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The Alton "Brown" Rolex, Met Gala Watch Spotting, and the Future of Buying Watches Online
In which Ed Sheeran wears a 1518 and a Nautilus in one night
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This F.P. Journe Resonance just sold for $400k in an online auction. What does it mean?
When the pandemic hit, many traditional auction houses worked to quickly shift sales online, even moving away from big in-person sales to host weekly online auctions.
It worked, too. While overall watch auction sales were down in 2020, online sales nearly quadrupled, from $18m to $65m, according to The Mercury Project. In addition to more sales, these auction houses — and their bidders — also got used to bigger, crazier watches being sold online. In November 2020, Phillips posted a world-record online auction sale, selling a Patek Philippe World Timer for $5.5m, with the winning bid coming from online. While not an auction, online retailer A Collected Man recently sold a Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie for north of $7m.
Online sales also attracted a new generation of bidders. Sotheby’s reported that 25 percent of bidders in its online sales were first-timer bidders; meanwhile, Christie’s has reported that 32 percent of new online-only sale buyers were millennials.
Watches, in other words, were finally catching up with the (online) times.
In addition to traditional auction houses, a new crop of online-native platforms popped up to sell watches online. Leading the pack is Loupe This, led by founders Eric Ku and Justin Gruenberg. Both Ku and Gruenberg are respected veterans of the watch industry, Ku as a dealer, Gruenberg as a retailer and founder of The Keystone.
The economics of Loupe This are simple: $500 to list (this covers shipping and photography of the watch), plus a 10% buyer’s premium. Traditional auction houses charge a 25% premium.
Well, this week Loupe This caught my eye because they sold their biggest watch yet: a platinum F.P. Journe Resonance with an early ruthenium dial.
This particular example is from a limited edition of 99 pieces produced in the early 2000s, with a ruthenium dial and ruthenium coated brass movement.
The early Journe Resonance ended up hammering for $352k, or a total sale price of $387,200 after Loupe This’s 10 percent buyer’s premium.
Of course, the Resonance is perhaps the most recognizable of Journe’s achievements, featuring a movement with two balance wheels assembled so closely together that they synchronize due to their frequencies aligning. These early Journe timepieces were pivotal to financing the brand’s future success.
Christie’s sold an example with box and papers for CHF 212.5k in July 2020. (Step in the way-back machine with me and take a look at this example that sold for $68k back in 2010). Loupe This’s example was sold without box and papers, but that didn’t hold it back from achieving a stronger result than that from Christie’s.
So back to the question posed in the title of this article: What does it mean? Take a look at Loupe This’s Resonance listing and you’ll notice a few things: a lot of high-quality images that don’t feel touched up; detailed descriptions; even a comment or two. All ideas that might feel totally foreign to a traditional auction house but just make sense online. In fact, take a look at that listing, compared to, say, the listing from Christie’s example from last year (19 images versus 3), and you might start to think that Loupe This didn’t achieve such a strong result in spite of being an online seller, but because it is an online seller.
“Our platform gives detailed information and a multitude of high-quality images, allowing buyers to bid confidently, even on high ticket items like this F.P. Journe Resonance,” Loupe This told me as the auction was closing.
As one of those “Millenials” and “first-time auction bidders” mentioned earlier (I bought my first watch via auction — online, of course — last year), online platforms like Loupe This just feel natural. Buying a watch online via a traditional auction house can still felt a bit antiquated — some of the processes at some auction houses are retrofitted to accommodate online buyers — but this isn’t the case with sites like Loupe This. It’s dangerously easy: input credit or banking info and that’s about it. Buying a $400k F.P. Journe has about as much friction as buying toilet paper on Amazon.
It’s exciting to see new platforms that are using the internet to find a new way of doing things. An F.P. Journe selling for $400k on one of them is just one sign of what’s to come.
Watch Spotting: Celebrities who wore their own watches to the Met Gala
Ah, the Met Gala. Your invite got lost too? There’s a ton of coverage on it every year, though I’m still not entirely sure what it is. Beautiful people get dressed up to walk down a carpet, walking to something.
Of course, the watches were covered too. But mostly, they don’t feel like watches, but full-on marketing campaigns. Yes, I think it’s objectively cool that Dan Levy wore a Cartier Crash, but after seeing it on Cartier’s and Dan’s Instagram, and a dozen other watch-spotting IG reposts, I don’t think I need to tell you about it again.
No, you come to Rescapement for that collector's perspective. And some of the celebrities weren’t wearing watches that were on loan or because they secured a big bag to do so. They were just wearing trusty timepieces from their own collection. Let’s take a look.
Justin Bieber — Rolex Daytona
We’ve seen the Biebs wearing his yellow gold Rolex Daytona dozens of times, and honestly, it’s the perfect one watch for him.
Ed Sheeran — Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar (and Nautilus)
Ed didn’t seem to be at the Met Gala, but he showed out at the VMAs the night before, so let’s take a look at perhaps the world’s second-most-famous collector. On the red carpet, he had some sort of vintage Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar. Various internet sources seem to think they’ve spotted him with a ref. 2499 or a ref. 1518 before, but I’ll trust my guy Nick Gould who’s previously gotten a clear shot of Ed wearing his ref. 1518 via Ed’s Instagram. If you zoom in close on this photo, it looks like it might be the same watch (the square pushers can give it away as a ref. 1518, but it’s hard to tell).
Then, Ed took to the stage with another Patek. Take a look at his performances on YouTube and you’ll get a couple clear shots of his Nautilus. Green dial? Two Pateks in one evening? You win, Ed.
For the rest of the watch spotting (including a fake $400k Nautilus), check out the full article:
Speaking of celebrities
🔨The Alton “Brown” Rolex
Our friend Ken Jacobs over at LA’s Wanna Buy A Watch? featured a funky tropical Rolex recently sold to eccentric chef and watch collector Alton Brown in his latest newsletter post. A 1980s ref. 16800 that can be generously referred to as “tropical.” For WBAW though, it’s henceforth the Alton “Brown” dial:
“Alton has long been a fan of Rolex sport models that look like they have sat out in the elements for decades, like an abandoned pick-up truck in a farmer's field or that look like they were un unearthed in an archeological dig. Well, we found the perfect watch for Alton, a 1980's era Submariner with a tropical, distressed dial that has turned a mottled brown color. We have aptly named this model The Alton "Brown," and we hope to institutionalize this name on all such future watches in honor of our dear friend and his passion for these uniquely discolored and aged sport Rolex dials.”
Recall Alton’s Talking Watches and you’ll remember he likes his watches a little hammered. We’re all for watches with a little character, and It’s much more fun to see what a guy like Alton buys with his own cash than something a stylist might suggest to a celeb for a gala.
Through the Wire
The digital death of collecting. The New Yorker's Kyle Chayka is one of my favorite essayists, and his latest essay, "The digital death of collecting", should resonate with all watch collectors. Dozens of quotes I could pull, but here's a favorite:
“The more automated a feed is, the less we users feel the need to gather a collection, to preserve what’s important to us. If we can always rely on Instagram’s Discover page or to show us something that we’re interested in, then we have less impetus to decide for ourselves what to look for, follow, and save. The responsibility of collecting has been removed, but that means we offload it to the black box of the automatic recommendation system. Over the past two decades, the collecting of culture — like maintaining a personal library — has moved from being a necessity to a seemingly indulgent luxury….
Even with all its excesses of content, our era of algorithmic feeds might herald the actual death of the collector, because the algorithm itself is the collector, curator, and arbiter of culture. Not only does that represent a loss of agency and control, it’s also a loss of feeling.”
🎲 Wheel of fortune. I love this Cartier roulette wheel watch sold at Sotheby’s watches this week. There’s an arrow above the crown that points to the roulette wheel, which connects to the case via ball bearings. Sold for £12.6k (est. 3-5k).
❣ As always, thanks for reading. If you liked this ‘sletter, please tap that heart at the top to show it some love or share it with a friend. Rescapement is a weekly newsletter about watches. Subscribe to get it delivered to your inbox every Sunday: