An Omega wristwatch sold for $1.8 million in Geneva, a record price for the brand, as upstart auction house Phillips challenges larger rivals Christie's and Sotheby's in the market for vintage timepieces.
The sale marks the first time Omega has achieved a price of more than $1 million in an auction, according to Phillips, which raised a total of 23.9 million Swiss francs ($31.8 million), just beating Christie's. Sotheby's trailed behind with $6.9 million in an auction where one in four lots went unsold.
A vintage rush
Vintage-watch demand has been booming, illustrated by Phillips's record $23.4 million sale last month of a Rolex that belonged to Paul Newman. The smaller New York- and London-based firm is aiming to corner the market in vintage timepieces as auctioneer Aurel Bacs raises its profile. Still, the 83 lots that went unsold in Sotheby's auction showed that bidders are becoming more restrained, leaving timepieces by Rolex and Vacheron Constantin untouched.
The Omega was a prototype with a tourbillon that Phillips had estimated was worth as much as $272,900. Phillips said the piece is the only watch that was fully built in a series that was planned but never produced.
But not for everyone
This is the second time a Sotheby's watch sale has struggled this year. In May, the auction house couldn't find a buyer for the most intricate Patek Philippe timepiece ever made.
Such reticence wasn't seen at Phillips and Christie's, which sold almost every lot they offered. Just a day before the Sotheby's auction, Christie's raised 10.8 million francs ($14.4 million) in a sale of timepieces, also in Geneva, to raise money for research on Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Those watches were donated directly by their manufacturers, including brands such as F.P. Journe and Audemars Piguet.
The Geneva fall auction season continues Tuesday night, when Christie's will put a 163-carat flawless De Grisogono diamond under the hammer. On Wednesday, Sotheby's will auction a pink diamond estimated to be worth as much as $40 million.