Buy A Watch?

May flowers are among the less-expensive niceties to come along after April showers; on the other end of the spectrum: the timepieces available during this month’s collectible watch auction season.

Patek Phillipe, with moonphase complication.

Patek Phillipe, with moonphase complication.

Appropriately, Swiss shows in Geneva introduce the season. Auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s  follow shortly after in America, although Christie’s is offering a scaled-back showing (300 lots, down from around 500 in recent years past) in deference to this year’s economic environment. The auctions will feature historic pieces (including, from Sotheby’s, a pocket watch set on a gold and diamond chain, circa 1880) as well as modern watches from the likes of Rolex, Patek Phillippe, Omega, Ebel, and the remainder of the usual suspects. The more modern watches can sometimes be had for a relative bargain at auction, compared to their showroom prices.

Ebel 1911 Chronograph.

Ebel 1911 Chronograph.

As usual, Patek Phillippe watches will fetch top dollar over the rest because of their complications (features on the face of a watch additional to the hour- and minute-markers) and the company’s impressive record-keeping. The records are an issue because discerning buyers often require a watch’s complete history and previous ownership. An over-sized 1936 Patek Phillipe aviator’s watch will be a Christie’s centerpiece this year, and is expected to fetch over $1.5 million on the block. Sotheby’s counters: that house is offering a Patek Phillipe moon-phase timepiece from 1981, expected to bring half that price.

Later this month, similar auctions will happen in London, where the pound’s relative weakness is expected to attract buyers.

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