Soaring watch sales at The Saleroom | WatchPro


It is no secret that the secondary market has seen exponential growth in recent years. At the heart of that is the auction market, in which The Saleroom plays a big part for watch lovers across the UK and in Europe. WatchPro gets the latest from COO, Richard Lewis.

WatchPro: For those that are not familiar with what you do, can you please describe what service you provide?

Richard Lewis: The Saleroom is an online marketplace for art, antiques and collectibles that lists the auctions of over 500 auction houses in the UK and Europe – including Bonhams, Fellows, Watches of Knightsbridge, and Dreweatts 1759.

Over 70,000 watches are listed each year, from mechanical wristwatches to pocket watches and fob watches. In essence, we make it easy for collectors to find what they’re looking for in one place, and bid online for items in real time, from the comfort of their home.

WP: What did you notice about the interest levels in online auctions during lock downs?

RL: Even before the pandemic, online auctions were seeing steady growth – driven both by increasing bidder numbers and by auction houses putting more sales online.

During the various lock downs of the past two years, many auctions enjoyed record levels of online interest and bidding while bidders were forced to stay at home.

We’re seeing no sign of that interest in online auctions waning as we emerge from the pandemic. In 2021, total hammer value (i.e. the total sale value of all lots listed, excluding fees) increased by 29% on The Saleroom and its sister sites Lot-tissimo and Proxibid.

Online bidding is a trend that’s here to stay.

WP: Within the watch industry have you got specific data on trends that you’ve been noticing? This can be on specific models or on genres, e.g. type/colour/age.

RL: In general, online supply and demand for watches at auction has been particularly strong in the past two years.

We believe this is partly because watches are relatively portable and easy to package and deliver, making them well suited to online, but also because collectible items such as watches are often seen as safe havens during periods of economic volatility.

More specifically, we’ve seen a pronounced and consistent spike in demand for certain brands of collectible watches in recent years.

The growth in demand for one brand in particular has stood out: Seiko. 10 years ago the brand didn’t even rank among the top 1000 most popular search terms on our site.

But, in the last couple of years it has ranked within the top 100 (bear in mind we list over 4 million auction items each year – of which watches is just one category).

This increased demand means that whereas 10 years ago you might have found a Seiko included in a job lot of wristwatches at auction, today auction houses separate Seiko items into individual lots.

What really kicked things off for Seiko collectors was the issue of two limited edition anniversary diver’s watches in 2017 and 2018, creating greater awareness of vintage Seiko diver’s watches and the Seiko brand more generally.

The watches sold out quickly and today those new issues are traded for much more than Seiko sold them for at the time.

For example, a Seiko diver’s watch from the 1960s achieved £5,500 when it was sold by Bonhams in June 2021 – the joint highest sale price for a Seiko listed on The Saleroom – a Grand Seiko sold at Dreweatts 1759 last year achieved the same hammer.

Another brand that has seen a surge is Cartier – searches for ‘Cartier watch’ almost doubled in the past two years, driven by several factors including several buyers looking for something other than a Rolex or Omega.

In 2019, a host of 100-year anniversary editions of the Cartier Tank were released, creating new interest in was already the world’s most recognisable dress watch.

Recent examples include a Cartier Pebble Turtle sold at Bonhams in June 2021 for £180,000 – the highest price for a Cartier watch listed on The Saleroom since 2014.

But plenty of more affordable Cartier watches come up at auction, too, such as this Cartier Santos quartz watch, which sold last year for £880 at a Christmas auction held by Fieldings of Stourbridge.

WP: How do you give buyers assurance that the watch they buy is genuine?

RL: All items listed for sale on The Saleroom are catalogued by the auction house selling them, who will supply photos and accurate descriptions with the item listing. Many auction houses employ specialist valuers for categories such as watches.

We always advise that buyers request a detailed condition report from the auctioneer before they bid (this is easy to do on the item/lot page), to make sure they are satisfied as to the condition and authenticity of an item.

Ultimately, if a mistake is made and an item turns out not to be genuine but was catalogued as such then the buyer can return it.

Read the full article in WatchPro magazine.

Image: A Grand Seiko Spring Drive limited edition stainless steel bracelet watch sold by Dreweatts 1759 in November 2021 for £5500