November 18, 2008 / 7:20 PM / in 9 years

"Easy money" seen dropping out of watch auction market

GENEVA (Reuters) - Prices for luxury watches at auction fell this week as bidders with “easy money” vanished, leaving the market once again dominated by private collectors, Christie’s said on Tuesday.

Watches netted 17.8 million Swiss francs ($14.86 million) at the auction house owned by French billionaire Francois Pinault, exceeding the pre-sale estimate. Some 82 percent of 409 lots on offer on Monday night found new owners, which it called a “very healthy result.”

Timepieces at rival Sotheby’s fetched 6.8 million francs in selective bidding a day earlier with 67.4 percent of 215 lots sold.

“It is clear there has been a correction, but I think the market is more human and more real,” Aurel Bacs, international co-head of Christie’s watch department, told Reuters.

“Many easy money bidders have disappeared because there is no more Monopoly or play money. Bidders were passionate private collectors, not speculators or people who didn’t know what to do with their bonus,” he said.

He declined to put an overall figure on the decline, but conceded that the sale would have made more six months ago.

CRISIS BITES

Christie’s and Sotheby’s had advised sellers to lower their reserve price, or secret minimum, as the financial crisis bites, their top experts said last week.

Christie’s top lot, a 1963 Patek Philippe showing the hour in timezones around the world, made for U.S. jeweler Tiffany, went to an unnamed European collector for 951,000 francs.

Sotheby’s top lot was a 1970s Patek Philippe wristwatch which fetched 1.84 million francs. Its automatic perpetual calendar showing leap years was like a revolution in the watch industry, said its expert Geoffrey Ader.

Antiquorum sold a pair of enamel pocket watches, made in 1815 on behalf of England’s King George III for Chinese Emperor Jiaqing, for 2.6 million francs -- the week’s most expensive timepiece. The specialist watch auctioneer’s sale netted 15.2 million francs, with 64 percent of lots sold.

Patrizzi & Co’s debut auction on Tuesday was plagued by computer glitches and only one in three lots were sold, netting about one third of the expected 18 million francs, according to Osvaldo Patrizzi, the ousted founder of Antiquorum.

“We suffered because the world is not a happy place. The results were disappointing,” Patrizzi told Reuters.

Editing by Jonathan Lynn

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