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The Insider's Guide to Luxury Watch Auctions

Last updated on July 16, 2024

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Luxury watch auctions have become a captivating corner of the watch market in Australia. These events offer a unique opportunity to acquire new timepieces, from iconic brands to rare vintage treasures. 

Whether you're a seasoned collector or a curious newcomer, this guide equips you with the knowledge to navigate the world of watch auctions. Learn where to find the best luxury watch auction houses in Australia and secret bidding strategies to seal the deal and land the next addition to your collection!

Table of Contents

  • How Watch Auctions Work: Read This Before Bidding!
  • Top Types of Watch Auctions in Australia
  • Where to Find Watch Auctions in Australia
  • Preparing To Bid in a Luxury Watch Auction? Use These 7 Expert Tips to Secure Your Dream Watch!
  • Legendary Stories of Luxury Watches Under the Hammer
  • Final Thoughts: For Luxury Watch Auctions, Knowledge is Power and Preparation is Key

How Watch Auctions Work: Read This Before Bidding!

Just like any other major purchase, preparation is key. Before you enter an auction house or log onto an online platform, it pays to do thorough research. To understand the auction process, what you’re bidding on, and how to get your hands on a beautiful watch at a great price, read this essential guide from our experts.

1. Research & Budget

Start by identifying your desired watch brand and model. Then, research online resources like auction house catalogues, watch forums, and collector websites. Look for past auction results and current listings to understand market value. Focus on factors like model year, materials, complications, and, most importantly, the watch's condition. Set a realistic budget based on your research and financial limitations.


2. Register with the Auction House

Head to your chosen auction house's website and find the bidder registration section. You’ll usually need to provide your personal information, contact details, and proof of identity. You might also be asked to establish your financial eligibility by providing proof of funds or a deposit. This deposit amount can vary depending on the auction house and the estimated value of the watches you plan to bid on. Registering early ensures a smooth experience on auction day.


3. Attend Previews

While not mandatory, we highly recommend attending previews, especially for serious bidders. Previews allow you to personally inspect the watches you're interested in and give you a chance to examine the watch's condition first-hand. Check for authenticity, scratches, dial integrity, functionality of complications, and overall wear and tear. Often, experts are present at previews to answer questions and provide additional insights. We find that catalogue descriptions, while detailed, can't replace this kind of close-up inspection.


4. Bidding Process

Now is the time to familiarise yourself with your auction house's bidding options. Most offer in-person bidding at the auction venue, online bidding through the auction house's platform, telephone bidding, and absentee bidding, where you submit a maximum bid in advance. Choose the method that best suits you. Understand the auction house's bidding increments (the minimum amount a bid can be increased) and any buyer's premium (a percentage of the winning bid charged by the auction house). Develop a bidding strategy based on your research and budget.

AP watch

5. Secure the Winning Bid

Arguably the most important part of the wristwatch auction process! During the auction, pay close attention to the auctioneer's announcements regarding the current bid and any updates about the lot you're interested in. If bidding online or by phone, stay focused and ready to increase your bid when prompted. When the auctioneer closes the bidding for your desired watch, and you have the highest bid. Congratulations, you've won the watch!


6. Post-Auction Process

After winning a bid, you'll need to settle the final payment. This usually includes the hammer price (your winning bid) plus the buyer's premium charged by the auction house and any applicable taxes. Auction houses usually accept various payment methods like cash, wire transfer, or credit card (but check for limitations or fees on credit card use). Once the payment is settled, arrange for the collection or shipping of your newly acquired watch. Some auction houses also offer temporary storage or shipping services for an additional fee.


7. Verification

Upon receiving your watch, carefully inspect it to ensure it matches the auction house's description and your expectations. Look for any discrepancies in condition or functionality. If you have concerns about authenticity, consider having the watch evaluated by a qualified watchmaker or authentication service. Once done, it’s time to show off your watch and wear it with pride! 

65%

Rolex and Patek Philippe are the most common watches sold at auction, together accounting for 65% of total high-value auction sales in 2023.

Source: wristcheck.com

Top Types of Watch Auctions in Australia

gold rolex

Ok, so you’re schooled on auction essentials and ready to start bidding. But where to begin? The first actionable step is to choose the kind of auction that suits you best. There are plenty of options available wherever you’re located, so explore your choices below and settle on a strategy. 


Live Auctions

Experience the thrill of live watch auctions and bid in real-time against other collectors! They’re ideal for seasoned enthusiasts comfortable with the fast-paced atmosphere and potential bidding wars.


Online Auctions

Offering convenience and accessibility, online watch auctions let you explore the global marketplace. Browse listings, research, and place bids on a broad selection of timepieces from the comfort of your home. These auctions are ideal for busy collectors or those seeking a less intimidating bidding experience.


Silent Auctions

Want to stay anonymous? Silent auctions let you submit secret bids for luxury watches. The highest undisclosed bid at the closing time wins. They’re ideal for those who prefer a less pressured approach or want to avoid bidding wars.

Where to Find Watch Auctions in Australia

searching the web

As your experience grows, you’ll become aware of the luxury watch auctions in Australia that best suit your bidding style and the timepieces you’re seeking. Here are some tips to begin your journey and a list of some of the most popular auction houses to explore. 

Luxury Watch Auction Houses in Australia

  • Crown Auctions: Crown Auctions is a leading Australian auction house specialising in luxury watches. They offer sought-after brands like Rolex, Cartier, Omega, and more, including both vintage and pre-owned timepieces. They hold regular online and in-person auctions featuring enticing opportunities for collectors.

  • Gibson's Auctions: Offering watch auctions in Sydney, Gibson's Auctions hosts a range of respected and sought-after sales. While their focus is on jewellery, they frequently auction fine watches from prestigious brands like Patek Philippe, Omega, and Rolex as part of their jewellery and watch sales.

  • Philips Auctions: If you’re seeking a luxury watch auction in Melbourne, Philips Auctions holds regular antique watch auctions alongside modern jewellery, including luxury watches. Their "Prestige Modern and Antique Jewellery Auction" events feature a range of high-end timepieces from renowned brands.

  • First State Auctions: Sydney-based First State Auctions offers a dedicated section for men's luxury watches in their auctions, frequently including Swiss-made and high-end watch brands in their sales.

 

Exploring Watch Auctions Online

  • Sotheby's & Christie's: These international powerhouses offer watch auctions online, featuring prestigious brands and rare timepieces, accessible to Australian collectors via their global platforms.

  • Watches of Knightsbridge: This London-based auction house specialises in fine modern and vintage timepieces. It caters to collectors seeking prestigious brands and rare finds and offers a range of services that include an online watch auction platform, respected industry expertise, and sourcing for collectors. 

  • Timepeaks: Based in Japan and offering a global reach, Timepeaks specialises in rare, high-end watches, including Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Rolex. They offer expert authentication and transparent pricing.

  • Watch Collecting: This online auction platform specialises in classic and luxury watches of all eras. They offer a user-friendly online experience and a unique range of high-end timepieces.

  • eBay: While not exclusively for luxury watches, eBay offers a significant marketplace for pre-owned and vintage timepieces. This can be a great place to find a deal, however, be cautious. Unlike dedicated auction platforms, seller vetting is crucial. Thoroughly research the seller's reputation and the watch's authenticity before bidding

  • The Auction Room: This auction aggregator site lists upcoming wristwatch auctions from various houses worldwide. Check this essential site regularly to keep an eye out for exciting opportunities!

 

 

After a hot streak, the luxury watch market cooled in 2023, with Rolex Daytona prices dropping by as much as 50%, suggesting that auction prices are adjusting to more accurate valuations. 

Source: wristcheck.com

50%

Preparing To Bid in a Luxury Watch Auction? Use These 7 Expert Tips to Secure Your Dream Watch! 

Patek Philippe-1

Do Your Homework

Research your chosen watch to understand its market value, typical condition, and unique features. Also, investigate the auction house's reputation, luxury watch expertise, and associated fees.


  1. Preparing to Bid

    Sign up with your chosen auction house and review terms, buyer's premiums, and other fees. Set your limit and factor in reserve price, buyer's premium (around 15-25%), and taxes to set a realistic spending limit - and stick to it!

  2. Smart Bidding Strategies

    Don't reveal your max bid upfront. Start low and gradually increase as needed. Stay focused and pay close attention to the auctioneer and remaining time to avoid missing your chance to bid.

  3. Authenticity Matters

    Do your due diligence. While auction houses verify authenticity, consider extra steps, especially for expensive pieces. Inspect descriptions and photos to evaluate the watch's condition based on detailed descriptions and high-resolution pictures. Request a condition report or consider an independent appraisal for peace of mind.

  4. Investment Considerations

    Research Past Results and analyse past auction results for similar watches to understand market trends and potential future value. We believe the golden rule is to buy what you love. While some watches hold value, prioritise acquiring a timepiece you genuinely enjoy.

  5. Legal Considerations

    Buyer beware! Auction sales are final, with limited recourse for undisclosed watch issues. Be aware of import duties or taxes on winning bids, especially in international online auctions.

  6. Post-Auction Tips

    The auction house will handle the ownership transfer from the seller to you, which might involve additional paperwork. We recommend considering covering your new purchase with luxury watch insurance in Australia, which includes coverage against loss, theft, or damage.

Legendary Stories of Luxury Watches Under the Hammer

bvlgari-watch

We couldn’t pass on the opportunity to share some legendary luxury watch auction stories.

In 2017, the world watched as Paul Newman's personal Rolex Daytona crossed the gavel at a staggering $17.8 million at a Phillips auction, at that time, the most expensive wristwatch ever sold. But this record wouldn't stand for long. Fast forward to 2019, and a Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, boasting a mind-boggling array of complications, fetched a jaw-dropping $31 million at Christie's, becoming the undisputed king of watch auctions. 

While luxury watch auctions can be thrilling, they're not without their horror stories. A seemingly genuine Omega Speedmaster, believed to be a rare and valuable first-generation model, sold for a record-breaking $3.4 million at a Phillips auction in 2021. However, the watch was later revealed to be a "Frankenwatch," meticulously assembled using parts from other vintage Omegas and potentially some fabricated components. 

This incident highlights the luxury watch market's vulnerability to sophisticated forgeries, as even established brands like Omega and reputable auction houses like Phillips were duped.

Final Thoughts: For Luxury Watch Auctions, Knowledge is Power and Preparation is Key

Luxury watch auctions offer a unique and exciting avenue for seasoned collectors and curious newcomers alike. By approaching these events with knowledge, preparation, and a touch of caution, you can navigate the world of watch auctions with confidence. 

Remember, the thrill of the hunt and the potential to acquire a coveted timepiece make watch auctions an exciting and memorable experience.

Last but not least, consider insuring the newest addition to your collection! JewelCover specialises in luxury watch insurance in Australia, catering to the needs of buyers and collectors with coverage against loss, theft and damage. 

Learn more about our cover and get your free wristwatch insurance quote online in seconds. 

Top 10 Luxury Watches Every Collector Must Own

Luxury Watch Auctions - Australia - Frequently Asked Questions

 

What are the pros and cons of luxury watch auctions? 

Luxury watch auctions can be thrilling, offering rare finds and potential investments. However, beware of emotional bidding and fakes! Careful research, a cool head, and verified authenticity are essential for navigating this exciting yet risky arena.

What factors should I consider when choosing an auction house?

When choosing an auction house, consider its reputation in luxury watches, expertise, fees, and past success selling similar timepieces.

How do I estimate the value of a watch I'm interested in bidding on?

Explore online marketplaces like Chrono24 for similar watch sale prices. Check the auction house's pre-sale estimate, but remember it's a range, not a guarantee. For high-value pieces, consider a professional appraisal for a more precise valuation based on condition, rarity, and market trends. This will help you set a realistic bidding limit.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when bidding at auction?

Don't let excitement lead to overspending! When buying watches at auction, set a budget and stick to it. Also factor in buyer's premiums and taxes. Scrutinise condition reports and photos and consider appraisals for valuable pieces. Research the watch, plan your bids, start low and stay focused. Don't miss cues from the auctioneer. By staying cool and collected, you'll navigate the auction like a pro!




This article is advisory in nature and is offered as a resource to be used together with your professional insurance advice. It is an overview only and is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your insurance advisor or other professional advice.

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