Last week Haute Time had the opportunity to visit Christie’s, where we spoke with John Reardon, who is the new Head of Watches for New York, and Reginald Brack who is the VP of the brand new Private Sales Watches department. The duo, who have been friends for years, share an incredible passion for the world of haute horlogerie. In our exclusive interview, they talked about the new watches boutique in New York, showed us a rare Rolex Submariner, and dropped some seriously exciting hints about upcoming finds.
Haute Time: What’s new for Christie’s right now?
Reginald Brack: Our lobby boutique is something that has never been done before by an auction house. We have a beautiful retail lobby boutique of iconic, perfect example pieces of the major brands that are available for sale, that have been vetted by the watch department. You know that all dials are original, the cases are in great shape – so if you want a classic, perfect example of a Patek Jumbo Nautilus 3700, we have the perfect one right in the case. That, for us, is really exciting and the feedback has been tremendous so far.
We just put a red Submariner in the case this morning. It’s a reference 1680, which is the classic Submariner date. It’s got all of the goodies – the box, papers, anchor. It’s a perfect, patinaed example, original bracelet. It’s even got the cigarette card – back then Rolex would advise clients to use the box for cigarettes once they took the watch out of the box. So it’s kind of a real time capsule.
John Reardon: Oh but there’s a better watch in the case! The 3700. The Patek Nautilus, the original Jumbo! I’m a Patek guy, he [pointing at Reginald] likes Rolex. I would have to recommend to a client to buy the Nautilus – this example, the bezel is in beautiful condition, the bracelet is still tight. You rarely see these come up on the market, and at the price we’re offering it – even as an employee at Christie’s I wish I could pull the trigger. But we’ll save it for our clients!
RB: That’s another place we have the advantage, because we have one of the world-renowned Patek experts [pointing at John] available to give a second opinion on this watch. People say why should I buy this one? Well don’t take my word for it, let’s go ask the head of the department and get his unbiased opinion on it. You don’t get that in a retail store, certainly, and you don’t get that online. That’s something you only get here when you walk in or call us on the phone for an opinion on something. So we’re really thrilled to be able to do that.
We’ve had people just here to go see an art exhibit and have walked out with a watch because they happened to fall in love with something. We’ve had other people come looking for a specific example, and then finding something else. Other people ask us – and we love this challenge – hey, can you find me an example of this? We’ll just go to work finding it – it probably won’t be that day, but we’ll put our team to task and hopefully find the right example.
JR: There’s also the clients who come in or call and say, do you have something special that’s not in the case? And indeed we do have some secrets hidden away, pieces that we wouldn’t want to put out because they’re extremely high price points that aren’t appropriate for a public exhibition. They’re the kind of special pieces that we like to take out for the right client. How’s that for a teaser?
HT: What is your ideal everyday timepiece?
JR: I think I have to tell the 570G story. For me, the quintessential Patek Philippe is the Calatrava, known as the 570. There’s one example, in white gold, that I acquired about four years ago. It’s the watch that got away – I ended up selling it, which I regret! White gold, classic Calatrava case, beautiful silver dial, kind of a monochrome look, beautiful lugs, the shape was exquisite…and I let it go! To this day I regret it and I’m looking for another perfect example of a 570.
RB: The funny part of that story is that when he sold it, I bought it! So I had the Reardon 570.
JR: I remember he called me up on while I was on vacation and said, “I have the Reardon 570!”
RB: But some watches don’t remain with me that long, they’re almost like trading cards. I like to trade around. I wish I could find that back for John – maybe we will someday.
JR: I have the movement number. I’m on the hunt.
RB: You’ll know it when you see it.
JR: What’s your watch?
RB: My go-to watch is a Rolex 64-1016 – I’ll put it on a Nato strap or a leather strap or the bracelet. It always holds up, and I never get tired of it. My wife will wear it, and I’ll take it back. So it’s fun to switch around like that too.
Haute Time: If money was no object, what timepiece would you want?
JR: I’ve always wanted to own a 1518, a Patek Philippe Perpetual Chronograph 1518. To me, that represents what Patek Philippe’s DNA is – the balance, the size, the look. And presently the value is there. You can buy this piece of history for under $300,000 and to me that’s the ultimate watch, because I see that watch as only going up in value in the future. There weren’t many made, and the quality of the ones that you seem on the market – some of them are a bit over-polished, some of them are mint. If I ever own one, it’s going to be the most perfect example that I can find. Maybe in 20 years.
RB: For me, the Rolex Sport from the 70s is kind of my favorite, and there’s so many different models – but to find that perfect example. It’s so easy to fall in love with different watches too. I stare at our own cases, and I’m the one putting the watches in there! Still, I’ll fall in love with a Seamaster Professional or something when I think, God! Look at this, the bracelet is so perfect, and the dial is great. So that’s kind of a moving target for me, and I think it probably always will be.
JR: Something magic happens when people put a watch on their wrist. You see it in the case, it’s one thing. Then you put it on your wrist and it has a completely different look, the case metal, the dial, the feel, the weight. Everything is completely different when it’s on your wrist. And that’s why our exhibitions are so much fun, because people can try on hundreds of superlative watches or go to the private sale case and try on any of them, at any time, year round.
RB: And until you try it on – people think, wow, I didn’t think I was a rose gold person. When you put that watch on, it’s how it makes you feel. It’s fun to be part of that, for us.
Haute Time: In the secondary market, are collectors purchasing timepieces to wear or more so as an investment?
JR: I think it’s a combination of both. As in real estate where it’s location, location, location – today in the market, collecting vintage watches in particular but also modern watches, it’s condition, condition, condition. I also have to add – it has to be complete. Box and papers – you need to have the whole package, like the Rolex we have in the case. With those ingredients, you’re going to do fine from an investment point of view. But at the end of the day, this is still a functional tool that people can wear and use. I respect the collectors most who don’t put these away, and hope that they go up in value in ten years. It’s the people who wear them and enjoy them, study them, and share their passion for watches who are really driving this business, infecting more people to become passionate about watch collecting.
I believe in the world today our hemisphere has the greatest amount of undiscovered watches in safe deposit boxes and families’ collections. There are still – every day, we have these surprises of, a Patek Philippe that comes from a family that they had no idea what it’s worth. In some cases, they’ve never even heard of Patek Philippe. I love when you have those surprises, when you tell them what the piece is actually worth and you have those Antiques Roadshow moments of complete shock and surprise. Now there’s also watches coming from dealers and people in the trade, people who know exactly what they’re discussing. But it’s those discovery, a-ha! moments – when we’re traveling throughout the world that make this so addictive. There are still surprises – the Palmer watch is the perfect example of that. It has redefined scholarship on grand complications. And there are other pieces out there which we are in hot pursuit of that scholarship doesn’t even know that they exist. But we have some interesting leads, and we’re chasing them.
RB: The other exciting thing for us is we just found a certain Rolex – I can’t say which reference, but a very early Rolex Sport, literally covered in dirt, bracelet falling off, but that perfect, preserved, archeological find. That’s one that’s hard not to get excited about. From what we can tell – we haven’t dismantled it yet, but the dial, everything inside, are in perfect condition. So the outside – someone would look at it and think, ugh, I don’t even want to buy this at a yard sale. We look at it with different eyes, and it gives you chills to see something like that. To be part of that piece of art’s life is really exciting for us.
JR: It’s just like a barn find in the car world – vintage automobiles that have been left for fifty years, that look like rust buckets to the uninitiated. But for a collector, this is what dreams are made of. And I think there are more examples of that in the watch world.
We get excited even when we see a vintage Hamilton in mint condition. It might be worth just a few hundred dollars, and of course that’s not our market, but it’s fun to see these bits of history being rediscovered for the first time. That’s the big message we’re trying to share to everyone in the watch world – that we’re a resource where people can speak to a specialist, learn about their watch. For people who want to buy watches, we’re here to steer them in the right direction, so they’re buying the right timepieces for the right reason.
RB: For us, as a department, it really comes from the top down, because Aurel [Christie’s International Head of Watches Aurel Bacs] loves watches so much. He pointed out one of the gems from our New York sale in June was, of course the Palmer watch. But there was also this Omega Seamaster on its bracelet, in its original box, with the price tag on it, in perfect, untouched condition. I think it sold for $3,000 or $4,000, if that, but that was a watch that he got just as excited about, almost, as something much bigger. For us, we see that, and we learn it’s okay for us to get excited about the more obtainable things too. It’s not all about high value – it’s about finding that right, perfect example that we can offer for sale, either at auction or by private sale.
Photos by Valerie Jack.