The, once again, record-breaking May auctions in Geneva show once more that there is a great interest in vintage watches. While it is the most expensive and rare watches that score the headlines, they are usually accompanied by other very desirable watches in the same auction.
For many people, it is tempting to buy at auction. Part of it is the ability to obtain rare collector’s pieces, but also the excitement is a draw for many. Before you buy at auction there are a few things to consider:
Why do you buy at auction?
A simple question that is perhaps far more difficult to answer. There are no right or wrong answers, but they should play an important part in your bidding strategy. Are you hunting for Holy Grails, or looking for an inexpensive way to get a complicated timepiece? In both cases, it is important to do your homework. When you are looking for an inexpensive way to purchase a watch, you should definitely set a ceiling price for yourself, and keep at it, so that bargain doesn’t turn out to be an expensive adventure. Hunters for grail watches have to calculate the condition of the watch, the chances that another one is most likely to come up for sale (when possible) and how the market as a whole is moving, so you might know your competitors even before you enter your first bid.
What you bid is not what you will pay….
This should be an open door to anybody even considering to buy at auction, but since it can come as an (expensive) surprise, it is worth mentioning again: don’t forget the buyer’s premium! If you cast the winning bid, added to it will be the fee that you have to pay the auction house. This is a pre-set percentage that can be found on their website and the auction catalog.
Also, most auction houses expect (nearly) immediate payment, so it is advisable to have your funds ready for transfer. A wide variety of payment methods is usually accepted, but paying late (or not at all) is heavily frowned upon, and might disqualify you from participating in an auction ever again (and you will be surprised to find out how tight-knit the auction world can then be)
What do you intend to do with the watch?
Another silly question that is in fact, not so silly. Some watches sold at auction are so rare, so original, or so historically important that they are destined to become a safe queen. The same can be said of people who buy watches as an investment. Wearing these watches would most likely negatively affect their value, so they are put away for safe keeping. Needless to say that this does mean that you need to arrange for a safe place to keep them beforehand, and perhaps place a call to your insurance agent after the auction.
For those who want to wear their auction-bought watch, it is important to know that all watches are sold “as is.” While some allow you to examine the condition of the watch during a viewing, this won’t tell you how precise the watch runs and if all functions are indeed working properly. Of most watches, it is not known when they were last services, so when you want to wear these watches, it is best to add the cost of a service to the price you are willing to bid. In case the watch brand is not around anymore, ensure that you have a capable watchmaker who’s services you can rely on when you end up winning the watch.