In 2014, auction house Phillips partnered with Bacs & Russo to form the Watch Department to focus on the fine watches collectors’ market. Aurel Bacs, a co-founder of Bacs & Russo, leads the charge, armed with more than 20 years of experience in the area of fine collectors’ watches including an incredibly successful stint at Christie’s.
Under his stewardship, Phillips has been chalking up record sales (the US$17.7 or RM73mil that Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona achieved still boggles the mind) and reinvigorated the thirst for vintage watches especially in Asia where last year’s Hong Kong Watch Auction: SEVEN took in a whopping US$14mil (RM58mil) with a record number of online bidders.
As Bacs prepares for Geneva Watch Auction: NINE that will happen in May, he takes some time out to offer his thoughts on the auction market for vintage watches and amassing a treasure trove of them.
How far do we have to go back for a watch to qualify as vintage?
I’m quite sure that you will get different replies from different specialists. For me personally, the cut-off point is somewhere in the early/ mid-1980s as it was a time when the Swiss watch industry began to rise up again after a period of the quartz trend. Computers were also introduced to assist in the designing and manufacturing process, which was quite a dramatic shift from the more traditional and artisanal approach previously.
In the last few years, there’s been an increase in interest for vintage pieces in Asia, which has expanded beyond the niche group of hardcore watch collectors. How would you explain this?
Indeed, Asia is today the fastest growing continent in the field of vintage watches. Asian collectors are known for their respect of the past, their passion for craftsmanship, their eagerness to own the finest and most exclusive pieces, and their competitiveness in international auction rooms. Take this mix and add a continuously growing economy, and you’ll understand why (there’s so much interest in vintage watches).
What is the difference between the profile of the collectors today and the collectors, say, 15 years ago?
It’s like night and day. Collectors are now younger and, thanks to the many platforms be it online or off-line, learn much faster. In addition, as many collectors of vintage watches are also active in other fields, notably contemporary art and vintage motorcars, they understand quite well why an important vintage wristwatch has a value in the six and seven-digit region.