Bacs at WatchTime New York: No Worries About the Mechanical Watch’s Future

Aurel Bacs, the head of Phillips auction house, in association with Bacs & Russo, does not worry about the future of the mechanical watch.

Asked at a panel on vintage watches at the WatchTime New York show on Oct. 15 if he was concerned that interest in mechanical watches might wane in the future as Millennials age and smartwatches proliferate, Bacs said, “I don’t worry about the future of the mechanical watch.” Bacs said that appreciation for traditional, centuries-old watchmaking technology had become part of the culture and will not be abandoned because it doesn’t make sense for telling time today. “Does drinking Bordeaux make sense?” he asked. “Does wearing an Italian hand-made suit makes sense?”

WTNY Bacs & Boutros panel
Paul Boutros (left) and Aurel Bacs, of Phillips Auctions, at the WatchTime New York vintage watch discussion

While he doesn’t worry about the survival of mechanical watches, “I do worry about the future of some [mechanical watch] brands,” he said. “I worry when the most valuable thing about the watch is the marketing campaign.” But watches with legitimate history and technology will remain objects of interest and value, he said.

Bacs and his colleague Paul Boutros, a senior vice-president of Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo, who heads the Americas region, took questions from attendees and WatchTime editor-at-large Joe Thompson, who moderated the panel.

Phillips is “the hottest watch auction house in the world right now,” Thompson said, noting that two years ago, the company did not have a watch department. Yet for the spring 2016 auction season, Phillips was the top auction house in terms of watch revenues. (Bacs & Russo, the watch consultancy Bacs co-founded with his wife, Livia Russo, worked exclusively with Phillips to relaunch its watch department in November 2014.)

WTNY Vintage Panel audience
The vintage watch discussion took place in front of a sold-out crowd of collectors and enthusiasts.

Asked which vintage watch brands are performing best at auctions today, Bacs replied brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex are certainly favorites, but that the brand is less important than factors like a watch’s rarity, condition, provenance, and originality.

The seminar touched on a wide range of topics:

• Asked what makes a watch vintage, Boutros said that the introduction of computer-aided design by Patek Philippe in 1984 serves as a demarcation line between a vintage watch and a modern watch. Phillips considers watches produced prior to 1984 “vintage” pieces. Another criterion is the crystal. Watches with acrylic crystals are considered vintage; those with sapphire crystals are defined as modern.

• In response to a question about the importance of the original box and papers for a vintage watch, Bacs noted that they can bring a premium of 10 percent or more. However, one must be careful because papers can be forged. Said Boutros, “Some collectors want absolute originality. For them, box and papers are important.” But they must guard against being swindled.

• Asked if there were vintage watch brands that they considered undervalued, Boutros pointed out that vintage sports watches are very popular now. He preferred not to cite specific brands, but said that vintage dress watches was a category that “offer value” for collectors. “Thin dress watches used to be preferred,” he said. “Now they are selling for less.”

• Commenting on the sports watch trend, Bacs said, “Whatever becomes hot becomes too expensive. People who can’t afford a [Rolex] Paul Newman buy a Heuer Carrera. The trend to sports watches won’t end but will be balanced out.”

• Asked whether discontinued watches increase in value, Bacs said it depends on the model. Great watches, like the Patek Philippe Ref. 5970 perpetual calendar chronograph or the A. Lange & Söhne Pour le Mérite, soar in value. But a watch that commemorates some victory of a soccer club does not. A watch like that simply becomes outdated.

WTNY - Bacs, Boutros, Thompson
Post-discussion, l-r: Bacs, Boutros, and WatchTime Editor-at-Large Joe Thompson
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