We often forget that the only constant in life is change. The watch market has had a few such moments that turned the industry upside down - so in theory, it should come as no surprise that sooner or later a change is bound to happen.

Was the event that occurred during the November auction in Geneva such a breakthrough moment? Guess we’ll see soon.

Recently, times have become increasingly uncertain. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring. We don’t know what world we’ll wake up in. There’s still plenty of time until Christmas, but a bunch of independent watchmakers can relish some surprises. During the auction held in early November in Geneva, a number of spectacular world records were broken. According to the organiser, namely the Phillips auction house, watch sales have reached the historical high – a whopping CHF 68.2 million. Before the auction, it was expected to remain as usual, i.e. high prices would be achieved by models of certain brands, such as: Patek Philippe, Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille. But then there was a surprise and Hitchcock-worthy suspense.

Philippe Dufour, an independent watchmaker, was the undisputed king of the event – or rather the Grande et Petite Sonnerie model, which he created in 1992. After fierce bidding, the watch was sold for about CHF 4.75 million, nearly tripling its estimate (auction house’s experts set its estimate at CHF 1-2 million). Given this fact, Grande et Petite Sonnerie set a double record: it is not only Philippe Dufour’s most expensive watch, but also the most expensive watch of an independent brand. Apart from Grande et Petite Sonnerie, four other Philippe Dufour’s watches were put up for auction, all sold for an impressive CHF 11.4 million .

Congratulations are also due to Francois-Paul Journe. Five of his watches from the “Souscription” series (each with number 1) were sold for CHF 9.9 million . Here, the experts from the Phillips auction house also didn’t manage to correctly estimate the prices. For example, Chronomètre à resonance „Suscription” n°1 was estimated at CHF 200,000 – 400,000 while a collector bid a price as high as CHF 3.9 million. It could be said that Patek Philippe fell short compared to independent brands, as barely three Patek Philippe watches made it to the top ten (and they were sold below the upper range of their estimates anyway).

Everyone, including Aurel Bacs, an auctioneer, was certainly stunned by auction results on Omega’s Speedmaster from 1957. The model, known among collectors as”Tropical Broad Arrow”, sold for CHF 3.1 million, so nearly 26 times more than its estimate (which was set at around CHF 80,000 – 120,000). It was the highest price that has ever been paid for an Omega watch (Speedmaster broke the previous record, namely CHF 1.5 million that was paid in 2018 for a watch that once belonged to Elvis Presley).

The results of the November auction confirm the fact that the sales of watch on the pre-owned watch market are shooting upwards like a rocket ship launched into space and is reaching the level where money doesn’t matter anymore. But there’s something else to see: even experts boasting experience so extensive like those setting estimates at Phillips are not immune to mistakes. Watches by Philippe Dufour  and Francois-Paul Journe were incredibly rare, as each of them was labelled as number 1 – which, as we know, ramps up the bidding. Why didn’t they foresee it?

Maybe it’s too early to draw such conclusions, but who knows – maybe the November auction was an omen of a huge change on the collector market and a turn towards the works of living masters instead top brands. Well, some changes are already underway. The number of watch collectors is growing. Most of them are young, dynamic people – not noble gentlemen, as it used to be just a dozen or so years ago. A shift of generations. Just like that.

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