A few months ago a friend ran into the ‘issue’ of wanting to slim down his collection of watches. Very special watches. The way that happened was by connecting with Ms Liatard-Roessli. She met with said gentleman in order to assess the state of the collection and the watch up for sale. She gave a (very strict) assessment of the watch and its worth at auction. More specifically if it would be welcomed at an auction managed by her team at PHILLIPS in Association with Bacs & Russo. Only the best make the cut, that was clear.
The world of watch auctions can be an intimidating one, it is therefore with much pleasure that I can share this interview with you with Ms Liatard-Roessli. She is Watch Specialist at PHILLIPS in association with Bacs & Russo and offers a unique look behind the curtain of the auction world. Enjoy the read!
Jan de Griff: Can you tell us a little about yourself, how long you’ve been active in the watch community and how you tumbled into the vintage watch auction world?
Virginie Liatard-Roessli: I grew up in Geneva with a very “Swiss” education! Meaning that watches have always been part of my life; very early as a First Communion gift, graduation gift, for my 20th or 25th birthday… actually when I was young, most of the important events were celebrated with a watch! Strangely enough, the more I was learning and loving watches, the less I was being gifted any!!!!
I started my career in Human Resources in a bank (have I already told you that I’m Swiss!) and later had the chance to join a watch manufacture where I started to develop deeper knowledge on movements and watchmaking. I loved to work in a manufacture and realized that HR was interesting but that I wanted to know more about watches.
After 7 years, it was time for me for a change and I joined an auction house where I had the chance to meet with Aurel Bacs and some of the people I’m working with, now at Phillips. Aurel gave me the opportunity to change career and become a watch specialist within the Association he started in 2015 with Phillips.
I now have the privilege to be working at Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo, in an environment that is moving extremely fast and where I had the chance to see the most interesting vintage timepieces that have been auctioned those last five years.
Jan: What is the biggest trend that you have seen in the vintage market for the past few years?
Virginie: Knowledge and no compromise on condition. Our clients are more and more knowledgeable about the watches they are interested in. They “do their homework” and study watches so that they know what they are looking at. I’m not saying that before people were buying anything but that now, it is easier to find information about what is correct and what is not, and that our clients are extremely savvy, which is a good thing.
People are willing to have the best possible watches, originality and condition wise, they are ready to spend a lot for top quality watches but will not move if anything is not correct. In my opinion, this is the right way to go and it is the type of challenge that makes the job so interesting. Of course it is tough to be able to source top quality watches to make auctions every 6 months!
Jan: Over the course of your career, have you noticed a change in the typical vintage watch buying audience?
Virginie: I often hear that typical vintage watch collectors are men in their 40s-50s. If this is true that most collectors are men, I see a great interest in younger generations for vintage in general. Now when you meet a father and a son you cannot take for granted that the most knowledgeable about watches is the eldest!
Regarding demographic changes, I think that when it comes to passion, there are no borders. I know extremely knowledgeable watch collectors around the world.
Jan: Let’s say I want to buy my first vintage watch at an auction and I have no idea how to go about that. As a potential buyer, what is the process like to buy a watch at auction?
Virginie: First of all, you have to know that it is very easy and that as Specialists, we are here to help you with your choice, strategy and with the registration process.
On a practical aspect, you will first have to create an account by providing a few things about yourself. This account will allow you to register for any auction within the auction house. You have at this stage many options: you can register to bid in the room, you will get a paddle that you will have to raise clearly in order to let the auctioneer know that you are bidding. That is probably the most exciting way to participate as you are at the event, and in the ambiance. Otherwise, you can do telephone bidding, you will be in the comfort of your house and on the phone with one of the specialists and will instruct him/her to bid on your behalf.
If you cannot bid in person or on the phone, you can bid online via our website or on our App. And finally, if none of these options are possible for you, you can leave an absentee bid, which means that you let us know in advance up to how much you wish to bid and as long as there is someone bidding against you, the auctioneer will keep on bidding on your behalf up to this amount. This is a good way to make sure that you don’t go over your limit but it can also be very frustrating as you cannot give this last bid that sometimes allows you to win your dream watch! We wrote a nice article on the subject on our website.
Another important aspect is to have a strategy. You should know your limit (budget wise) and make sure you calculated the buyer’s premium, VAT and shipping cost if applicable.
The best advice I could give you at this stage is to contact a Specialist ahead of the auction in order to have a point of contact and be able to gather some precious information. You will have access to some information by looking at the auction catalogue, either in paper or online but you can request a lot more. For example, you should ask for the condition report and additional pictures, a Specialist will also be able to look at the watch for you and give you his/her professional opinion and help you fine tune your bidding strategy.
Jan: The auctions your team manages tend to offer some amazing finds in the selection. How do you generally go about finding and curating these exceptional pieces?
Virginie: We work a lot!!! No seriously, from the beginning we decided to make no compromise on condition and to only take in for auction watches that we would love to buy ourselves. So behind every watch we sell there is a Specialist that is proud to present it.
The selection process is very tough and to give you an idea, we refuse approximately 90% of the watches that we see.
Jan: The New York Times recently questioned ‘are watches the new Bitcoin?’ Implying, overheated and overvalued by a large margin. From your perspective, how would you answer their question?
Wow! Comparing Bitcoin and Vintage watches is daring… Although from a financial and non collector’s point of view I can understand why someone would be tempted to compare as the amount of money involved is very important.
The main difference between the two is that vintage watches are real and concrete. It is something that will not disappear without a reason and its value has real roots. Of course like in any art field, some models or brands have seen their value dramatically increasing and one could expect the value to stabilise, it cannot go up forever. But what does?
In today’s world where we see more than ever that nothing is stable I strongly believe that investing in vintage watches is a good option. Of course, you need to either have sufficient knowledge yourself or be well advise by someone you can trust.
Jan: Women are still very much underrepresented in the watch industry’s leadership positions, do you see any change towards a more healthy gender balance in the top functions at the industry?
Virginie: You are absolutely right, women are still underrepresented in the watch industry’s leadership position but I feel that this has improved recently. Important watch companies such as in the Richemont group or a few independent watchmakers have appointed female CEO to run the company, and those women are doing great. In the auction world, top positions are successfully held by women.
A lot of us are balancing a family life with an exciting career. I found this very inspiring and this is the example I would like to give to my daughter.
Jan: Which watches do you consider perfect unisex “hand me down” watches. For example, from father to daughter or from mother to son?
Tastes are funny! I have a girl who is 11 years old, she loves complicated watches, moonphases, equation of time, resonance… while my boy who is 9 thinks that the Rainbow Daytona is the most beautiful watch ever made. I, personally, enjoy vintage men’s watches as the size is perfect on a woman’s wrist. If I were to recommend you a watch to transmit to your daughter, I would suggest a vintage Rolex Day-Date with a special dial (hard stone, lacquered or engraved…). This will make it as exceptional as a daughter and father relationship.
Jan: Your watch collection has to be reduced to just one watch, which one do you keep?
Oh my god, you cannot do that to me! I love them all for totally different reason. Some remind me special moment. Some I love for their design, for their complication and the last section would be wise to keep as investment.
But as I collect for passion and neither for rational reasons nor for investment, I believe that I would keep my Heuer Solunar. It is a watch with very interesting history, from the Jack Heuer era, fitted with a tidal indicator and displaying an extremely unusual dial design.
Jan: Before we go, I have to ask, what’s on your wrist right now?
Virginie: A Universal Genève, Compax with burgundy bezel and subdials, fitted on a cordovan pilot strap. Just like Nina Rindt was wearing hers!
Thank you very much for the time and insights Virginie!
For more information about PHILLIPS in association with Bacs and Russo, check here.