With sales of £430m at the top auction houses, the market for watches was up by more than 50% in 2021 and looks to rise further.
It’s true that this statistic compares revenues generated during 2020’s year of disrupted trading and so you would be forgiven for thinking the change was to be expected. In fact, the dramatic uptick was generated on sales of more or less the same number of watches (12,277 sold at auction in 2020 and 12,291 in 2021). While interest in watches at auction has been growing consistently for a long time, there’s no doubt that changes brought about by lockdowns have precipitated the new, accelerated growth. Anxieties around investing during the global economic slowdown, combined with pent-up demand released after the relaxation of lockdowns, have helped make watches the go-to asset for those looking to store their wealth. In turn, new collectors have been drawn to the market, driving prices and ensuring greater scarcity of the most desirable timepices. Over the same period, many auction houses professionalised their services, developing sophisticated ecommerce portals to rival reseller platforms. From live and online-only auctions to boutique shopping, watch departments offer a 360 experience with educational outreach and watch tours in new markets across the globe. Today, even prices of previously underrated watches are climbing out of the average collectors reach. With so many stars aligned, this sector is likely to become even more competitive in the next few years.
The following factors are likely to contribute to the continued growth of the secondary watch market:
- Millennials purchasing power increasing.
- Increased scarcity driving prices.
- Stores of value amidst threat of global economic downturn.
- Chinese mainland buyers entering market.
Watch Market Segmentation
The report starts with a comprehensive study of the major auction house watch departments worldwide, comparing this global market by size, price and geography plus an analysis of trends in Online-Only and Live sales.
Luxury Week in Geneva takes place twice a year and with volume of sales topping £146m in 2021, the event has long been the top destination for sales of Watches, Jewellery and other luxury sectors. The primacy of this location is now being challenged with total sales in Hong Kong up year on year. Poly Auction in Hong Kong is a rising star in the auction calendar and the favoured auction house for mainland Chinese buyers. While total sales are a fraction Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, average prices paid for watches at Poly auction was the third highest. With Phillips opening a new Asia headquarters in the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong in Autumn 2022, the move reaffirms the auction house’s confidence in the region and sales are expected to grow. Further shifts are identified as a result of changes brought on by Brexit, revealing growth in the Eurozone is up, while watch sales in London are down in 2021.
The report also looks at the average customer spend at the top auction houses to understand how price segmentation is distributed across the market.
While the trend towards Online-Only sales– timed auctions without an auctioneer – grows year on year, sales of high end watches remain predominantly at ‘Live’ auction events as top collectors are reticent to buy without seeing and handling watches in person.
Rolex at Auction
Rolex at Auction tracks the price evolution of Rolex ‘Professional’ watches sold at auction since the 1980s. Employing AMR’s 40 years of experience in the market and its unique data collection system to construct the first price index, the report explores market trends over the period. With 4 individual case studies, 22 raw data charts, and 32 important auction results, plus expert insights from leading auctioneers the report identifies key factors driving prices.
The market for Rolex watches can roughly be divided into those collectors looking for ‘commercial properties’ – newer references produced since the millennium – and vintage timepieces manufactured between 1930s and 1960s. Rolex at Auction is a survey of prices of vintage watches, also known as ‘professional’ or ‘tool’ watches. More than any other brand, Rolex has offered more greater investment opportunities. Telling more than just the time, early Rolex references are celebrated by a very wide range of enthusiasts. Rolex’s history of innovation, its celebration of great sporting endeavour, endorsed by celebrity make the brand irresistible to increasingly knowledgeable collectors. Most agree that owning a vintage Rolex in mint condition offers a tantalising connection to these stories of the past and very good examples are fiercely fought over at auction.
Comprehensive Data on Rolex References in the Report
- Top 10 risers in value and % increase over last 10 years.
- Index tracking 22 Rolex references since 1983 including Daytona, Explorer, Submariner, GMT Master and other ‘Professional’ Rolex watches
- 22 Scatter charts showing raw data
- 4 Case studies analysing individual prices highlighting dial configurations
- 32 Important auction prices and images
Top 10 – % change – last 10 years
The First Market for Wristwatches
A View from the Past
Auction House sales 2011-2021
Market Share/Average Spend
James Marks, Phillips
Remi Guillemin, Christie’s
Karen Ng, Poly Auction
Rolex ‘Professional’ Watch Index
Why Rolex ‘Professional’ Watches?
Key Auction Events
Raw Data – Scatter Charts
Ref.6538 Submariner ‘Big Crown’
Ref.6263 Daytona Gold
- Poly Auction
- Heritage Auctions
Key Auctioneer Insights
James Marks, International Specialist at Phillips
Remi Guillemin, Head of Watches at Christie’s, Geneva
Karen Ng, Senior Specialist at Poly Auction Hong Kong
Index Construction – Watches
1. AMRD’s antiques and collectibles indices are based on a number of items that are used to represent the ‘class’. The index for a class represents a comparison of the average market value for items in the class relative to their value in the base period, 1975 (or some later date).
2. The database consists of valuations (in sterling) of each one of the items at three- monthly, six-monthly or twelve-monthly intervals from 1975 (or some later date) to the present. All the valuations in the base period (1975) were actual prices paid for these items in 1975 (or in certain cases estimates of values by experts).
3. AMR produces data points by taking average values over 12 consecutive months.
4. Extreme values (some of the largest and smallest values) are removed.
5. The final price index is computed as the ratio of the current period moving average to that of the base period, multiplied by 1000 to set the base period index value equal to 1000.
6. AMR applies a smoothing calculation by averaging each 12-month period with up to five preceding 12-month averages.
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