Leaders / Watches

Interview: Christie’s VP, Head of Watches Alexandre Bigler

Christie’s Asia Pacific Vice President and Head of Watches Alexandre Bigler gives us a hint of what to expect in the auction scene.

Dec 29, 2021 | By Ruckdee Chotjinda
Alexandre Bigler, Christie's Head of Watches
Image: Christie’s

We met Alexandre Bigler back when he was based in Thailand. Today, the soft spoken gentleman serves as the Vice President and Head of Watches, Christie’s Asia Pacific. We got in touch with him in August for some insights into how the watch auctions are faring, and to see if we are missing out on any trends.

Christie’s is a privately held auction house with a history dating back to its founding in 1766. It is owned today by Francois-Henri Pinault’s Groupe Artemis; Pinault is the chairman and CEO of Kering, the luxury conglomerate that owns Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin.

How many people work there at the Hong Kong office of Christie’s? And what is a normal work day like for the Head of Watches?

We have around 200 staff in our Hong Kong office, and six of them, including myself, are in the Watches team here. As the headquarters for the Asia Pacific region, we also have watch specialists stationed in Japan and Shanghai to engage with collectors. As Head of Watches, I have a very long task list every day, from answering clients’ enquiries, approaching consignors for next auctions, meeting either physically or virtually with my team and our global watches teams for auction updates and industry news, aligning sale strategies and promotions with marketing teams, to prepare sale catalogues etc

How do you source watches for the auctions? Or do the watches generally come to you in the first place anyway?

Leveraging Christie’s global networks of salerooms and offices, we source watches basically everywhere and anytime. For significant collections possessed by a private single owner, the pitching process or negotiation often takes much more time as we want our clients to have the best strategies tailor-made for their collections. We also source watches from trades, and surely we also have clients or new inquiries coming in to sell with us.

For pieces without exact past price references, how do you determine the appropriate estimate range?

Despite the fact that this scenario quite rarely happens, I will first look at the timepiece’s quantity, the condition, the brand, model/references, provenance, certificates and aesthetic to benchmark against similar timepieces produced in roughly the same year to get an idea of its possible estimate.

Are bidders getting any younger in the auction scenes like in retail?

An influx of new collectors and young buyers has emerged, and even more so after the pandemic. From what we have witnessed in the first half of the year, 40 per cent of watch clients are under the age of 40. Watches, as one of our luxury categories at Christie’s, are often a threshold for watch collectors to the auction world. Collectors, be they young or seasoned, can often find their dream watches at our sales that offer a wide array of timepieces spanning different eras, styles and price points (from US$1,000 up to US$9 million and more).

Globalisation and digitalisation also helped push young buyers to auctions. These young buyers are very tech-savvy, scrolling social media like Instagram and WeChat, etc, to learn the latest collecting trends. They are also very used to buying online in the primary market so, when they come to auction, they often bid strongly on online sales without even seeing the actual timepieces in advance.

What is the ratio of vintage and modern watches in your auctions these days?

Piguet et Meylan clock, Christie's
Piguet et Meylan clock in an enamelled, golden music box circa 1815, estimated in the range of HK$400,000 – 1,200,000 and sold for HK$1,250,000. Image: Christie’s

I would say vintage and modern timepieces are quite evenly distributed at our auctions. Vintage timepieces performed exceptionally well in our Spring Auctions in Hong Kong this May — our first evening sale “The Legends of Time” featuring 18 exceptionally rare vintage timepieces achieving 100 per cent sellthrough rate, totalling HK$144,435,000 (US$18,693,293 or €15,254,936).

Apart from Only Watch, what is the most important watch auction for Christie’s in the last quarter of this year?

We are still working on consignments for the Autumn season (in November), but I can already share with you that in our upcoming online sale in Hong Kong, we are offering 222 lots in total with a low estimation of HK$21 million.

What do you think will be the next catalyst of change for watch auctions?

Patek Philippe Ref. 1193
Patek Philippe Ref. 1193 with cloisonne enamel work circa 1982, estimated in the range of HK$1,000,000 – 2,000,000 and sold for HK$1,500,000. Image: Christie’s

I think it’s going to be the digital space. We are more and more developing ourselves by using videos, podcasts, live pictures, artistic pictures and anything in the digital space that allows us to compensate for not seeing the watches in person.

Are there watches in your personal collection that you bought but do not wear because you want to preserve their condition and hence value?

I wear all of my watches in general.

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