Exclusive interview: 'We're possibly the largest collectors' community on the planet'



2015-06-26 12:20:31

Exclusive interview: 'We're possibly the largest collectors' community on the planet'

How did Christie's achieve $91m of sales in a global recession? Aurel Bacs, International Co-Head of Christie's Watch Department, reveals all...

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"We're seeing China already, on the worldwide level, becoming the most dominant force in terms of the numbers of bidders" - Aurel Bacs

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You mentioned China and Brazil. What is your top tip for 2011 - can you see any particular market excelling over the coming year?

Well, since 2008, my forward looking statements are cautiously optimistic. But I am optimistic. The economic parameters are very promising around the globe. The collectors' confidence for buying and selling is there.

It is very fortunate for us at Christie's to be unchallenged as the market leader in watch auctions. So chances are good that great pieces will come to us and important collectors will turn to Christie's for buying. So I have reasons to be optimistic.

Which markets are showing a growth in the number of collectors? Are they emerging from any particular countries?

We are, by the hour, seeing newcomers join this big family. In the last 10 years, we've seen absolutely an amazing development in Asia. Particularly in China: in my view, the biggest force coming into the market.

We're seeing China already, on the worldwide level, becoming the most dominant force in terms of the numbers of bidders.

Patek Philippe Ref 1527, sold for a $5.7m World Record price at Christie's in 2010

They're maybe not the most dominant force in terms of keeping the paddle up the longest. But it is, for me, only a matter of a few years until we see some of the greatest watch collections being formed in China.

You've been involved with fine watches since the 1980s. Has the industry changed much in that time?

Yes, it has changed an awful lot. Several things have changed, scholarship is one. WhenI started it took 1,000 to put together a fairly complete library on wristwatch literature. There were only two Patek Philippe books, two Rolex books...

Today, weekly, we get announcements from writers who say: 'I've just written a new book on this and this subject.' We can hardly keep up with these books! So scholarship has developed amazingly - and the accessibility to scholarship.

Today, you and your neighbour can make an opinion on what a watch might be worth, by clicking on Google. It's so unbelievably fast that you can get any piece of information you need.

Then the role of auction houses has changed. Fifty of so years ago, they did not offer any other way of bidding other than being in the room and raising your paddle.

Today - and this is the auction revolution - auction houses have set up ways to reach out directly to every individual on the planet who might be interested in bidding. You can bid from your notebook in a Geneva, New York or Hong Kong auction. And "live" means you see and you hear the auctioneer - like if you watch a sports event.

You get an email invoice to pay with your credit card and, two weeks later, you have the watch on your wrist. You did not even have to leave your house.

Bidding has become so comfortable. No wonder, 20 years ago, we counted 50 bidders; and today we count over 1,000 at an auction.

Are there any smaller watch brands that you think could make great investments in the future?

People might think you have to bid on $5m watches. But no, because from smaller brands you can get great technical features, great rarity, great designs, fresh to the market [specimens], great condition - maybe it's just not an important brand.

I remember when colleagues of mine were celebrating the first painting that made 10m pounds, wondering: 'How long will it take before a painting makes 50m?' Some said 10 years, some said 20 years... But eventually it was five years.

So, I still believe that, because of the immense growth of appetite around the planet, we will see growth in the market in terms of value.

'China is the biggest force coming into the market,' says Aurel

Whether it's Omega, IWC, Jaeger LeCoultre... You can buy watches of these brands for less than $10,000. And you get actually real value for your money. So, as long as you don't compromise on condition and rarity and technical aspect, I think one has a very bright future ahead.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who's just starting out in fine watch collecting

Inform yourself. I think the biggest disappointment comes when you just run into something without knowing what you're really doing. It's awfully easy to walk into a shop with a dealer, or an auction room, and just take a paddle and raise your paddle and buy. That's easy.

It's just like if you go into a shop and say, 'I'd like that suit off the rack. Thank you. Goodbye, please wrap it.' Then you find out at home that a) it's not your size; b) it's not your style; c) it's not the cloth you wanted.

So inform yourself. Here at Christie's, every client can ask every possible conceivable question. What's the condition of the watch? How rare is it? Can I try it on? Can you explain to me how it works? We have a very 'retail approach' with every client.

That is also changing. Fifty years ago, there wasn't even a specialist on the exhibition floor. You just went to look at it for yourself, and make your own opinion. Today, behind each cabinet, there's a qualified specialist who is at hand to answer all possible questions.

So please ask these questions. Whether it's by literature, by previous auction catalogues, by online... There's a lot of information available. But then the person who's selling the watch should help and explain every detail of the watch.

And once you're convinced that you know all you need to know, whether it's $1,000, $10,000, $100,000 or $1m, then you are safe to raise your paddle. Unless you already know as much as an expert!

Christie's upcoming major watch salesinclude Geneva (May 14), Hong Kong (May 30) and New York (June 15) - "fantastic auctions with unbelievable, great quality watches and a wide spread of different types," says Aurel.

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