Sotheby's Landmark Auction Proves What We Already Should Have Known

Possibly the first ever Perpetual Calendar ever made by Thomas Mudge in 1762

Possibly the first ever Perpetual Calendar ever made by Thomas Mudge in 1762

If you’ve read my posts in the past then you know that it is my belief that most of the prices that certain watches have been getting at auctions, etc., over the last few years are greatly inflated. No longer is there a rational relationship between price and the inherent quality of many watches. Instead, these elevated prices have become an example of herd mentality over independent thought. Where once there were true enthusiasts, now there are rich idiots with an unjustifiably elevated view of their own opinions who feel obliged to get into a pissing contest every time some shady example of a watch with a more-than-likely faked “rare" dial rears its head. Watches that fail utterly as examples of craft in any respect or that could possibly justify the cost. So, prices go up and the auction houses, the dealers and even some “expert” watch bloggers are the ones laughing all the way to the bank.

Well, this past week we have some proof (not that proof was lacking), thanks to a Sotheby’s Auction celebrating the English watch. It was actually split into four parts (the 4th will be held in July 2017), with well over 200 watches offered.

Apparently, it’s been a great success so far. As was published on the Sotheby’s site after the 3rd part, "The sale was the third installment of the landmark 'Celebration of the English Watch' series, featuring the most important collection of English watches in private hands, thus providing a snapshot of British history. Part III continued the success of the first two parts, which set a series of records for a number of antique watches and watchmakers.”

It went on to say that the combined sale of the third part brought nearly *$1.7 million.

Needless to say, to have achieved such great success, this was not a series of events that were overlooked. It was properly advertised and Sotheby’s made sure that all who needed to know about the auctions did.

Interestingly, though, the watches being offered were mostly all pocket watches, not wristwatches. This makes sense since the majority of really important and rare English watches were been made well before people started wearing wristwatches. And the reason why this is important is because if substance and true horological importance trumped what I described above, then we should see similar values for these pocket watches (which are nowhere near as fashionable or popular as wristwatches), as we do for wristwatches. Especially when compared to wristwatches that are less rare or less technically important offered by the same auction houses or their competition.

Can you guess how this all turned out?

Sadly, when compared to wristwatches, despite the “series of records” that were achieved, it was no contest. Similar wristwatch auctions by Sotheby’s and others literally trounced the pocket watches. Let's look at the data across the completed three parts of this landmark auction:

Very few watches surpassed their estimates. In fact, most either didn’t sell at all or fell within the estimate range. It should also be noted that the estimate range is given by so-called “experts”. What they’re saying with the estimate is not just what they expect the watch to sell at, but they’re also assigning a legitimate value. Its a guide and if bidders want to go over, so be it. But that didn’t happen here. The experts were mostly right.

Having said that, this isn’t to say there weren’t some exceptions. There were a handful of watches that one could say even shattered their estimate. If nothing else, it’s proof that there was enthusiasm *if* the watch called for it.

But I think the biggest news of this whole event is a watch that was bought by Patek Philippe. It may surprise some, but Patek Philippe as a company always participates in the most important auctions and buys as many important watches as they can (for their museum).

The movement inside the possible 'first ever Perpetual Calendar' watch by Thomas Mudge

The movement inside the possible 'first ever Perpetual Calendar' watch by Thomas Mudge

The watch in questions is from lot 28 of the second installment. The watch is a Thomas Mudge Perpetual Calendar Pocket Watch, from 1762. It was advertised as quite possibly the very first Perpetual Calendar Watch ever made!


Well, not too long ago the first Perpetual Calendar Chronograph made in 1941 by Patek Philippe (not-so-coincidentally), sold at auction for $11 million. So, what did the first ever Perpetual Calendar Watch get? A watch that was made nearly 200 years earlier?

Only *$78,500, which was only *$3,000 over its estimate.

That is to say, the experts valued the first ever perpetual calendar watch at a maximum of *$75k, the watch achieved its estimated value (more or less), and it was nowhere near $11 million. In fact, this watch, as important as it is received a lot less than a lot of far simpler wristwatches. Watches by Rolex, Heuer, Omega, etc., have received a lot more at auction than this watch did, and again, as it bears repeating, none of those were the very first Perpetual Calendar watch. Heck, Rolex has never made such a movement, let alone have an “important” or “rare” one... but, imagine if they did!

There are obvious differences (it's not a wrist watch or made by Patek Philippe, etc.), but none of the reasons why it didn’t reach a higher value have to do with substance or technological merit. Even when compared to other pocket watches in the same auction, it was nowhere near the top earner. Indeed, of one the watches that set a record was a very rare gold, enamel, split-pearl and diamond watch by William Anthony that fetched *$267,000. But, it was not the first ever perpetual calendar watch, and yet the “experts” estimated it was worth more as they set it's estimated value at *$188,000-$250,000. What about the William Anthony could have warranted a much higher estimate than the first ever Perpetual Calendar? It was probably just prettier to look at.

So, the point is we need to be wary of what we read and what we’re told about value. Heed my words above, beware the publications who have a vested interest to perpetuate myths and flat out lies about whats good or not. Instead, be like Patek Philippe, and use some logic and critical thinking. If you do, then you too may be able to land a far more interesting watch at a *relative* bargain.

*I've converted all prices from the auction to US Dollars and I round up or down depending on what seemed most appropriate