Watch auctions can be just as exciting as they can be disappointing. Indeed, despite being emotionally invested in the pursuit of a specific lot and perhaps even bidding more than initially planned, you can always miss out. The words “I will sell it”, combined with a hammer dangling mid-air, are some of the most nerve wracking for a collector to wrestle with. There’s always that one that got away.
A taste of the watches the slipped through the fingers of our collectors.
In fact, it occurred to us that this has happened to so many, that we should do a second Buyers’ Remorse, asking a few more collectors about the watches that keep them up at night. As such, we spoke to Eric Ku, Roni Madhvani, Alessandro (otherwise known as @mr.a) and the collector known only as @doobooloo. Going once, going twice…
You may know Eric Ku as one of the world’s foremost vintage Rolex dealers, having handled some of the most significant pieces in his time. However, those that know him are aware that Ku’s taste and collecting expand far beyond the world of Rolex, from independents such as Vianney Halter, to vintage Cartier. Having made a living out of buying and selling rare watches for the last few decades, we felt compelled to know which one piece he particularly regrets having let slip through his fingers.
“My biggest auction regret was not bidding on the Philippe Dufour Duality No.00 at Christies Geneva in November, 2007. It involved a longer than expected leisurely lunch at Entrecote, and a run across the bridge only to get back a few minutes after the watch had already hammered.
That season I had arranged to meet a collector during the auction week to purchase a very nice 6265 Oyster Paul Newman, make no mistake, that was the primary reason I went to Geneva on that occasion. The collector’s trip got delayed and he only arrived Monday morning, and suggested we meet over lunch at Entrecote.
The complex and desirable movement of Philippe Dufour's Duality No. 00.
I ended up buying the Newman, but lost track of time and ran back to the Four Seasons only to realize that I had missed the Duality by three lots. I’m not sure I would have emerged victorious had I been in the room, but I definitely would have been competitive. We have of course seen the Duality achieve a near seven figure result since, and I’m not so sure I will ever have the chance to buy a Duality again.”
It would not be an overstatement to say that Madhvani is recognised as the man for unusual and elaborate case designs. Indeed, he acquires watches that he believes are works of art. He has little concern for what trends are happening around him or how tastes are evolving. He is a rarer breed among collectors; one who truly acquires pieces according to his own, distinctive taste. He may own some of the nicest examples of these rare, sculpture-like timepieces, but what could have left an unusually-shaped hole in his collection?
A Vacheron Constantin ref. 4983 with a Mulesine, two-tailed mermaid, that was up for auction at Bonhams Hong Kong in 2008.
“There was a Vacheron with this cloisonné enamel dial, it was offered to me a long, long time ago by a French dealer in Hong Kong. I couldn’t get it at time for various reasons, partly because I couldn’t make my mind up and it was also a lot of money for me back then.
The dial was of this medieval, mythological figure, a mermaid with two-tails, like the Starbucks logo. He offered it to me again about 2 months later and said “if you’re not going to take it, I’m going to put it to auction.” And of course once it got there, it went for lots and lots of money.
There’s another version it in a different colour that I think Vacheron own, but I don’t think that’s going to come up for sale in my lifetime. A cloisonné of something so particular, there’s not going to be many of them around.”
F. P. Journe, Roger Dubuis and Kari Voutilainen. Having any single one of these names in a collection might be enough. However, Doobooloo has collected timepieces from all of them and then some, known on social media for his independent tastes and stunning photography. However, what watch does he still dream about owning?
The Jean Daniel Nicolas Two-Minute Tourbillon in platinum that sold at Phillips Geneva Watch Auction Eight in 2018 for CHF 110,000.
“My first in-person encounter with a Jean-Daniel Nicolas two-minute tourbillon was at the exhibit “Watchmakers: The Masters of Art Horology” on tour at the Phillips gallery in New York in April, 2018. I had always greatly admired Daniel Roth’s work — in particular his violin shaped version of his two-minute tourbillon — and it was a treat to be able to finally examine one of his masterpieces in person, a round example in rose gold. Yet, being fixated on the sculptural forms of watches at the time, my desire for the voluptuous violin case only grew deeper.
Fast forward a few months, Phillips had a round specimen in platinum offered in their November Geneva sale. I hopped-over to the Phillips gallery during the tour in New York, and was immediately surprised, although the case material was the only significant difference, the bright lustre of platinum had greatly lifted the overall presence on my wrist and I was convinced, perhaps I could make the compromise on the case shape.
The fine craftsmanship on display through the case back of the Jean Daniel Nicolas Two Minute Tourbillon.
Due to the time-zone difference, combined with my work schedule, I was unable to attend the auction live online. The night before, I submitted my absentee bid. Having too much time for rational thinking and less room for emotional fighting, I couldn’t completely shake off the notion of compromise and my bid reflected it. The next day, I was struck with mixed emotions when I saw I was the underbidder but initially, no feeling of great loss at the time. It was meant to be, and I’ll find my violin in due time.
Only with the passage of time had I come to understand what a great loss that had been. My philosophy in watch collecting had continued to evolve since then, and today I am able to appreciate the aspects that made the round piece just as special as the rectangular piece. That said, in 2018 I had the great fortune to hold in my hand, not just one but two different JDN pieces and that makes it a standout year for a collector by any measure!”
Alessandro, or @mr.a as he is known online, is one of the younger collectors that you’ll come across in this community. However, that does not mean his collection, nor his tastes, are not mature. His passion for all things vintage and unusual makes him an interesting source to discover some of the most intriguing horological creations of the past century. Frequently seen at auction previews and an aficionado of uncovering treasures in old, dusty catalogues, we were certain Alessandro would have an interesting answer.
A Universal Geneve Polerouter with a unique polychrome enamel dial depicting St. Paul, the patron saint of Malta. It sold at Phillips Geneva Watch Auction Four in 2016 for CHF 32,500.
“I try to live my life with few regrets, especially when it comes to material objects and replaceable goods. If something wasn’t supposed to be, well, so be it. As a young collector entering the world of watch collecting in a post-IG/ hyper-inflated / crazy moment, I am also faced with the realisation that my passion, understanding and desire for an object only goes so far when it comes time to lifting that paddle.
An object that I really do regret not going all out on was the unique enamel Polerouter. It was my second ever auction and I was ultimately the underbidder on the watch.
The engraved case back showing it was gifted from a Maltese nobleman to the Archbishop of Westminster at the time, Cardinal William Godfrey.
Here are the mistakes/lessons I learnt on the occasion that hopefully you can avoid making. Firstly, setting a price limit. Though it is usually the disciplined thing to do, sometimes you have to let loose in life and not overthink but follow your heart and instinct. I had a limited budget at the time, but looking back I should have made an extra effort because who knows when I’ll get another chance? (If you own the watch: please contact me)
Next, knowing what you are buying, only when I look back, do I really understand how important that watch was for my collection. Finally, shaping the collector you are: what defines you as a collector? What do you strive to own? What excites you? If a watch ticks all the boxes, there is probably a reason, so you should listen to yourself and dig deeper into those feelings. Ultimately, I am constantly tweaking my preferences and I am attracted to new stuff that I had often overlooked, but the leading thread of my taste stays loyal to my parameters. Looking back all I can say is that watches come and go and sometimes you’ve got to be ready to make that fully conscious jump, because life is too short to regret not buying a ticking time machine.”