Not all auction houses are created equal. In the below I’ll cover similarities and differences of the largest.
Similarities across auction houses:
- Bidding is available via a number of methods: in room, absentee, phone, online (website or via mobile app; may be through a third party aggregator).
- Authenticity warranty applies to only a portion of the text for a lot. For example, only uppercase words in the first line of the catalog description. That’s right…everything else in the description is not warrantied.
- Will indicate if from the original owner (or descendant), or if this is the first time offered in public.
- Auction catalogs should provide detail, via symbols, as to whether the house has a financial interest in the lot (and if so, if a they have received funding support via another party), if they own in whole or in part, if there is a minimum price guarantee, if a third party has provided a financial guarantee, and if where is any material from endangered/protected species (for the straps), which will result in import restrictions. Some auction houses will note if a lot has no reserve.
- Bidding increments (the increase in amount between bids) increases as the bid increases. While there are general ranges for bid increments, say $1k for bids between $10k and $20k, the auctioneer has the discretion to vary the bid increment at any time.
- Buyer’s premiums start in the 20-25% range for the least expensive lots. Some smaller auction houses, more so those that use third party auction platforms, have even higher starting premiums, so be sure to check these when you are bidding. As an example, if you just won your favorite piece with a hammer of $1,000, you would be forking over $1,250 if there is a 25% buyer’s premium. Don’t forget subject to state taxes, and shipping or service costs. For international purchases, beware import taxes as well.
- Auction houses will generally not offer only wristwatches, but also an assortment of pocket watches, desk clocks, pendant clocks, and even grandfather clocks. Depending on the auction house and location of the auction, what is offered may have a different focus, by either manufacturer, type or timepiece and/or manufacture date.
- Payment can be via wire, credit card (may have a limit), cash (up to a certain limit per year), bank checks, and checks.
- Employees can bid on pieces.
While any particular auction can be skewed in terms of what is offered if there is an individual that is selling a number of pieces, here is a comparison for New York Watch Week (December 2018):
Some high-level comments:
- Will have a wide range of types of lots, not limited to wristwatches, but often a large number of clocks
- Offers pieces ranging across years of manufacture
- Most vintage pieces among the major auction houses
- From my experience, the most vintage pieces from original owners
- A completely different method of bidding. At Heritage, the opening bid is the reserve. Allow me to repeat that – IT IS THE RESERVE. So once a bid is placed, the watch will be sold. This is radically different from other auctions houses, where opening bids start below the reserve to encourage bidding, and you may be bidding simply against the reserve, or against the chandelier in the back of the room.
- Bidding for auctions begins online prior to the day of auction. So Heritage, by the time the auction starts, has in effect sold all of the pieces that have bids.
- “Service and handling” costs (even if you pick up the watch)
- Looking for a party? You’ve come to the right place! This auction house is an absolute marketing machine, and their auctions are more appropriately categorized as “Events”. The look and feel is completely different than the others – the dollars they put into the auctions, the setup of the space, the appearance of the bidders and also (ahem) the staff.
- Brightest and shiniest pieces.
- Focused on wristwatches – you won’t find the pocketwatches, clocks and other timepieces you will at other houses.
- Fewer original owner pieces than other major houses.
- Leans toward modern pieces
- Large number of lots available
- Can have clocks and some timepiece jewelry interspersed (though limited)
You don’t have to buy from a brick-and-mortar (or online) watch dealer. One of our favorite watches was purchased on eBay as a ‘Buy It Now’ (we actually made an offer below the BIN price that was accepted) from a dealer of all types of vintage goods. Another on eBay was purchased from an individual who sold everything from hunting bows to pots and pans. In both cases we did all the research we could on the sellers, made sure we knew the watch references well, requested a number of additional images and asked questions, and had a very good sense for the market value of the watches (from researching forums, blogs, eBay, auction houses, and dealer websites). And before buying/bidding, we asked for advice on the watches from other collectors.
But eBay and dealers aren’t the only routes.
We follow and visit:
– dealers (both brick-and-mortar and online),
– auction houses,
– jewelry and antique stores, and even
Dealers and independent sellers may leverage multiple channels, offering watches both on their own website, marketplaces and on eBay. Some dealers after sitting on a watch will eventually post on eBay as an auction. So if you have found the perfect watch, just make sure to double-check other channels for pricing, which may vary.
We’ll make an assumption here and say “yes” (knowing budgets do vary).
Christie’s, Philips, Sotheby’s, Antiquorum, Heritage… All the largest and most well-known houses have, virtually without exception, watches in their auctions with low estimates starting around $2,000 USD.
A great example of the range of prices at auction is a stainless steel Patek Phillipe 1518 that sold for over $11M USD at Phillips: The Geneva Watch Auction Four in November 2016, setting a new world record for a wristwatch.
The low estimate of the next lot? $2,000 USD.
Virtually every auction house has sold franken vintage pieces, knowingly or not. That’s just how it goes. But this doesn’t mean that we avoid auctions (check out our watch auction calendar for upcoming events.
A short list of auction houses to check out, in alphabetical order:
If you are new to auctions, one great way to dip your toe in the water is to watch an auction that is streamed live with video. It’s not the same as being there is person, but can provide a fun and interesting introduction from the comfort of your cubicle.
What may come as a surprise to you (it did to me when first diving into collecting) is that buying from an auction house doesn’t guarantee originality or truth. You may have to look past the flashy marketing material and big auction numbers, or years in business and industry praise. Some houses will withdraw pieces when evidence is presented if authenticity is questionable (or just plain wrong), some won’t.
The below examples of frankens are to make the point that you always need to do your own research, even when purchasing from well-known auction houses or dealers. I fully appreciate that auction houses have an incredibly difficult job in vetting every piece that comes in their door. And I don’t expect specialists at auction houses, or dealers, to have the depth of knowledge on every piece that you can find on forums. For specific pieces, absolutely, but it would be impossible for them to be as knowledgeable about every piece as the most knowledgeable community member (or group researching together) focused on that piece.
Swapped parts aren’t necessarily a bad thing, provided it is called out in the description of the piece. There can be some honest mistakes, but if you spend a lot of time reading watch descriptions, you’ll find that an inordinate amount of the time the seller and/or auction house description is clearly intentionally ambiguous or untruthful.
As examples I would recommend forum discussions around an Omega 2913 FAP, a fake Dayona “Solo”, fake Rolex papers, and following perezcope on instagram to learn what to watch for around Panerais (you may not be a Panerai collector, but it will open your eyes to the world of fakes).
If you have additional examples beyond the below, feel free to drop me a line.
On with the examples of bad pieces and/or misleading descriptions (in alphabetical order).
- Rolex Daytona 6239 with lots of wrong parts.
- Hilariously bad Photoshop of an El Primero
- Heuer 3646 airbrushing
- What’s up with this Heuer Jarama from Bonhams?
- The Garibaldi ‘Ship of Fools’ (Panerai) that was pulled from sale [via perezcope]
- Antiquorum auction of a fake “Heuer”
- Antiquorum and the the Monaco Legend Group presented Rolexes with swapped dials and frankens [via perezcope]
- Seamaster 2943
Auctionata (no more):
- ‘Another fake from the Antiquorum Crew’
- A “Franken” Autavia for 62,000 Euro
- Heuer 1163v with wrong hands, pushers, crown, and bezel
- ‘Garbage Offered for Sale by Auctionata’
- ‘Last Chapter of “Pass the Trash”‘
- Skipperera photoshopping. Maybe it’s simply too tempting not to make that Skipperera blue pop…
- Seamaster XVI
- This blatant Photoshopping of a Heuer Skipperera is unacceptable. Here’s hoping someone thought the gouges in the dial were dust marks on the glass they were trying to remove!
- A questionable Omega 2915-1
- Discussion of Speedmasters and an incorrect Omega Seamaster 300 from their Spring 2015 auction.
- A Heuer GH381 (and then to eBay via goldsmith55) with a service dial, and care to swap index markers from silver to gold, in the wrong case.
- Fake Rolex Solo 6239 (serial 1079777). The comments section of the above instagram link are a good introduction to this world of collecting.
- A put-together Omega 2913 in their Geneva Watch Auction: SIX (2017). The auction text states, “The present example is preserved in most attractive and original condition.” Nothing wrong with improving a watch, you just have to let the prospective buyers know! For a good read on spotting correct 300 CK2913 bezels, check out jackwongyf’s tips on instagram.
- The $3.7M Rolex Oyster Paul Newman Daytona 6263 from Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: FIVE (2017), otherwise known as “The Legend“, which has a “non-original dial“, and whose “officious, dodgy provenance is well known to the vintage Rolex community“. See comments from poster Clavi at bottom in the Comments section.
- You would never have known that the “Unicorn” wasn’t all-original from reading Hodinkee’s fawning, Phillips’ press releases, or the Condition Report. But as news leaked about its history (Goldberger deferred on any discussion of the background of the watch), the auction house was forced to issue a last-minute article, days in advance of the auction (with no update on Hodinkee).
Goldberger says in the interview released just prior to auction, “there were several replaced parts that bothered me. I searched the world for the right components, sparing no expense, to restore it to its original glory.” So this Rolex, with an original case, but incorrect dial, hands, pushers, crown, crystal, bracelet and no provenance, sold for $5.9m. Oh well, at least some of the proceeds went to a children’s charity. If the watch actually sold.
- Blaming the McQueen family (c’mon, seriously?!), Phillips pulls the Loren James’ Submariner based upondetailed research into its history.
Patrizzi (no more):
- On how an incredibly large number of pieces were withdrawn from a “Heuer Only” auction
- Sotheby’s withdraws a “fake” Omega 2998-4
- Orchi Palar’s critiques of major auction houses, notably Phillips
And what fun would the industry be if there weren’t some lawsuits?
- The Newest Chapter in the Saga – Antiquorum USA Leaves Watch Seller Unpaid [SJX]
- Auctionata closed it doors on January 20, 2017, after having employees accused of trade violations in the past. In an audit commissioned by Auctionata, KPMG alleged that the CEO and Chief Marketplace Officer both participated in Auctionata art auctions, using both pseudonyms and their real names, and German magazine Wirtschaftswoche alleged that management consigned works at questionable valuations in exchange for “substantial” advances.
- Battles between Antiquorum and Osvaldo Patrizzi (former Chair of Antiquorum), including accusations of embezzled funds and rare watches.
You might expect that auction houses, under serious time pressure, would be where bad watches slip by. But we can’t leave dealers out. On the below, I am not implying that in all cases the dealer knew that they were selling fakes, of course. But good dealers (and this applies to really any online seller) have turned bad, some have sold known fakes, some have simply stolen goods.
Everyone: please do your homework before buying (Google dealers, find references, see if they have been banned from forums, search their past…)! Even better if the dealer has a permanent storefront you can visit. If there are alarm bells in your head going off, step away. Pay with a credit card. Always. No wires. Use an escrow service. Don’t send money using PayPal to “friends and family”. Buy safe!
- Required reading on Rolex Forums about Horology House owner Chris Essery selling a fake Rolex (and a lot of runaround). Essery was a “trusted seller” with a YouTube account with nearly 70k followers that discussed how to tell the difference between fake and real Rolexes. You can listen to an interview of the buyer in Scottish Watches Podcast #116. And don’t make up your mind until you’ve read the WhatsApp transcript of the mess. Up to you to decide about any relation with Nick Glynatsis.
- A previously trustworthy dealer Steve Mulholland (Mulholland Time) gets banned from forums and still scams people, years later.
- Good seller turned bad…a scam where a good known online collector, Jason Latif, sold his same collection to 19 people.
- This “original” Rolex 1016 sold by Michael Morgan from Iconic Watch Company uses a case that was swapped from another 1016. Read more in the discussion on Hodinkee’s Bring-a-Loupe and see what seems to be the original watch on eBay. So yes, even when you read Hodinkee’s analysis that “…with an example [like] this, there’s little to not like..” Take this as just caution that well-educated writers can miss when watches are put-together as well. In the comments on the Hodinkee site, you can read questions around the dial text specifically.
- A fake Breitling from Robert Maron
- Vesper selling redialed pieces as 100% original, and not listening to the customer pushback later then informed by the community that their purchases were redialed.
- A fabulous community discussion between members and a dealer regarding an Omega 2913 FAP at Davidoff
- John Mayer Sues Robert Maron Over Phony Rolexes
- A Universal Geneve with non-original parts from Matthew Bain
- Another great read…”unsavory activities” on VRF as a respected VRF member (“Mark Lerman = Comexfan ~ vintage1665 = Dave Rosenberg“) gets caught selling a watch that has magically picked up papers. There is also proof of purchased equipment here and here that can be used for fake dates and stamps. You can read the individual’s response to the accusations as well. From the first link in this bullet point I would recommend the quote from greekbum which nicely summarizes the state of affairs. These threads are all a great intro to who to trust! Side comment: some posters in these threads say, “thank goodness I purchased from well-respected Dealer X”… Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but you shouldn’t blindly trust dealers, either.
- The ‘Bring a Brain’ series on watchuseek, where poster mkws breaks down what he observes as the fleecing on Hodinkee (simply search for ‘watchuseek Bring a Brain’ for the assortment). Lately this has been more related to price points than dubious pieces.
- For a multitude of made-up Rolexes, you can check out “orchi_palar” on Instagram (as long as you can get past the reference to himself in the third person in every post, and use of the word “bro”). His main focus is on well-known dealers selling fake Rolex and Patek Philippe. Be aware that “O” has a tendency to assume guilty until proven innocent. There is one exception to that rule: he found the Phillips “Unicorn” to be correct, which is crazy. Normally he would rip a watch like that (replaced dial, hands, pushers, crown, and bracelet) to shreds.
“Over the last 20 or 30 years, information has been controlled by a small amount of people and that’s changing now…More people are sharing, but they’re also sharing inaccurate information. That’s where it’s still “Let the buyer beware” more than ever before…” – John Reardon, Christie’s.
Neutral third parties
You might try to find an unbiased party to be your resource of choice. However, you might be disappointed when you find that even the largest watch publications highlight their favorite auction houses and timepieces they sell. Hodinkee’s Bring a Loupe (BAL) can be a fine place to start a search, but always take a closer look.
So never purchase based upon one recommendation, but dig in more – reach out to the community and read comments, research in books and online, and do everything you can to see the piece in person. Forums are a great place to start to tap into the knowledge of other collectors, and the collective wisdom of the group, but this is no guarantee either. There are many individuals with great knowledge who are willing to share information (don’t be scared off if you are new – many people are more than willing to help), but many more that don’t have a clue of what they are talking about (while professing themselves as experts, such as Orchi Palar).
Even well-known dealers are involved in lawsuits around bad watches, and sadly it isn’t uncommon that dealers intentionally do not share information for prospective buyers. And for all those that have been sued, many more should be: there are dealers that scrap old cases and reuse serial numbers for new cases, swap parts, relume and repaint dials…and either not disclose what has happened to the watch, or simply lie about its background. If you want to do those things it’s your right, but if you do and don’t disclose it = not OK!
Many say “buy the seller.” Unforunately this is what many did who in the end wound up getting taken by a well-known and respected dealer selling fake Rolexes.
While you might expect that all information is disclosed to buyers, think again. Even with all the pictures in hand, if can take a practiced eye to spot issues with watches that are described as “incredibly well-preserved”. ALWAYS get a condition report, but even then know it may not include all details.
Check out a list of frankens at auction.
While auction houses do provide a great opportunity to look at a large number of pieces before bidding, this also presents a downside as well. As watches travel during previews between locations, and are handled again, and again, and again, invariably you will wind up with pieces that were damaged prior to the auction. So while the catalog picture provides a starting point, there is always the change that by the time the auction starts that a dial has cracked, a lume plot has exploded or fallen off, or functions no longer are working as noted. The auction house should provide an update or call issues out to prospective bidders, but won’t always.
Lastly, one point to consider at the different auction houses is the number of pieces that are coming from original owners. As we start to see dealer pieces dominate auction sales, we need to think about why the dealer watch is at auction at all. The correct answer: they weren’t able to sell the watch on their own (if they could, they wouldn’t have to pay the seller’s premium to the auction house), so off it goes. One common reason for an inability to sell is due to issues with the watch.
And speaking of where the watch comes from…the auction houses may not even do the research to know if the watch has been stolen (such as in this example of Antiquorum selling a stolen watch), so always do a search of serial numbers online and in stolen watch registries before purchasing.
Private individuals and lesser-known sellers
If you don’t know the seller personally (dealer or individual), search forums for reputation feedback. This holds whether the seller is on a forum, eBay, or a dealer site (and sometimes you can even read dealer feedback of another, such as Menta Watches’ review of his experience with Rare Vintage Watch).
If you can’t find any feedback on the seller, ask on forums if anyone has dealt with them before. And even if the seller isn’t advertising on a particular forum, that community can often still help. Some forums have a section dedicated to reputation, such as watchuseek’s ‘Feedback & Reputation’ sticky And take note, even a perfect eBay feedback score, great reputation, references, or the fact the seller is a large auction house doesn’t guarantee anything. Sadly, fakes are getting better and better all the time. The last thing you want to do is drop $52k on a franken Omega 2998-2 on eBay, right?
Some sellers seem to have more negative feedback than others:
- The many fakes of Herbert Michael Marz (mostly deals in Breitling and Heuer), who also goes by the name TheSage in forums, as Topwebsells and Premiumwatch on eBay, and has a time-classics.com website.
Banned from the breitlingsource forum (and mocked), and ridiculed on OnTheDash. His goal seems to be to insert incorrect information in posts in order to be able to later sell his own products when prospects do their research. If well-respected collectors across multiple manufacturers have decided you are a liar/thief, you have done something impressive to garner their attention.
- vintage_chronos (eBay)/website ChronoAddict
- Ferruccio Marchetti. This post is a good read on the perils of purchasing from Instagram/forums.
- Now doing business as visionvintage watches on eBay, user dablitzer was previously banned from OmegaForums
- You can read about individual beefs with dealers also on instagram, such as @thelupus911 review of his DB Watch Luxury (@dbwatchluxury) experience and tazzmanng’s comments on @dbwatchluxury
Unfortunately, on instagram, where we see an increasing number of these reviews of sellers, it is difficult to search for comments in a systematic way.
-> If you would like to submit your watch to the registry, please complete the Alpha Hands stolen watch registry submission form.
I don’t think much of the stolen watch registries that require you to pay to access the database. Who knows if they even have any pieces of your manufacturer and reference (maybe you are searching for your Lemania across their database of 2 Lemanias)? Why even submit to those databases if others don’t use them? And if you are the one with the loss, don’t forget if your is recovered through the database company (not necessarily a bad thing), there are fees to pay. And there can even be fees just to submit to the registry.
So with that, I’ll aggregate (primarily vintage) watches I find publicized as stolen. If you would like to have a watch added to this database, please contact me with details, including manufacturer, reference, images, any comments to help identify. Best if you can also send a police report, if you have one (will be noted in the database).
I will only be adding watches for which there is either a known serial/case/movement number or some clear identifying mark(s). To simply have a lost Rolex Daytona with no other information won’t be of help. Repeat after me: “nobody will be able to help me find a lost or stolen watch if I don’t have a record of the serial/case/movement number at a minimum.”
In addition to searching the below, always make sure to do a broader search (aka Google) for the serial number of the watch you are purchasing (or even a fraction of the serial number) to see if you can find information in addition to this database. Make sure your pieces are insured appropriately, and get a good home safe!
To learn more specifics about any watch in the table below (description, poster of watch, date posted as stolen, etc.), simply click on the row.
As with the rest of this Website, the following table, and data contained therein, is subject to Alpha Hands LLC Terms and Conditions