June 5, 2013
by Adi Soon
The trend of buying vintage watches has exploded in recent years with record prices realized for many vintage watches. Yet buying and collecting vintage watches can be intimidating to novices. Rolex especially, has performed very well, and really it’s quite easy to hazard a guess as to why this has been the case.
As more people start to appreciate the mechanical watch (again), every avenue to indulge in horological passions are explored for profit and pleasure. The vintage watch easily makes a case for itself as a worthwhile pursuit all on its own, given the history that is involved, and how so many vintage watches are the ancestors of modern watches we know and love today. Not to mention (and perhaps even less and less and interest grows) that vintage watches are for the most part much less expensive that new ones.
Compared to buying brand new, there is also the advantage of many times getting a good deal on an equivalent piece that is older. Not taking into account of course, specialty or rare pieces that can be valued at ludicrous prices.
I first got to know about Watches of Knightsbridge at the 2012 Salon QP in London where they were showing some of the vintage watches on offer for the coming auction. While London is an important global city, compared to many places in Asia, there are comparatively fewer outlets to see and buy luxury watches in the UK. This is why I was surprised to find this new auction house offering quite a diverse range of vintage watches that encompass all price ranges from low to high, and all types of pieces that in the words of director and founder Tobey Sutton, “have at least some horological significance.” We’ve actually seen a surge of newer watch auction houses in the UK such as Knightsbridge of London and Fellows, that in addition to higher-end pieces, also aim to service a more entry-level vintage watch buyer.
This explains why you can find things like a £60 Seiko within the catalogue which as Tobey admitted was not something you’d normally find in an auction catalogue. As he explains. “Seiko is a respected brand for mechanical watches and that means we include Seikos in the auction, also we don’t want to limit our offerings to purely high-priced items, we want our catalogue to reflect what a watch-lover would like, whether expensive or not.”
Leaving the City as a financial trader after five years, Tobey wanted to indulge in his passion for watches in a way that he understood. His father had a background as an antiques dealer in the famous Portobello road in London, and had a wide range of contacts from which he could source his stock.
As he told me, “The trend in more recent times for antiques dealing is for specialist versus generalist retailers. It is easier for customers to trust that the auction house knows what they’re doing if they only do one thing.”
Taking his father’s knowledge in antiques dealing and together with his love for mechanical watches, Tobey started the auction house in 2010 with the aim of providing an avenue for collectors to buy and sell their vintage watches. Located quite aptly as the company name implies, in Knightsbridge, this is a place to check out if you happen to be in London during the regularly scheduled auctions every three months or so. Even if you cannot make it there physically, it is possible to check out the auction lots on the website and bid via the internet or by phone.
Having already run seven auctions as of the date of my interview with Tobey, many interesting pieces have passed through his hands. Some of the highlights of past auctions are:
1. October 2011 auction – 1967 “pre-moon” Omega Speedmaster Professional with “chocolate” dial – discoloured over the years to form a unique brown colour (re-editioned by Omega recently as a tribute to their mistake!!) – sold for £7,080
2. November 2012 auction – c.1970 British Royal Navy Submarine Lemania chronograph – white dial and lacks luminous markers due to use in the submarines – £2,800
3. March 2012 auction – c.1954 rarest of rare (holy grail) Rolex Submariner one of the first ever references (6200) it lacks crown guards (called non-shoulder), has a larger crown than later models, and the 9,3,6 explorer type dial – sold for £51,000
4. November 2012 auction – c.1940 rare British military HS-8 Rolex wristwatch – sold for £3,250
5. March 2013 auction – WW2 Luftwaffe German military A.Lange & Sohne pilots watch with government issue papers – sold for £4,400
Aside from these pieces, watch the video interview I had with Tobey to see more vintage watches that were sold recently as well as tips for how to buy and sell watches with Watches of Knightsbridge.
I personally think that this is an auction house that you should keep tabs on for interesting pieces in the future. Given their more watch-lover/collector centric model of curation, I believe that it will be very easy to find something to satisfy you at any budget.
Check out their website for more information about buying or selling, or to view their upcoming auction catalogues. watchesofknightsbridge.com