x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Modern Middle East demand for vintage time pieces

With a Christies auction putting 48 vintage pieces under the hammer at Emirates Towers hotel in Dubai next month, demand for timeless pieces in the region is at an all-time high.

Frederic Watrelot, Christie's watch specialist in Dubai, says Middle East demand for second-hand watches is getting stronger and stronger.. Photo Courtesy Christie's
Frederic Watrelot, Christie's watch specialist in Dubai, says Middle East demand for second-hand watches is getting stronger and stronger.. Photo Courtesy Christie's

It has been a good summer for David Duggan Watches in London's prestigious Burlington Arcade, and much of it is thanks to customers from the Middle East.

Since opening up his first shop for vintage timepieces on Bond Street in 1989, Mr Duggan says buyers from the Middle East, particularly the GCC, have become some of his most serious clients.

"There are very few common trends in the watch business, it is very unpredictable. But one thing is always certain; from July, August and September, we get a lot of Arabs coming to buy.

"Last year I think a lot stayed away because of the Olympics, they went to Paris. It was disastrous for us. Business way down maybe 40 to 50 per cent on previous years."

Mr Duggan, who managed the Bond Street shop for almost 20 years, says Patek Phillippe, the Swiss manufacturer, is one of the most popular brands with GCC customers.

"There are different tastes, Kuwaitis are quite conservative, they like the white gold or platinum low-key cases. Some others prefer the more bling pieces, I would count the UAE in this."

Next month the auctioneer Christie's plans to take advantage of the regional demand when it puts 48 vintage pieces under the hammer at a special event in the Emirates Towers hotel in Dubai.

With estimates ranging from US$1,000 (Dh3,700) up to $80,000 (Dh294,000), bidders are predicted to part with a minimum of $1 million. But if previous sales are anything to go by the auction will raise substantially more.

One of the most expensive pieces is a Vacheron Constantin 18k pink gold, tonneau-shaped wrist watch. Just 50mm long and approximately five years old, it is expected to fetch anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000.

According to the Swiss maker, which has manufacturing plants in Geneva and Vallee de Joux, its watches have kept time for Napoleon Bonaparte, the Duke of Windsor and former US president Harry Truman.

Tariq Malik, the owner of Momentum vintage watch shop in Dubai International Financial Centre, says demand for vintage watches in the region is at an all-time high.

"We have done a lot of education over the last two years to get people to understand vintage watches. There is no point owning a vintage watch in Dubai, or anywhere else, if you do not know anything about it.

"Now, people who have a lot of money, they want something rare. You can buy a watch for Dh200,000 and sit in Zuma [the Dubai restaurant] and see someone at the next table with the same watch. This is why people are finally understanding what is special about vintage."

Mr Malik, who has already reserved his space at the October 29 auction, sells watches with price tags from as little as Dh1,500 up to the hundreds of thousands.

His customer profile is broad, and mostly expatriates. "We have some very serious clients, people who have been buying watches from auctions all over the world for years. There is one person who has about 500 vintage watches. Generally, those who collect vintage watches are very understated people."

Like anything mechanical, vintage watches need regular servicing, usually every couple of years. Mr Malik advises against sending a vintage watch back to the manufacturer for this because there is a risk the old parts may be replaced with new ones.

"If the dial has faded, for example, a manufacturer might say replace it. But with a vintage watch this could affect the value immensely. It is better to take it to a watchmaker who can service it sympathetically."

In terms of storage, he says, the best place for a vintage timepiece is on the wrist. This helps with lubrication and winding. Failing that, they should be kept locked in a humidity controlled safe.

Automatic watches, especially ones with complex features such as a moon calendar, should be kept on a watch winder which turns the watch and mimics the movement of the wrist.

Joe Haj Ali, one of Dubai's most- serious collectors, has hundreds of watches and clocks to take care of. It started with roughly 20 pocket watches which came to him from his grandfather.

"That was substantial back then," he says. "Not many people had watches, they would go to the Town Hall to see what time it was.

"Over time the collection has become a substantial investment. The market is becoming huge. There are new buyers from Russia, India and China. These people have more disposable income, and now access."

The access to the watches comes predominantly from the internet, which, aside from allowing collectors to communicate with each other, enables people to take part in auctions without being in the sale room.

The Christie's auction next month will be combination of in-person, online and telephone bidders.

"I remember auctions where I would bid from Dubai and there would be a guy from Hong Kong or New York or Geneva. It has become an international platform.

"When I was buying 10 or 15 years ago, it was a different ball game. I would go to a dealer in London or somewhere and I would see a watch in a shop window. Now everyone goes online and compares prices with people, it has almost become a commodity."

There is a much stronger local interest in the Middle East which is, he says, a combination of the growing vintage watch scene such as Momentum, and also a buzz created worldwide about owning a potentially valuable vintage piece.

Mr Ali is waiting to see the sale catalogue for next month but says it is "very likely" he will bid.

Frederic Watrelot, Christie's watch specialist in Dubai, worked with the auction house's other international watch experts to select the lots to put up for auction.

All the sellers are based in the Middle East. "There has always been demand here but there was a bit of a slow down with the recent crisis.

"Now the second-hand and auction market is really getting stronger and stronger."

As well as the sale catalogue which details the history of the watch and includes a condition report, potential buyers can also see the lots in the days leading up to the sale.

Mr Watrelot, who used to work as a brand manager for a watch company before moving to Christie's in April last year, is also on hand to answer questions about the pieces.

"They can see what it comes with, the boxes, the straps and they can try on the watches if they like. At the auction, we have VIP clients who we know are interested in one model or another and we know these people will bid all the way to the end."

The sale will include a pink-strapped Rolex with the UAE's national emblem on the back. It was likely ordered for a special corporate event, says Mr Watrelot.

The most expensive wristwatch sold at a Christie's auction was a Patek Phillippe "unique and historically important 18k gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phases". To an unqualified eye, it may simply be a pretty classic, but to a collector it was worth 6,259,000 in Swiss Francs (Dh35.8million). Its estimate at a Geneva sale in 2010 was 1,500,00 to 2,500,00 Swiss Francs. It became the most expensive yellow gold watch, and the second most expensive wristwatch, sold at auction.

The Dubai sale is expected to raise about $1 million (Dh642,800). But if previous estimates are any indication, it is likely to raise substantially more.

Aurel Bacs, the international head of Christie's watch department, says it is wrong to dismiss UAE and Middle Eastern buyers when it comes to serious collecting.

He said: "The savviness coming from the UAE, or Oman, Bahrain, Qatar or Saudi Arabia ... the collectors are the top of their game. They may have different tastes by their knowledge is exactly at the level of any other market for high-end watches."


*This article has been changed from the original which incorrectly stated the auction was being held at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. We apologise for the misunderstanding.