In conjuction with the Christie’s Important Watches Auction which will be held in Hong Kong on the 30th of May, we arranged a special session with Frederic Watrelot, Head of Watch Department for Christie’s Hong Kong. In his own words, the upcoming auction is a special one, as it marks the 30th anniversary of Christie’s Hong Kong. To commemorate the milestone, the Hong Kong watch team has assembled a carefully curated selection of Important Watches. The lots for the sale encompasses not only the traditional Patek Philippe watches, but also many independents.
About Frederic Watrelot
“Frederic Watrelot is Head of Watch Department for Christie’s Hong Kong. He was promoted from Associate Director of Christie’s Dubai and the regional specialist for watches and jewellery in June 2014. He comes to Christie’s with more than 15 years of experience working with the world’s top jewellery and watch retailers. Prior to joining Christie’s, Frederic spent seven years as regional manager for an exclusive Swiss watchmaker in Dubai from where he travelled all over the GCC, Levant, Turkey, Iran, India and South Africa. His intimate knowledge of the world’s leading watchmakers brands ensure that Frederic is well placed to advise Christie’s Asia-based clients on the purchase and consignment of watches from and for Christie’s auctions around the world. He will also play a key role in bringing Christie’s bespoke design and search service, Christie’s Private Sales, to clients in the region.” – Christie’s
C: “Frederic, can you tell us what’s special about this auction?”
F: This auction is a smaller auction than usual. We wanted to make it a smaller auction because it used to be extremely long, we used to have 600 lots and it would be a mad sell for over 12 hours, a watch sold every 1-2 minutes, so it is counter-productive. One day somebody told me, that he only comes in between 4 and 5, because that’s when you make the good deals. So you know, I was thinking, if I was a consignor I would not want to have my watches are not in the section sold between 4 and 5, because people are sleepy after lunch. So one of the reasons to make it more attractive is to make it shorter. What’s also special about this auction is that we have some very, very special pieces. We have a whole collection of Patek chronograph perpetuals, from the 3970 in white gold, platinum and pink gold. We also have the evolution of the 3970, the 5970 in white gold and in platinum, and we have the evolution of that the 5270 in white gold and in rose gold and we have also the celestial 5270 R, the world time with enamel dial, one sealed one not sealed. As well as some modern complicated watches like the slot machine Girard Perregaux, the Opera 1, tourbillon with minute repeater with gongs.
F: We also have a special DLC platinum piece unique Greubel Forsey with double tourbillons, one of my favourites, an extremely expensive piece originally, but it is now more reasonable for such a watch. Also, look out for the last lot at the auction, the 385th lot, the special Le Garde Temps Naissance d’Une Montre Project collaboration between Philippe Dufour, Greubel Forsey and Michel Boulanger. The piece on auction is handmade by Michel, a prototype that is raw, and non-decorated, the proceeds from the sale will go towards charity; the charity is all about Swiss watch-making.
F: It will also be the 30th anniversary of Christie’s in Hong Kong, and there will be 30 lots for special auction, 2 of which are timepieces, both from Patek, one of which is a pocket watch with a beautiful enamel scene, two sailboats from the 19th century, and the watch was made in 1986, the same year that Christie’s open its office in Hong Kong. The other is a dome clock with a beautiful enamel scene of grape harvesting. This was made in 1977, but only sold in 1985.
C: “Do you think auctions are market specific? Do independents do better in Asia?”
F: Yes, absolutely, Singapore is a very important player for watch makers. In fact we very much took all our independent watches to Singapore to show our VIPs, and yes, we have a very special vintage Patek, we will still sell it in Geneve, because we believe that it will do better than in Hong Kong. Geneve is strictly more vintage watches for Christie’s and our duty goes to the seller. We want to respect his interests and sell it in the location that will be the best for him, and we believe that vintage watches are still better sold in Geneve.
C: “When advising clients to purchase from auction or from private sales, are there some rules that you can share with us, on what makes a watch more investment grade?”
F: There is no sure way to make money from watches, but there are indeed ways to reduce the risks of losing money. The first thing that you want to do is to buy Smart. You want to buy within estimates. And of course, the higher you go the longer you take to get your money back. If you buy on the lower side, then of course it is better even after factoring in the auction fees. You might get lucky and make some money out of it. If you buy smart and are not greedy and you’re not in a hurry, you can potentially make good investments and not lose money. I strongly believe that it should be a passion first. Buy a watch that you like and you can afford, and you might just be lucky on one or two. I’ll give you an example. A year and a half ago, we found a very special platinum 3700 nautilus, the original reference with a diamond bezel. Possibly unique. The gentleman who bought it in the Geneve Patek store, paid CHF 48,000 for it in 1988. He kept the papers, he kept the box, mint condition, and decided to sell it. We took the watch in at a CHF 200,000 low estimate, but it sold hammer CHF 700,000. Plus premium, that was about CHF 845,000, approximately 2 million dollars at that time. Just 20 years earlier, but the story of the gentleman who brought me all these watches, apart from this piece which sold for CHF 700,000, the other 20 watches that he must have paid some 30, 40 thousand for, that we gave him an estimate of 3, 4, 5. So he missed on many, but one of them he got lucky. So there’s no trick.
C: “A final question for you, in your years in the business, is there any particular piece that has left a strong impression on you?”
F: It would be the one I mentioned earlier, because I found the watch. Another would probably be at the Daytona auction, the 50th anniversary of the Daytona at the Daytona sale, and I bought the top lot for a client, and it was very early in my years at Christie’s, my first year in fact, and I had to tell the auctioneer, with 400 people waiting, that my client needed a minute. It was a lot of money. But we eventually got the watch at 1.1 million USD. It was the RCO.
Christie’s Important Watches auction will be held on 30th May in Hong Kong at the Convention Hall. A last advice from Frederic to myself and to all our watch loving readers, is to register for auctions, get a placard. It is free to get a placard. With it, you have the power to bid. If you plan to visit an auction, do not deny yourself the power to bid. For all you know you might be passed on a brilliant buy. For more information about the auction, please visit Christie’s.