You might be surprised by the value of a watch you no longer wear, which could be highly desirable to a new owner. It does not have to be a rare complicated wristwatch: Christie’s sells many vintage watches designed simply for telling the time. And while collectors often prize a watch steeped in history and provenance, modern timepieces are also highly sought-after.
Every year, Christie's Watch Department conducts eight live auctions in four cities — New York, Geneva, Dubai and Hong Kong — around the world, with an additional nine auctions held online, and offers ongoing private sales. Here, our watch experts share their stories of some memorable consignments.
International Head of Watches John Reardon recalls one of the many ‘sweeps’ the watch specialists make each season, visiting a city and viewing a large number of timepieces in the course of a day. ‘You really never know,’ he says. ‘When we least expect it, we discover an amazing piece that becomes the highlight of the next auction.’
One of his most exciting finds was made during a typical consignment visit: an ultra-thin Vacheron Constantin reference 4261 platinum minute repeater, manufactured in 1951. Despite its age, the movement's gongs produced a full, melodious sound. Incredibly, further research indicated that it was the first platinum 4261 ever produced. Fresh to the market and of exceptional rarity and quality, the watch sold for $605,000.
In the 1950s, the first ruler of Bahrain presented a distinguished American businessman with a Patek Philippe Calatrava wristwatch. The gentleman wore it just a few times before stowing it away in a jewellery box. The time-only reference 2573 in pink gold featured highly unusual natural seed pearl hour markers and aspects of its design were unique. Adding to its allure, a photograph of such a watch had circulated among elite collectors, but the actual timepiece had never been seen. An extract from Patek Philippe in Geneva confirmed the wristwatch’s 1958 production and sale — and most importantly, the pearl hour markers.
According to Senior Watch Specialist Eric Wind, the team named the watch ‘The Pearl of Bahrain’ and gave it a conservative estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. To everyone’s surprise, a very high number of potential buyers joined the bidding. Its royal provenance, mint and original condition, and the fact that it was fresh to the market all contributed to the watch selling for $437,000 with premium.
After inheriting his grandfather's gold Rolex with an unusual cloisonné enamel dial, a gentleman decided to explore options for selling it. He visited a number of dealers who each offered around $25,000 for the timepiece.
When he contacted Christie’s, Eric Wind advised the owner that an auction would be the best way to sell such an unusual timepiece. He knew that with proper research, scholarship and marketing the watch would generate strong competition between collectors likely to ensure the realisation of its true value. This exceptional Rolex timepiece sold for more than $300,000, and its former owner is now enjoying a significant new legacy from his grandfather.
One day an email arrived from a Christie's client who owned a pendant watch that commemorated Charles Lindbergh's 1927 solo flight from New York to Paris. She wanted to know whether Christie's might be interested in selling it for her.
When specialist Rebecca Ross examined the piece, her enthusiasm astonished the owner. Watchmaker Milos & Diel had created a one-of-a-kind watch for Lindbergh’s parents with an intricately designed 14k white gold case depicting the Spirit of St. Louis aeroplane.
Just as the watch commemorated an historic event, its sale was a celebratory story of its own. ‘It was nice that the watch had been put together in New York, that Lindbergh had flown from New York to Paris, and that it would be sold in New York,' says Ross. The original estimate, of $10,000 to $15,000, represented not only the inherent value of the timepiece but also the popularity of Lindbergh memorabilia among collectors. It sold for $35,000.
In memory of her late husband, a woman from the Midwest began wearing his old Patek Philippe reference 3448 in 18k yellow gold on a bracelet. The watch became her favourite and she wore it everywhere, even while playing golf.
Eventually this wear and tear caused the movement to stop functioning properly. Her local jeweller suggested she send it to Patek Philippe for repair. Fortunately, the damage was not irreparable and once restored, her ‘everyday’ wristwatch sold for $100,000.
Only too often, our specialists observe, the owners of watches do not know where to go to value or sell a timepiece, and offload it to a local dealer or jeweller. In such instances they might pocket some quick cash, but they would miss out on the true value of the timepiece. That is why it is always worth checking with Christie’s to obtain an expert second opinion.
Why Christie's for watch consignment?
The expertise of the international watch team at Christie's, with 18 dedicated specialists around the world, is unrivalled. The department includes leading scholars of the most prominent collector brands, such as Patek Philippe, Rolex, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, Omega, Universal, Longines and more. Christie’s specialists see on average more than than 100 watches every day, and closely monitor brand and industry trends and developments. The department’s close relationships with collectors around the world also helps to foster a competitive bidding environment.
How do I consign with Christie’s?
You do not need to be near a Christie's location to make an inquiry about a timepiece. The process can begin with a call or an email — a department specialist will respond quickly. We may ask you to ship the piece to us, or we may schedule a viewing to fit in with our travels. Condition and originality are two important factors that affect the valuation estimate and final sales price.
Christie's specialists will discuss with you the watch's potential worth and advise on the most appropriate channel for its sale. You'll be able to make an informed decision at every step of the process.
‘We're here to help and to give the best advice possible, whether you're curious about one timepiece or want to sell a collection,’ explains John Reardon. ‘Over the last 10 years there’s been a growth in collecting across all price points and every brand imaginable in the world. Our team is friendly and approachable, and we just love watches, meeting people, and talking about what they own.’