The global watch auction market experienced a slowdown in the first half of 2023.
According to data from the Swiss watch research institute, the Mercury Project, major auction houses like Phillips, Christie's, and Sotheby's achieved a total watch auction sales of CHF 312 million (approximately RMB 2.548 billion) in the first half of 2023, marking an 18% decline from the first half of 2022.
This global downturn affected key watch auction markets such as Geneva, Hong Kong, and New York. From 2019 to 2022, Hong Kong consistently ranked first in global sales for watch auctions each year, with the exception of 2020 due to the sudden outbreak of the pandemic. However, in the first half of 2023, Geneva overtook Hong Kong's leading position, with sales of CHF 108 million (approximately RMB 882 million), a 21% decline from the same period in 2022, even lower than the first half of 2021.
During this period, the top three single-auction sales did not come from the Hong Kong market. The highest-grossing auction was Phillips' "The Geneva Watch Auction: XVII," which achieved a total of CHF 47.17238 million (approximately RMB 385 million). The second and third highest-grossing auctions were from Christie's in Geneva and Phillips in New York, respectively.
The Mercury Project's analysis report pointed out that the disappointing performance of the Hong Kong market in the first half of the year was due to a "reduction in the total number of watch lots sold." Furthermore, the number of high-priced watches sold in the first half of 2023 significantly decreased compared to the same period in 2022: 315 lots were sold for over CHF 100,000 (approximately RMB 816,700) in the first half of 2022, while this number dropped to 217 in the first half of 2023.
This decline wasn't due to a decrease in bidding interest surrounding Hong Kong auctions. A significant factor might be the lack of top-tier watch lots in the Hong Kong market during the first half of 2023. In fact, of the top ten watch lots sold in the first half of 2023, four were auctioned in Hong Kong, with the three highest-priced Patek Philippe watches all being sold in the Hong Kong market.
The Mercury Project believes that "as the Asian economy, especially the Greater China market, recovers, auction houses will need to meet market demand with rare and exceptional timepieces more than ever before."
The major auction houses have yet to begin their fall auctions, so the outlook for the watch auction market in the second half of the year remains to be seen. However, industry insiders are optimistic about the Hong Kong watch auction market reclaiming its leading position over Geneva. They believe that the situation in Hong Kong will improve in the second half of 2023, as the market will host major watch auction events.
On November 26, 2023, the renowned OAK Collection, a private watch collection, will hold its first auction at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, featuring 142 well-preserved private collection watches for auction. The OAK Collection is the private watch collection of French businessman Patrick Getreide. "OAK" stands for "One of a Kind," reflecting the collector's view of his decades-long watch collection. This French businessman has entrusted Christie's to host this auction in Hong Kong.
The entire OAK Collection comprises over 500 pieces, and Patrick Getreide spent over 30 years collecting these valuable watches from around the world. In May 2022, at the London Design Museum, this French collector displayed 160 of his most precious watches, revealing for the first time his extensive collection of timepieces and antiques.
According to a recent report by the Financial Times, before the London exhibition, "the collection was kept so secret that even the owner's (Patrick Getreide) sister was unaware of its existence."
Based on information provided by Christie's, of the 160 pieces displayed in London, "the collection is dominated by Patek Philippe watches, categorized by themes such as Calatrava, Chronograph series, Perpetual Calendar series, World Time series, and rare craftsmanship series." Notably, the exhibition showcased many timepieces from legendary collector Henry Graves Jnr., representing the largest presentation outside the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
Given the rarity and uniqueness of many pieces in this private collection, the upcoming auction has garnered significant attention from collectors and auction houses alike. Patrick Getreide has decided to auction his personal collection in five separate events by the end of 2024, with the inaugural auction taking place in Hong Kong.
In the aforementioned Financial Times report, Patrick Getreide stated that he believes Hong Kong is an excellent sales point, noting the increasing number of millionaires emerging in the city each month, a phenomenon not observed in Europe.
Choosing to collaborate with Christie's was a strategic move by Getreide, recognizing the auction house's leading position in the Asian watch auction market. In the first half of 2023, Christie's captured market share lost by other auction houses like Sotheby's, achieving sales of CHF 511 million (approximately RMB 4.17 billion), surpassing Phillips and becoming the best-performing auction house globally. In the Hong Kong market, Christie's also maintained its leading position. Notably, Christie's has extensive experience in private collection consignment auctions.
Alexandre Bigler, Senior Vice President and Head of Watches at Christie's, told the Financial Times, "Asian buyers want impeccable watches in original condition, preferably with boxes and papers, even for vintage models - which aligns with Getreide's collecting preferences." Based on this, Bigler believes that the OAK Collection auction in Hong Kong will achieve even higher figures.
"This is the first time we have a collection of such quality and scale because no one else has had the time, means, or courage to collect and assemble these pieces," emphasized Bigler. "The new generation of buyers in Asia and the Middle East places great importance on the provenance of the collection, and they are incredibly savvy when it comes to understanding target lots. This is one reason why Hong Kong can achieve truly high prices."