The small timepieces and auctions scene in Paris

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Perhaps you dream of owning a rare watch or a new luxury watch, but you’re not among the happy few on the waiting list? Here’s how to get your hands on one at a Paris auction with no safety concerns.  

The vintage watch market

The market for antique luxury watches is particularly sought after. Especially when it comes to brands such as Patek Philippe (while the Patek Philippe Nautilus is a cult watch, the brand’s Grandes Complications series has been called “the most complicated portable watch in the world”). There is also Omega, Rolex of course with its iconic Daytona, and Audemars Piguet. And Jaeger Lecoultre with its women’s Reverso and Black Mamba. We are talking about a transaction value of between some ten thousand and several hundred thousand euros. At auction, Rolex and Patek Philippe are the world’s most expensive watches, selling for several million euros. Demand on this second-hand market is staggering, which also attracts counterfeiters. You don’t buy this type of rare watch online on eBay! You have to rely wholly on auction houses. Whose valuation, authentication and certification protocols are indisputable.  

The market for new luxury watches

The major watch manufacturers produce watches in limited quantities and share them out among their boutiques in line with the size of their respective customer bases. The more renowned the boutique, like that of Cartier at 13 rue de la Paix in Paris, the more units it can sell, which are sometimes pre-ordered several years in advance. These waiting lists keep the second-hand market buoyant. This is because specialist dealers get themselves on the waiting list just to make a significant profit at auction. As soon as the item is no longer available in shops, its value skyrockets and in record time collectors start hunting down their new watch, which is now a rare one.  

Collectors’ watches: the newest brand is also that of the stars

Currently, in France and beyond, the brand enjoying extraordinary success is Richard Mille. Created in 2001 by the founder of the same name, with the aim of achieving nothing less than perfection. Whatever the production costs. Which explains the astronomical selling prices. The brand’s watches are true masterpieces of precision and technology. Being 80% produced without subcontractor involvement, control of the manufacturing process is the key to their success. Tennis stars Nadal and Djokovic wear Richard Mille watches. F1 teams like McLaren are partners, so Alonso and Loeb wear them. Pharrell Williams, the male face of Vuitton, is among those lucky enough to own a RM. The brand does not sell its watches second hand in France, so you have to be extraordinarily lucky to take part in an auction to secure a historic piece.  

Chronograph auctions in Paris

There are several avenues to explore to find the piece you’re looking for.

The Drouot auction house

The Drouot auction house is home to around twenty auction rooms and publishes a gazette, the Drouot Gazette, which you can read online to find out whether collectors are offering what you are seeking. To be privy to the reserve price, you need to be a subscriber. When Drouot stages an auction on its own behalf, the auction house waits until it has a lot of several hundred pieces of jewellery and watches (vintage and high-end timepieces combined) before opening a date. If you don’t want to wait too long, look to the few auction houses and auctioneers specialising in watches who stage their auctions at Drouot:

  • Gros et Delettrez: chronograph auctions every six months.
  • Pestel-Debord: the auction house stages two watch sales a year (Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Rolex, etc.)
  • Crait + Müller: the partners specialise in jewellery watches (Cartier, Boucheron, Tiffany) but have previously valued and sold Jaeger-Lecoultre, Omega and Rolex pieces.

The Artcurial auction house

Twice a year, Artcurial brings together collectors and aficionados of vintage watches and high-end timepieces. Not in Paris, unfortunately, but at the Hôtel Hermitage in Monte Carlo. However, the auctions are livestreamed and you can watch them from the Paris auction room, which is perfectly capable of sending orders and bids through to the team in Monaco. Artcurial is a world leader in the appraisal of wristwatches.  

Having a watch appraised in Paris.

Most auction houses offer advice and a free valuation. If you’re visiting Paris, we recommend that you go with the ones we’ve mentioned, who have experience in this very special field. To keep abreast of the market, if you own a high-end watch, subscribe to the Drouot Gazette. A watch is not only a safe investment, but also one that, in France (for the moment) enjoys a number of advantageous tax mechanisms.

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