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By Laurent Martinez

In the world of watches, becoming a senior executive and department head at a prestigious auction house is one of the most rewarding positions to get. It is often regarded as a dream job that many want but few can attain. As expected, it’s a position that requires plenty of work, expertise and human skills.

I have had the privilege to meet and interview someone who is in this position: Richard Lopez, SVP, Senior Specialist, and Head of Online Sales at Sotheby’s.

Richard’s approachable demeanor and friendly smile are a clear indication that he loves his job and appreciates all the vintage and contemporary watches that surround him day-to-day.

Richard Lopez is Senior Watch Specialist at Sotheby’s.

When I asked Richard how he found himself in the watch business, he told me that he thought he would be an architect. But as is often the case, life had a different path for him. When Richard was an architecture student more than twenty years ago, he was looking for a job for a little extra pocket money.

One day, he passed by the famed Betteridge watch and jewelry boutique in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he saw a trainer teaching the staff how to use special software for engraving. He quickly realized that the software was very similar to the CAD programs that he used for architecture. After showing the Betteridge team that he could engrave a piece in a couple of minutes, he became the in-house engraver—and eventually added polishing to his duties.

Once Richard began learning how to solder and started training as a jeweler, he decided to take a break from school. After a handful of years as a bench jeweler at Betteridge, he switched roles to become the company’s watch repairs coordinator. Not only did he discover a wide variety of timepieces, ranging from quartz to grand complications, during this period but he also had the opportunity to learn from Swiss-trained watchmakers as part of his job. Lopez ultimately fell in love with watches and watchmaking.

Auction houses

After climbing the ranks at Betteridge, Lopez joined Christie’s as a watch specialist and online retail manager. Not long after he joined, the online Christie’s Watch Shop made its debut, which marked a major step in the company’s e-commerce strategy. Lopez’s foray into the auction house market gave him even greater access to extraordinary vintage and modern timepieces, and permitted him to hone his skills in the realm of luxury e-commerce.

Today, Lopez is head of online sales and a senior watch specialist at Sotheby’s and he is based in New York. It is a role that he took on earlier in 2020, a pivotal time for online sales due to the global pandemic.

Like most other industries, auction houses are shifting focus from live events to online channels. Since Sotheby’s will only host in-person auctions twice a year (June and December) for the foreseeable future, Lopez is responsible for launching weekly and monthly online auctions to make up for the current restrictions.

Additionally, he also has to organize lots for the two in-person auctions by curating, qualifying, and authenticating timepieces. Along with his team in the New York office, which also covers the East Coast of the U.S., Canada, and Latin America, there is the Los Angeles team. Most of the timepieces are sourced from private clients and a few dealers.

Auction houses are shifting focus from live events to online channels.

Hands-on

Lopez’s experience as a jeweler and in watch repair prepared him for his current role. It takes a certain type of hands-on experience to understand the nuances of vintage timepieces, particularly if information about a specific watch is not readily available from the manufacturers.

For instance, with vintage Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman” watches, it’s important to remember that Rolex has never disclosed how many were made, how many versions there are, and the exact years they each version was produced. Unlike some other watchmakers, Rolex does not offer any type of archival or authentication services, so it is up to collectors, scholars, and professional experts like Lopez to investigate, study, and compile the information.

The record-breaking ‘Paul Newman’ Rolex.

Only with a great understanding of the watch at hand and the current market condition can an appropriate price estimate be given to the client looking to auction his or her timepiece.

Given the current times we are living in, Sotheby’s has decided to lean towards an online platform since the reach is vastly wider than the classic auction catalog. In addition to generating more traffic, an online platform provides plenty of data, such as how many clicks per page and which models have been viewed the most.

This type of information can then be analyzed to predict customer needs and potential trends. For a long time, auction houses never thought that they could convince a large number of buyers to buy expensive fine watches online. It was always understood that potential buyers had to see the watches “in the metal” before even considering placing a bid.

But that is no longer the case—seasoned collectors are happy to purchase online as long as the accompanying pictures and information are clear enough to tell the full story. Clients are also more comfortable if there is an easy return policy and if the watch is being sold by a renowned name like Sotheby’s. To further protect its clients, Sotheby’s always provides detailed condition reports and authenticity guarantees with each watch available for auction.

Strong team

Having a team that truly understands how to navigate the online luxury business is one of Sotheby’s greatest assets. Plus, the team’s ability to make quick adjustments during all the uncertainties that COVID brought about, such as working remotely while still in full control of consignments and sales, allowed Sotheby’s to execute more than twenty online events in the summer compared to some competitors that could only complete a fraction of those numbers.

Sotheby’s weekly online watch auctions list around fifteen to twenty lots for bidding while monthly online sales can reach 200 timepieces in the mid to high-end watch segment.

The two annual in-person events are where Sotheby’s showcases incredible grail watches that command attention from collectors across the globe. These auctions will maintain the customary format of a preview of the watches available at Sotheby’s, followed by an auctioneer-hosted auction in the main room.

Demand rises

The supply of and demand for top-tier timepieces remains strong and it is projected to grow. Rolex and Patek Philippe lead the charge with a slew of coveted sports watch models that have hefty prices to match their insatiable demand. Consumers who are unable to buy popular luxury sports watches in the retail market are turning to the secondary market and discovering a bevy of other watch models from the likes of Audemars Piguet, F.P. Journe, Panerai, and others.

Although it must be said that while brands like Rolex and F.P. Journe have contemporary watches that are highly valued in the secondary market, it is the vintage segment that is the star of that market. More and more, consumers are treating watches as investments, which can sometimes outshine gold, diamonds, and jewelry as investment pieces. The current-production steel and ceramic Rolex Daytona that retails for about $13,000 is frequently being traded around $25,000 in the secondary market—a return on investment that is hard to beat.

While brands like Rolex and F.P. Journe have contemporary watches that are highly valued in the secondary market, it is the vintage segment that is the star of that market.

As a professional in the watch industry and an avid watch collector, Lopez has learned that although a fine watch is most certainly a luxury and not a necessity, if you really want a timepiece and it fits your budget, go ahead and buy it. Not only will you enjoy the watch immensely, if you also take good care of it, it may sell for a premium in the future. His biggest advice is to keep your box and papers because a complete set will always be more valuable.

Keep your vintage watch’s box and papers.

Talent, enthusiasm, experience, and hard work can open up an array of possibilities and, as with Richard Lopez, it may even lead to a dream job where the profession is dependent on a personal passion.

Laurent Martinez is the proprietor of Laurent Fine Watches, Greenwich, Connecticut. Read more by him at blog.laurentfinewatches.com or visit his store’s website.

 

 

By Laurent Martinez

For most collectors, there’s always one coveted piece that stands above the rest—the so-called grail, if you will. And in the world of vintage watches, most would agree that the Patek Philippe Reference 2499 holds that honor.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest timepieces designed by the renowned Swiss watchmaker, Reference 2499, a manual-winding Perpetual Calendar Chronograph with Moonphase produced in very low quantities, is the quintessential Patek.

When a Patek Philippe ref. 2499, comes to the auction block, the vintage watch world pays attention.

Few have had the privilege to see a Reference 2499 in real life, let alone touch one. Watch experts recognize this very special timepiece as one that perfectly combines incredible exterior design with a masterful internal movement.

Given the rarity and collective fascination with the Patek Philippe ref. 2499, when one comes up to the auction block, the vintage watch world pays attention. Collectors won’t want to miss the chance to see it, study it, and most importantly, share a room with other fellow enthusiasts whilst witnessing the inevitable bidding battle that will ensue to claim this watch as his or her own.  

Sotheby’s New York on December 15th will be hosting a holiday season watch auction with a magnificent example of the revered Patek Philippe Reference 2499 as the star of the event.

Few were made

Succeeding Reference 1518 and preceding Reference 3970, Patek Philippe produced Reference 2499 from 1950 until 1985. Despite only 349 pieces ever made, there are four distinct series of the ref. 2499 to note.

The first series was in production from 1950 until the mid-1950s and features square chronograph pushers, applied Arabic numerals, and a tachymeter scale on the dial. There are less than four-dozen of these ref. 2499 watches in existence. The second series, manufactured from 1955 until 1966, include round chronograph pushers, applied baton or Arabic numerals, and a tachymeter scale on the dial.

Next in line was the third series, made from 1960 until 1978, with round chronograph pushers, applied baton indexes, and no tachymeter scale on the dial.

Finally, the fourth and last series of the Reference 2499 is dated from 1978 to 1985 (with later examples taking on the reference 2499/100) and the watches have round chronograph pushers, applied baton numerals, no tachymeter scale, and sapphire crystals shielding the dials.

Fourth series star

The Patek Philippe Reference 2499/100 coming up for sale on December 15 in New York at Sotheby’s belongs to the fourth series family. And it is simply a magnificent piece manufactured in 1981. While the creamy dial is in very good condition it is not perfect.

A closer look at the dial reveals the coveted “Tiffany” branding, which makes this example of the Reference 2499 even more exceptional.

The dial does have some discoloration owing to the humid conditions of the Southern United States, where its owner resides. The customary applied gold batons mark out the hours while the three subsidiary dials for minutes, date/moonphase, and running seconds sit at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, respectively. The double windows displaying the day and month are placed at 12 o’clock while the gold hands at the center are in the “Dauphine” style.

Tiffany branding

A closer look at the dial reveals the coveted “Tiffany” branding, which makes this example of the Reference 2499 even more exceptional and rare. Sotheby’s consulted with Patek Philippe to see how many Tiffany marked examples were made but there are no records in-house.

The winding crown is furnished with the Patek Philippe logo and of course, the chronograph pushers are round in shape. The interior of the yellow gold case back is engraved with Patek Philippe Co – Genève – Swiss – 2499 – 100 – 2.779.174.” Housed inside the yellow gold case is the manual-winding Caliber 13-130, featuring 23 jewels and numbered 869.425. Potential bidders will be happy to know that the watch keeps very good time.

Housed inside the yellow gold case is the manual-winding Caliber 13-130, featuring 23 jewels and numbered 869.425.

This Patek 2499 is fitted with a brown lizard Patek Philippe strap with a gold Patek Philippe buckle. The width in between the lugs is 20mm and 14mm at the buckle end. The interior of the buckle is engraved with “To AIL – Love – BKL – 7-5-96” and both the case and buckle include all the required poinçons or hallmarks. 

Under the sofa 

The watch was first appraised 20 years ago but it was lost for some time inside the estate. After a long period of searching, this superb Patek Philippe 2499 was finally found inside the house, underneath the sofa. No one knows quite how long it had been lying there, hidden from the world.

As a one-owner Patek Philippe Reference 2499, this is the first time this watch comes to auction. The estimated price is between $500,000 and $800,000, even though I think it is a conservative figure.

For any inquiries about the watch, please contact Richard Lopez, SVP, Senior Specialist, and Head of Online Sales at Sotheby’s at [ Richard.Lopez@sothebys.com ]

The Patek Philippe Reference 2499/100 will draw bids at the December 15 Sotheby’s auction in New York.

Wishing you a safe, happy, and joyful season.

Laurent Martinez is the proprietor of Laurent Fine Watches, Greenwich, Connecticut. Read more by him at blog.laurentfinewatches.com or visit his store’s site at www.laurentfinewatches.com

By Laurent Martinez

Over the years, I have noticed a recurring pattern with collectors that are new to the vintage watch market. There seems to be a tendency to compulsively buy too many watches at once without clear motivation as to why.

However, it appears that many new collectors who have taken this approach are ready to part with at least half of their new collection only a few months after building it. Perhaps they were attracted to a certain style. Maybe they enjoyed the mystery of discovering something special.

Or maybe they purchased a watch thinking they got a good bargain despite never having seen or heard of the watch before.

I remember meeting a young collector in Paris who wanted to sell his watches. He came to me with bags of timepieces, but he did not really know what he had.

I unfortunately had to let him know that most of his watches were worthless. Out of the one hundred or so timepieces, he only had a few interesting pieces from Croton and Lip.

Of course, this type of collecting can have a serious impact on your wallet. Buying a watch without knowing much about its value ends up being a waste of time and money. It may end up costing you more to fix the watch than it is actually worth. You may not be able to resell the watch for the price you paid for it or worse; you may be unable to sell it at all—even at a loss.

Do your homework

So, how do you start a vintage watch collection? The most important thing to do is to do your homework to build some guidelines. This does not necessarily mean having to spend hundreds of hours researching watches, but at the very least you should invest time into setting some parameters.

For example, define your preferred style. Dressy or sporty? Simple three-handed dial or a more complex chronograph? Stainless steel or gold? Civilian watches or military-issued timepieces? While you may like all of the above, it is always better to start with some restrictions in mind to avoid getting carried away. This approach will narrow your options and give you more focus.

After you have thoughtfully acquired some pieces that fit your initial criteria, then you can expand the parameters.

 

Estimate value

In terms of estimating the value of a watch, you can always visit websites like eBay and Chrono24 for well-known brands to see what people are asking for. Yet, keep in mind that there is a difference between asking price and market price. Listed prices on eBay are a reflection of what people want to sell the watch for and not necessarily what buyers are willing to pay.

You can choose the “Sold Items” filter to see how much a watch was purchased for. What’s more, you have to also consider commission fees, state taxes, and other dues.

If possible, I always recommend going to flea markets, local watch shows or auction events to have the watch in hand before buying. This approach allows you to inspect the details of the watch and speak to the dealer to ask any questions you may have.

Talking to the seller face-to-face will give you a better sense of how accurately priced the watch is. You learn a lot this way, and most importantly doing this can give you a better feeling of what watches you actually like “in the metal.”

Be wary

Buying online can be trickier since some websites are full of retouched images and incorrect information. However, if you have no choice but to buy online, then my advice is to only purchase from a domestic seller. Buying internationally is always riskier whether its complications with shipping and customs or sourcing from regions that are known to be flooded with counterfeit products.

I would also advise purchasing watches that are priced at the lower end of the market rather than the higher end. It is easier to come to terms with making a mistake that costs a few hundred dollars over one that costs a few thousand.

Quartz or automatic?

As always, it is all about the details. For instance, new or vintage quartz watches rarely hold their value as well as mechanical watches. There is hardly any interest in quartz watches in the secondary market. You would fare better with a hand-wound or automatic watch. If you purchase a lower-priced quartz watch, the financial loss would not be too great.

Yet, remember that high-end brands like Breitling and Omega sell quartz watches and these battery-operated timepieces lose tremendous value in the pre-owned market.

Even in the mid-range market, you would be better off buying an automatic Invicta watch instead of a quartz one. I have a friend who collects mid-range priced watches and he is very successful. There is a flourishing market for mid-priced watches and they sell quickly. He is well versed in these particular watches and understands their specifications and how they differ from high-end timepieces. As such, I always try to pick his brain and ask his advice when I am about to get one of them.

Online queries

Another great tool to gain watch knowledge is checking watch forums. There are some very knowledgeable people there that are especially focused on the technical aspects of watchmaking, which can be very helpful. The great thing is that forum members are usually very helpful and willing to share information. Always cross-reference your information with several sources to make sure it is accurate.

When looking at a watch, always start with the basics. I recently saw a watch with chronograph pushers, but the watch had a calendar dial! Obviously, it was a fake.

And sometimes people pretend to know more than they do. A lady contacted me to appraise a watch she bought at a tag sale. Five of her friends told her it was a real Audemars Piguet with a tourbillon.

I had to regretfully inform her that it was not a tourbillon at 6 o’clock, but in fact, a running seconds subdial.

Take your time

In short, educate yourself, ask questions, and take your time. Do not buy on impulse and set a budget for yourself. If you can, see the watch in real life instead of just photos, but if this is not possible, do not be shy to ask for more pictures.

Most importantly, listen to your gut. Keep these tips in mind when building a watch collection and things should go relatively smoothly. Good luck!

Laurent Martinez is the proprietor of Laurent Fine Watches, Greenwich, Connecticut. Read more by him at blog.laurentfinewatches.com or visit his store’s site at www.laurentfinewatches.com