Selling — or buying — a watch through a major auction house is widely seen as a quick and convenient process that also offers the relative security of dealing with a well-established, international name.
Yet such benefits come at a cost. Ten percent of the sale price usually goes directly to the auction house. And the buyer’s premium, also paid to the auctioneer, can be as much as 30 percent of the hammer price. For example, at Antiquorum’s sale in November in Geneva, a Rolex Cosmograph sold for 290,000 Swiss francs ($327,675) but the addition of the buyer’s premium and taxes pushed the final cost to 362,500 Swiss francs.
Now a British auction start-up called WatchCollecting.com, scheduled to go live in March, plans to offer an alternative.
In most cases, a seller will keep a watch during its timed online auction and then be responsible for shipping it to the new owner. So the site intends to charge sellers a minimum fee of 500 pounds ($685), plus tax, and to charge buyers a flat 5 percent of the hammer price.
The cost of buying a watch, for example, for £5,000 would be around half the amount charged by the major auction houses — and WatchCollecting should remain a less expensive option right down to timepieces selling for as little as £2,000.
“The model is stripped back in order to give the best possible value to the seller, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer extra, paid-for services,” said Adrian Hailwood, a British horological auction specialist who has worked on the site with Edward Lovett, its founder. “In the case of an exceptional piece, for example, we would be happy to evaluate the watch in the metal, or we could arrange for professional photography if the vendor’s own images are not good enough.”
The site follows Mr. Lovett’s initial online auction, a similar venture for classic automobiles called CollectingCars.com, which he said has had sales of more than £48 million since its introduction in 2019.
Mr. Hailwood said the men had worked out a secure process. “We will use tools such as Experian for credit checking and Mitek to ensure the true identity of buyers and sellers,” he said, referring to an identity verification company based in San Diego. “Essentially, it creates a ‘facial fingerprint’ that will prevent people setting up a false account using documents such as a stolen passport or driving license.”
Vendors will be asked to provide watch photographs, along with “comprehensive documentation to prove ownership and authenticity, such as previous auction house listings and sales and service receipts,” he said. “After that, we will make contact and begin a conversation about selling — so it won’t simply be a robotic, online exercise.”
Mr. Hailwood, who managed Breguet’s London boutique for more than six years before heading the watch departments at Fellows Auctioneers and Woolley & Wallis, two British auction businesses, said all watches offered for sale also would be checked against the Art Loss Register’s Watch Register database to ensure they are not stolen.
“Once a watch goes live on the website, everything will be very transparent,” Mr. Hailwood said. “I am keen to include a dialogue box which will enable discussion about each lot ahead of a sale,” particularly because, he said, comments could help describe a watch’s features or point out ones that shouldn’t be there at all — “in which case,” he added, “it will immediately be removed from sale.”
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