A Little Knowledge Goes a Long Way When Buying a Watch

How to Buy Watches at Auction

A Little Knowledge Goes a Long Way When Buying a Watch at Auction

“Does anyone really know what time it is?” the rock supergroup Chicago asked America in 1969, and 50 years later, the literal answer is almost everyone. Thanks to cell phones and other smart technology, it’s super-easy to discover if it’s 11:11pm or 2:22am. However, more and more men — especially those in their 20s and 30s — are beginning to look for the answer to that question on their wrist. Yes, watches have once again become a must-have accessory.

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Why Buy Watches at Auction


  • Price: Prices for watches at auction may often be less than current market prices for similar models.
  • No waitlist: Some vintage watches are almost identical to current models that have become so popular they are no longer readily available in a retail setting.
  • Unique materials: Many vintage watches use materials that are no longer used today, even by the company that first introduced the watch (e.g. white gold).
  • Wiser decision making: Buying at auction gives you time to think about your purchase, so you don’t end up making an impulse buy you might later regret.
  • Specialized help: Auction specialists are extremely knowledgeable about all kinds and brands of watches and are happy to answer any questions you might have about a watch.

Longtime devotees of these timepieces have long turned to auctions to augment their collections, but “Christie’s Watches Online: The Keystone Collection” (on which bidding concludes on August 13) is geared both to guys who want to keep building their “watch wardrobe” as well as those who want to start getting in on the action. “When I walk down the street, I look at every guy’s wrist, no matter where I am,” says Rich Lopez, senior watch specialist at Christies. “What I have seen more than ever before is that many men — especially younger guys — are wearing watches every day, and whether it’s a Seiko or a Rolex, they’re buying them for the purpose of telling time.”watch on auction

Auctions have proven particularly popular for watch buyers in recent years, in large part because the selection of vintage watches available cannot usually be found in stores. Still, newcomers to the auction world may feel wary about participating, although Lopez says there’s no reason to be nervous. (In fact, he’s happy to make himself available for questions about both the watches and the auction procedures; you can even email him). “I really want first-time buyers to enter the market,” says Lopez.

Among the advantages of an auction, especially at a house like Christie’s, is that you can be assured that the watches are fairly valued. “I look at the market, I go to watch fairs, where I can see the low and high ends of what’s available, and based on all that and my own knowledge, I tend to price our estimates (the expected price the watch will go for) on the conservative side,” says Lopez. “Here, we placed many of our estimates in the $3,000 to $10,000 range specifically in order to attract buyers.”

three patek phillipe watches steel pocket watch gold

Lopez notes that whatever the final selling price, it does not include a non-negotiable 25 percent buyers’ premium. In addition, new customers should be aware that any item that does not meet the house’s minimum price — known as the reserve — will not be sold.

Most importantly, an auction also gives time buyers a chance to think about their purchase. They are usually announced weeks in advance, with the items for sale available to view on the auction house’s website, and sometimes even in person. (For this sale, viewings at Christie’s Rockefeller Center location ended last week.)

watch on auction

“We know there are plenty of people out there who, given the chance, would like to buy these watches outright,” Lopez notes, “but an auction is designed to give as many people as possible a chance to look at these watches, talk to me if they need to and then decide what’s the right watch for them.”

This auction is the first time that Christie’s has partnered with a company like The Keystone, a five-year-old, Beverly Hills-based operation whose sole purpose is to collect vintage watches and re-sell them to consumers. “We constantly hunt for the best watches in the field,” says co-founder Max Abbott, “and we purposely curated this auction so there would be something for everyone, which is why there are over 230 men’s and ladies’ timepieces in all price points and styles.”

watch on auction

Adds Lopez: “This auction also provides amazing opportunities for people who love some of the current watches on the market that are on multi-year back order. And often, if you’re willing to buy a vintage model, you can essentially get the same watch for half the price.”

That’s especially true for the most popular and timeless type: stainless-steel sport watches. “They are [a really great investment] right now because they can be had at a great price in the vintage category; they’re durable; and they’re very masculine,” says Lopez.

three rolex watches gold and steel on auction

“People are more casually dressed at work — they’re not wearing suits and ties anymore — and a steel watch is an everyday, anytime kind of timepiece,” says Abbott. “And there’s a great nostalgia for the movie stars who first made these watches popular, like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, and the adventurous spirit that these guys embody.”

While many brands are represented in the auction, Lopez admits that buyers will see a large selection from Rolex and Patek Phillipe. “We’ve found people are really attracted to the names they know, but I think some of the best buys are from lesser-known brands like Enicar and Wakmann. I think these watches will really increase in value over time.”

watch on auction

Those buyers looking for investment pieces should also consider so-called “bracelet watches,” which are known for their gold bracelet-like straps and dressier appearance. “Bracelet watches have lost some of their appeal over time, but I still see great value and beauty in these timepieces,” says Lopez. “And since the watch market, like every market, is cyclical, they’re likely to come back into style in the future.”

So whether you think it’s the right time for your first watch or your tenth watch, or whether you’re looking for something simple or extremely ornate, the odds of finding exactly what you’re looking for at “Christie’s Watches Online: The Keystone Collection” and other expertly curated timepiece auctions are in your favor.

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