Press Release


By Sotheby's
The Timepieces and Innovations
that Made Collectors Tick in 2020
Sotheby's Watches

“2020 has been a transformative year for the watch auction market, perhaps the most significant evolution since the emergence of the collecting category in the 1980s. We have embraced the unprecedented times to start reinventing the way we connect with the ever-growing number of collectors around the world. From the introduction of highly popular weekly sales and pioneering online auctions to the launch of a new Buy Now marketplace, this year has seen many innovations which, combined with unabated demand for exceptional timepieces, have contributed to set new benchmarks. These include online records and landmark prices for vintage pieces, independent watchmakers and exceptional pocket watches. As the year comes to a close, we look forward to continuing this journey with the watch community next year.”

Sam Hines, Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s Watches

Below is an overview of the key highlights, innovations and figures for this year.


Global Auction Sales total US$ 97.5 million so far this year, fuelled by online market transformation
Over 140 online sales realised US$ 47.4 million year-to-date – almost 8 times the number of sales and 5 times the value for 2019.

Record Year for Private Sales which have quadrupled in value and doubled in volume compared to last year.

Ever-increasing global demand
84 countries from across the globe have taken part in our auctions
Strong activity from Asia, Europe, the US and the Middle East

Expanded Audience of Participants
· 50% of buyers new to the category, up 20% on last year
· Younger demographic: 40% of participants aged under 40

Confidence in Bidding Online Reaches New Heights
· 92% of the lots sold this year went to online buyers – up 60% last year
· The average price for watches sold online across all sales is up 50% compared to 2019 (now $21,000)
· Record for a watch sold online: US$ 1.5m for a Daytona JPS
· Two pioneering online sales dedicated to pocket watches (traditionally sold in live sales): 100% of the 249 lots sold for a combined total of US$ 9.1m


Fresh Innovative Sale Formats
New online sale formats introduced this year: Watches Weekly sales (four sales a week run out of Hong Kong, New York, Geneva and London; single-lot sales to highlight the most special items; Sotheby’s Approved sales, featuring lots with an exclusive one-year warranty.

Expanded Sales Channels
The watch category has the highest number of transactions and traffic on Sotheby’s new Buy Now marketplace. Officially launched earlier this month, this new platform connects collectors with beautiful objects easily and quickly across the categories of fine jewels, contemporary art, collectible sneakers, watches, designer handbags, decorative objects, interiors and more. Buy Now meets the demand of our clients to buy and sell beyond the traditional auction calendar, offering a 24/7, 365-day access to an exceptional property mix of over 3,000 items.

Opening of new international gallery spaces this year with jewellery available for immediate purchase: Sotheby’s East Hampton gallery opened in the summer, followed by the launch of a 2,700 square foot gallery in Palm Beach last month. In September, a showroom also dedicated to direct purchases, was opened in our London New Bond Street galleries.

New Technology
· New, immersive digital catalogue experience showcasing a ‘digital-first’ design that emphasizes visual storytelling through video, interactive media, and other rich content formats in a way that moves beyond print media.
· Chat Function on piloted by the watch team, allowing clients to chat live with our specialists.


The most expensive watch sold in Asia in 2020
Third highest price achieved for a wristwatch in 2020
Record for an Automatic Daytona
A possibly unique Cosmograph Daytona, Reference 16516 platinum chronograph wristwatch with lapis lazuli hardstone dial, circa 1999, sold for HK$ 25.4m (US$ 3.3m) in Hong Kong in July (lot 2236, est. US$ 500,000 – 1m, pictured left).

Record for a Daytona JPS
Record for a watch sold in an online auction
Record for a wristwatch auctioned in the UK
An ultra-rare Rolex Daytona JPS reference 6264 in 18-carat gold soared to £1,215,000 ($1,545,723) in a single-lot online sale in July (est. US$ 400,000-800,000, pictured right).


MASTERWORKS OF TIME – Historic Results for an Historic Collection
Concluding a year of historical results for pocket watches at Sotheby’s, the final two instalments of “Masterworks of Time” and the first online sales ever dedicated to world-class pocket watches - totalled US$9.1 million, with 100% of the 249 lots offered finding a buyer.

These results brought the final combined total for this landmark collection to US$24.9 million (est. US$ 15-27m). Unparalleled in its scope and comprehensiveness, this extraordinary ensemble of over 800 long-unseen pieces set a swathe of records in 2019-20, including for an English Watch, a timepiece by an independent watchmaker, a 17th-century Watch and a pocket watch sold online.

Record for a pocket watch sold in an online auction
The top lot of the ‘Masterworks of Time’ sale was the Dent ‘Ultra Complication’, one of the most sophisticated watches ever made, which eclipsed its pre-sale estimate to sell for US$ 832,240 / CHF 800,000 (Lot 34, est. CHF 300,000-500,000, illustrated right).

Record for a Tourbillon by Abraham-Louis Breguet
King George III’s Tourbillon watch - one of the most important watches created by Abraham-Louis Breguet - sold for £1.6m ($2m) in London in July. Lot 28 in the ‘Collection of a Connoisseur’ sale, the gold four-minute tourbillon watch was secretly sold to the King of England in 1808, in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars (est. £700,000-£1,000,000 (US$ 895,000-1.3m).


Record price for a non-limited production Philippe Dufour Simplicity
Record for a 34mm Philippe Dufour Simplicity
A Number 100 platinum wristwatch, made in 2005 soared to HK$ 5.1m / US$662,700 in Hong Kong in October (Lot 2152, est. US$205,000 – 310,000, pictured right)

An F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance, circa 2002 with power reserve indication and brass movement realised CHF 239,400 (US$ 261,386) in Geneva in November (Lot 31, est. US$ 55,000 – 110,000, pictured left)

Winning watch from the Ressence and Sotheby’s #Watchagainstcovid19 Design Competition
The unique Ressence Type 1 Slim’Ayrton & Finlay’ sold to an online bidder for HK$375,000 / US$ 48,386 in Hong Kong in July, with proceeds supporting the Covid-19 Research Programme being run by KU Leuven University in Belgium (pictured right). More here.


Made in 1981, a Patek Philippe Fourth Series Ref. 2499 signed by Tiffany - only the second known – fetched US$818,600 in New York in December (lot 33, est. US$ 500,000 - 800,000). The watch came from the collection of American Collectors Barbara and Ira Lipman.

The Cartier rectangular Ecran Mystery clock, circa 1926 tripled its pre-sale estimate and sold for US$ 564,500 in New York in December (lot 93, est. US$ 100,000-200,000)

Available for download here

Marie-Béatrice Morin
+41 22 908 48 14
Adrienne DeGisi
+1 212 606 7176

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