of 97% with 100 of 103 lots offered sold, a department record. With several lots estimated over £10,000, and many tripling these pre-sale guide prices on the day, it is important that we note that most sold without buyers even viewing the pieces in person prior to the sale.
Looking at watches specifically, the Select Jewellery & Watches auction that took place on 22nd October with viewing in London saw a Rolex Daytona sell for £15,000 including fees. This represented a 5% increase in hammer price compared to the most similar model sold at auction prior to lockdown. As with any period of economic difficulty, the last few months have also seen a significant increase in the value of gold and other precious metals. In fact, this year the price was noted to have risen a record 34% in the period up to August, up almost 500% on the price five years ago. With this in mind, if you have a gold dress watch that you find yourself leaving in the safe a lot more, now would be a profitable time to sell with the intrinsic value of the metal boosting its overall auction value.
Lockdown aside, if we consider traditional buying habits, we may all assume that the best time to sell luxury items such as watches would be from October to December, to catch those looking for Christmas gifts. However this is yet another fascinating aspect of the pre-owned watches market – it never slows down. Looking at the typical watch buyer, they are just as happy to buy at the start of January as they are in the last two weeks of December. They also tend to be buying for themselves, in comparison to many jewellery buyers who are purchasing presents for others, at key times of the year.
In 2020, the prices achieved have been exceptional, with more lots selling, to more people, living in more places than ever before. There is no bad time to sell, from lockdown to Christmas and everything in between. So if you have decided to sell your watch but felt apprehensive about selling now, hopefully this discussion has allayed your concerns and encouraged you to seek an auction valuation today.
Our Watches department is a dynamic one with significant expertise, creating diverse watch auctions with fine, rare, modern and vintage timepieces. Currently watches are sold at our prestigious Edinburgh saleroom within our Jewellery, Watches & Silver auctions and in London within our Select Jewellery & Watches auctions. Our watch collections are amongst the most well-travelled of the goods we sell – we have in the past viewed collections in New York, Philadelphia, London, Hong Kong and throughout the UK.