The year 2020 saw many businesses shut down, loss of life, and the world economy going for a toss. But some companies gained momentum. With markets turning online, Sotheby’s global watch auction sales gained a total of $97.5 million so far in 2020. Over 140 online sales realized a $47.4 million year-to-date, which is almost eight times the number of sales and five times the value for 2019. The Sotheby’s watch auction market saw a global demand from 84 countries globally taking part in auctions, especially from Asia, Europe, the US, and the Middle East, the company said in its press release. In 2020, 92% of the lots sold went to online buyers, which is up 60% than in 2019. Even the bidders participating in the auction were new by 50%, which is up by 20%. 

 Ressence Type 1 Slim, Sotheby's
Ressence Type 1 Slim

As per Sotheby, young bidders below 45 have been participating in online watches auctions sales. The highlights of the year are two of the highest prices ever paid for a Rolex Daytona. The average price for watches sold online across all sales is up 50% compared to 2019, of which the Daytona JPS sold at a record of $1.5 million. Daytona JPS has a record for a watch sold the most in an online auction. It also holds a record for a wristwatch auctioned in the UK. Automatic Daytona stands as the most expensive watch sold in Asia in 2020. It is also the third-highest price achieved for a wristwatch in 2020. “Time hasn’t stopped for us this season. It has been a transformative few months. In the past couple of weeks, we have auctioned two of the most valuable Daytonas ever sold, and together with collectors, we are rewriting the rule book of watch auctions,” says Sam Hines, Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s Watches.

 Philippe Dufour Simplicity Sotheby's
Philippe Dufour Simplicity

The company also saw a year of historical results for pocket watches traditionally sold during live sales. The final two installments of “Masterworks of Time” and the first online sales ever dedicated to world-class pocket watches totaled $9.1 million, with 100% of the 249 lots offered to find a buyer. The top lot of the ‘Masterworks of Time’ sale was the Dent ‘Ultra Complication,’ one of the most sophisticated watches ever made, which eclipsed its pre-sale estimate to sell for US$ 832,240 / CHF 800,000.

Speaking about the incredible success, Sam Hines, Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s Watches, has said, “2020 has been a transformative year for the watch auction market, perhaps the most significant evolution since the emergence of the collecting category in the 1980s. We have embraced the unprecedented times to start reinventing the way we connect with the ever-growing number of collectors around the world.”

 Cartier rectangular Ecran Mystery clock, circa 1926, Sotheby's
Cartier rectangular Ecran Mystery clock, circa 1926

“From the introduction of highly popular weekly sales and pioneering online auctions to the launch of a new Buy Now marketplace, this year has seen many innovations which, combined with unabated demand for exceptional timepieces, have contributed to set new benchmarks. These include online records and landmark prices for vintage pieces, independent watchmakers, and exceptional pocket watches. As the year comes to a close, we look forward to continuing this journey with the watch community next year,” he further added. 

 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, Reference 16516 Sotheby's
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, Reference 16516

This massive success by the Sotheby watches is seen due to the innovations brought in the auctions. There were many Weekly watches sales which ran for four sales a week in Hong Kong, New York, Geneva, and London; single-lot sales to highlight the most notable items; and Sotheby’s Approved sales, featuring lots with an exclusive one-year warranty.

F.P. Journe Chronometer A Resonance

The Sotheby watches adopted a new digital catalog experience showcasing a ‘digital-first design that emphasizes visual storytelling through video, interactive media, and other rich content formats in a way that moves beyond print media. A Chat Function on, piloted by the watch team, allowed clients to chat live with the company’s specialists.

 The Dent ‘Ultra Complication, Sotheby's
The Dent ‘Ultra Complication

The watch category has the highest number of transactions and traffic on Sotheby’s new Buy Now marketplace. Officially launched earlier this monththis new platform connects collectors with beautiful objects easily and quickly across the categories of fine jewels, contemporary art, collectible sneakers, watches, designer handbags, decorative objects, interiors, and more. Buy Now meets the clients’ demand to buy and sell beyond the traditional auction calendar, offering 24/7, 365-day access to an exceptional property mix of over 3,000 items. Not just this, King George III’s Tourbillon watch, which is one of the most important watches created by Abraham-Louis Breguet, was sold for £1.6 million ($2m) in London in July. Other highlights include a made in 1981, Patek Philippe Fourth Series Ref. 2499 signed by Tiffany – only the second known, fetched US$818,600 in New York in December. The watch came from the collection of American Collectors Barbara and Ira Lipman. The Cartier rectangular Ecran Mystery clock, circa 1926, tripled its pre-sale estimate and sold for US$ 564,500 in New York in December. 

 Patek Philippe Fourth Series Ref. 2499 signed by Tiffany
Patek Philippe Fourth Series Ref. 2499 signed by Tiffany

With tremendous success in terms of numbers and innovations, the year 2020 proved to a boon for the Sotheby’s watches auction market.