Watch auctions are as exciting as they are nerve-wracking. They are the place where some of the most important watches get sold, fiercely contested between motivated collectors. Be it a last-minute telephone bidder or emotion taking over when confronted with the prospect of losing a unique piece forever, it is often best to expect the unexpected.
One thing which is certain, however, is that any important collector has an auction regret. Not a watch they regret buying, but one where they regret not going all the way. With this in mind, we asked John Goldberger, Gary Getz, Alfredo Paramico and Mark Cho about the one watch which they regret letting slip through their fingers at auctions...
John Goldberger should be familiar to many of our readers, either for his highly celebrated books on Patek Philippe, Rolex and Longines, or for his now notorious feature on Talking Watches, opening a million-dollar Rolex with a cheese knife. Whichever your introduction to Goldberger may be, you’ll know of him as a tasteful collector of important vintage pieces, which begs the question: which one got away?
Sotheby's - New York - June 2012
"I attended the Sotheby’s auction in New York for the sale of the entire Mr Reginald Fullerton’s watch collection. He was the grandson of Henry Graves Jr., the greatest watch collector of the 20th century, if not of all time. An auction with over 50 pieces for sale to the public, thirteen of which belonged to Mr Graves himself. I was very attracted by a unique oversized platinum rectangular Patek Philippe especially made for Mr Graves Jr. in 1947.
It was a relatively large watch and would make for a very wearable and great trophy for any serious collector. I made few bids, but I was not that convinced about the platinum French case because it was not manufactured by Patek Philippe. The watch went for a reasonable price to a collector in the South Far East.
It was the biggest regret during my life as a collector because it was my only and last chance to own a unique and beautiful timepiece owned by the biggest watch collector of all times."
Details of the unique platinum Patek Philippe.
Gary Getz can best be described as a collector of all things independent, unusual and classic. From a Dufour Simplicity to a unique chronograph from Kari Voutilainen, it would be an understatement to call his collection impressive. What stands out to anyone who knows Getz, or indeed has met him, is his fascination with detail and history. Knowing that, his choice should come as no surprise.
Sotheby's - Hong Kong - April 2012
"The piece that I am still kicking myself about is the No. 1 Sonnerie pocket watch that Philippe Dufour made for Audemars Piguet, circa 1982 – one of five examples and the watch that got Dufour started in his own independent atelier. This watch is also the subject of a hilarious story, told by Dufour himself, about the watch having been returned to him by AP following its first excursion to a show in banged-up condition, requiring substantial (and, happily, completely successful) repairs.
This piece was auctioned by Sotheby’s on April 3, 2012 – a date on which I was flying from Frankfurt to Seoul on business at the hour the lot was to come up.
In keeping with my normal practice, I thought long and hard about a price that I’d be delighted to win with for my absentee bid; and since I really, really wanted the watch I added two bid increments, placed my bid, and then got on my plane.
When I landed, I saw that I’d lost – by a single bid. Of course, there’s no guarantee that if I’d placed a higher bid the eventual winner wouldn’t have kept going as well, but every time I look at the empty spot on my desk where that watch would be sitting, chiming away the hours and quarters with the voice of angels, I grit my teeth…"
A Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie wristwatch from the same sale.
Until recently, Alfredo Paramico was the owner of one of the most important watches in the world: one of the four Patek Philippe 1518s in steel. When he decided to part with his example, it became the most expensive watch ever sold at the time, selling for CHF 11,000,000 at Phillips in 2016. That should give you an idea of the grade of pieces that the Italian collector is chasing after. For a man who’s owned many of the most important models out there, which one slipped from his fingers?
Christie's - Geneva - May 2008
I didn't buy the steel 1526 after a fierce battle with Mr Philippe Stern. It was one of the most intense and in some ways funniest auction moments ever... We both left the room a few times before entering again and overbidding the other!
At the end, he prevailed, and we shared a very warm hug and handshake. Thank God during the afternoon section I managed to buy the platinum 2497. But the steel 1526 is probably the most regretted watch of my life..."
Details of the ref. 1526 in steel.
Mark Cho is a notable clothier and watch collector. Best known as the founder of The Armoury and Drakes, he’s a gentleman with impeccable sartorial taste, attracted to all things vintage, independent and special. From a platinum Royal Oak to a custom-made Resonance from Journe, Cho usually collects watches which offer slightly more than initially meets the eye. His choice is an extension of that taste.
Sotheby's - Hong Kong - April 2018
"The piece I regret passing on at auction is an F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain Platinum with mother of pearl dial. There was one at Sotheby's a few years ago that I should have bid on but decided to restrain myself because of the size.
I owned then sold a plain Souverain 38mm in platinum around five years ago and I continue to regret it. I didn't wear it too often and I felt it was a little big for me. In retrospect, I could probably live with the size as the piece was beautiful.
I've always wanted to replace that platinum 38mm with something similar, but with a little twist. I came across the FPJ Souverain Nacre (mother of pearl) a few years ago and at first found them quite odd, in an overly flashy sort of way.
Having seen a few examples over the years, I came to realize the mother of pearl could vary quite widely from an iridescent white to an eye-catching blue, thus you have to see it in person to really get a sense for what you might be buying. This particular example at Sotheby's was quite perfect."
We'd like to thank John Goldberger, Gary Getz, Alfredo Paramico and Mark Cho for taking the time to share their auction regrets. We know they're often painful memories to relive, so we appreciate it even more. That being said, perhaps it will act as a cautionary tale next time you're wondering whether to go that one extra bid...