The world of watches is moving in such a direction that it is difficult to predict what will happen next, especially after what happened in 2023. What will we remember most? For me, the number one event was Rolex's sensational purchase of the Bucherer chain, but there were also some disappointing second-hand market scandals.

A few days ago, I was tidying up my books when I came across some archival issues of German watch magazines from the early 2000s. I found interviews with Hellmut Wempe and Jörg G. Bucherer, and what a read it turned out to be! Both talked about how much the watch industry had changed, and about how personal relationships used to be much more important than today. Even when working with the largest brands, a spoken agreement was enough and there was no need for contracts written by lawyers. It just so happened that Hellmut Wempe and Jörg G. Bucherer both died last year and with them, so did that particular era of the watch industry.

Now, Hellmut Wempe’s legacy is being continued by his daughter Kim-Eva Wempe, who was mentored for many years by her father.

The legacy of Jörg G. Bucherer, who died last November, will not be cared for in the same way because he sold his company to Rolex in August, citing a “lack of direct descendants” as the reason for this decision.

The fact that the companies had worked together for almost a century played a role in Bucherer’s decision to choose them as his successor. Jörg Bucherer was the last person in the industry who knew and worked with Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex.

However, his decision to sell the company came as a great surprise to the entire industry. And what does it mean for Rolex? It confirms their dominance. And it’s not just about sales results or profits. Now they’ve purchased the Bucherer chain, Rolex controls a network of over a hundred luxury boutiques around the world. In addition, it has the deciding vote regarding the organisation of the most important industry event – the Geneva-based Watches & Wonders show. It is also a leading watch manufacturer and majority shareholder in Kenissi, a company that produces watch movements. Wherever you look, Rolex has some form of strategic involvement. Every business needs a moving force and now we know who it is in the watch industry.

As well as this sensational transaction, there was also a lot happening on the second-hand market. After a short period of euphoria during and immediately after the pandemic, dark clouds began to gather over the auction houses. The first scandal was the revelation about the Speedmaster from 1957, which was sold by Phillips to Omega for a record sum of over 3 million CHF and later turned out to be a “Frankenwatch”. When the case was covered by major newspapers, both Phillips and Omega claimed in separate statements that they had fallen victim to organised crime.

If that was not enough, in November, the organisers of Only Watch together with Christie’s decided to postpone the auction to an unspecified date in 2024, after comments were published about the lack of transparency regarding activities connected with previous auctions.

In early December, after the end of Christie’s strange “Passion for Time” auction, another tornado struck. It was strange because it is not known when, or even if, customers will receive the watches they won at auction. A collection belonging to Mohammed Zaman was put up for auction, which included a Rolex GMT-Master worn by Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film “Apocalypse Now”.

The auction fetched over 42 million USD in total (Marlon Brando’s watch was sold for over 5 million USD), but Mohammed Zaman filed a lawsuit against Christie’s in a Geneva court. The court then issued an injunction ordering the confiscation of all objects until the case was resolved, and customers were asked to refrain from paying for the auctioned watches until they received further instructions.

Now, the mood on the second-hand market is rather gloomy, but let’s hope the coming months will bring better news from the auctions organised this year. At least this is what I hope for.

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