A short essay on the high stakes world of watch collecting
The term mergers and acquisitions (M&A) traditionally refer to the consolidation of companies or their major assets through financial transactions between companies. For our purposes, however, we liken M&A to the often-cutthroat world of high-end auctions and watch collecting.
Indeed, many high-end auctions often play a significant role in the high-stakes world of collectible timepieces. Prominent auction houses such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips, and Antiquorum regularly hold dedicated watch auctions and offer an accessible platform for collectors, enthusiasts, and investors to acquire some of the most rare and most valuable watches ever produced.
These auction houses are renowned worldwide for having a particular expertise in valuing and selling high-end timepieces and curate collections of rare, vintage, and exceptional watches. And the advancement of technology has opened the world to these auctions with online bidding providing real time access attracting a global audience of “whales” and has resulted in some record-breaking sales to these bidding “wars.”
Auction houses typically organize pre-auction exhibitions where potential buyers can view the watches either physically or on-line. This is often a crucial step in inspecting and evaluating the craftsmanship, quality, and condition of the prospective timepieces. Most especially, these pre-auction exhibitions offer an opportunity for potential buyers to make informed decisions about the pieces they may be interested in bidding on.
Typically, these collectible timepieces become alternative investments with some watches appreciating in value over time. Anything can make the value of a watch appreciate: rarity, brand reputation, historical significance, and market demand all contribute to a particular timepiece’s value, a notable example of which is… probably any watch by Patek Philippe. And that’s because nine Patek Philippe timepieces are in the top ten most expensive watches ever sold at auction as of May 23, 2023.
That’s right, ranging from as “little” as $6.23M sold at Christie’s in 2017, to a staggering $31.19M once again sold at Christie’s in 2019, Swiss watchmaker owns the Top 10 most expensive watches ever sold with only one hold out: Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona Ref. 6239, which comes in at No. #3 by being sold for $17.75 million by Philips in 2017.
The complete list of the top 10 most expensive watches ever sold is as follows:
- Patek Philippe Titanium Ref. 5208T - $6.23M (Christie’s)
- Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A-018 “Tiffany & Co.” - $6.5M (Phillips)
- Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 5016A-010 - $7.25M (Phillips)
- Patek Philippe Two-Crown Worldtime Ref. 2523 “Eurasia” – $7.68M (Phillips)
- Patek Philippe Gobbi Milan “Heures Universelles” Ref. 2523 - $8.96M (Christie’s)
- Patek Philippe “Prince Mohammed Tewlik A. Toussou” Ref. 1518 - $9.57M (Sotheby’s)
- Patek Philippe Stainless Steel Ref. 1518 - $11.13M (Phillips)
- Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona Ref. 6239 - $17.75M (Phillips)
- Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication Ref. 198.385 - $24M (Sotheby’s)
- Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010 - $31.19M (Christie’s)
The high-stakes world of collectible timepieces combines the passion of collectors, the expertise of auction houses, and the thrill of being one of the “select few” who own some of the most rare and most valuable watches in the world. It has certainly seen some of the most incredibly built timepieces sell for some of the highest prices, ever. And it continues to captivate the attention of enthusiasts and investors worldwide who are just waiting for the next “must have” timepiece to come up on the auction block.