2020 proved a transformative year for the watch auction market, perhaps the most significant shift since the emergence of the collecting category in the 1980s. We have met the rapidly evolving landscape by reinventing the way we connect with the ever-growing number of collectors around the world. Responding to the confidence and desire of collectors looking for important pieces to purchase online, we have introduced pioneering online auctions as well as the launch of a new Buy Now marketplace. Following a record year for watch sales at Sotheby’s in 2019, the continued success of the global auction sales in 2020 was fuelled in part by this online market transformation, an increase of about eight times the number of online sales and five times the value from a year earlier. We have also seen a record moment for private sales which have quadrupled in value and doubled in volume compared with the previous year.
Sotheby’s new auction formats have already set new benchmarks for watch auctions, including the record for a watch sold in an online sale for the Daytona JPS, ref. 6264, which fetched $1.5 million. In 2020, two pioneering online sales dedicated to pocket watches, traditionally sold in live sales, were 100% sold, with 249 lots bringing in a combined total of $9.1 million. Our 2020 results show an expansion of participation, with half of the buyers new to Sotheby’s and 40% of participants age 40 or younger.
These results are in line with Sotheby’s Watch department’s consistent achievement of benchmark prices, including $24 million for the Patek Philippe Henry Graves’ Supercomplication – a longstanding auction record for a timepiece – and the George Daniels ‘Space Traveller I’ which set the highest price for both an English Watch and an Independent Watchmaker at $4.6 million in 2019. Clocks also achieved record prices: a contemporary clock by Cartier sold for $1.03 million in Hong Kong, a clock by Vacheron Constantin realised $667,467 in London and a Cartier Comet Clock achieved $350,000 in New York.
Forming and maintaining strong relationships with the world’s collectors and connoisseurs is paramount to the service provided. With a truly global presence, the department holds sales in London, Geneva, Dubai, Hong Kong and New York with a specialised team in each location whose passion for watches is matched only by their unparalleled knowledge and experience. The market is one of constant change and as such, the worldwide team is dedicated to keeping abreast of the latest trends and developments. Our specialists recognise and take pride in the fact that constant learning and the sharing of knowledge both within and outside the industry, is as essential as in any other academic genre or category.
Demonstrating the breadth and extent of its collective knowledge and expertise, the department has been entrusted with and sold numerous ground-breaking pieces and collections. Offering the finest timepieces ranging from the 16th century to the modern day, including the most sought after modern and vintage clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches, Sotheby’s Watch department showcases the thriving and international nature of this category, frequently achieving world record breaking results in all of Sotheby’s selling locations.