Geoffrey Ader is a specialist in the international watch auction community with over 20 years experience. His first stint with Antiquorum began in 2000, when he worked as Director of its Paris office. He moved on to Tajan in 2005, and later on to Sotheby’s in Geneva in 2008. Last spring he returned to Antiquorum to a position of the Managing Director of Antiquorum Online. Mr. Ader is also a board member and advisor to The Collectors Index.
We recently took the opportunity to interview Mr. Ader via e-mail and get his insights into Antiquorum, as well as new developments in the auction industry and in the watch industry at large.
Mr. Ader, readers may not know the details of Antiquorum’s history, but they know houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, not to mention dozens of smaller and regional auction houses, have been around for a long time. What was the impetus for founding Antiquorum?
Established in 1974, Antiquorum was founded during a time when the Swiss watch industry was experiencing a challenging decade because of the advent of quartz. It was thought that quartz technology would replace the need for mechanical watches due to its accuracy, reliability and reduced costs.
In reaction to this fear of quartz eradicating the demand for mechanical watches, Antiquorum was established initially with a plan to sell old-fashioned pocket watches by private treaty or at auction to enthusiasts of haute horology.
In 1981, Antiquorum held its first wristwatch sale, which was wildly successful. Forty-one years later, we continue to be at the forefront of international watch auctions and have recently been listed among the 250 most important auction houses worldwide by Blouin Artinfo Magazine.
What steps does Antiquorum continue to take in order to differentiate itself from competitors in the auction world?
Focusing exclusively on timepieces, Antiquorum consistently obtains top results and world record prices for timepieces at auction. Unlike other auction houses, our goal is to educate and provide our clients with as much information as possible through unparalleled expertise and personal service. We produce auction catalogues with detailed descriptions, host gallery talks led by our experts and hold worldwide auction previews.
In addition, Antiquorum has recently developed an e-commerce platform called the Antiquorum Watch Boutique, which allows our clients to purchase fine timepieces online at fixed prices, while still providing the expertise that comes with over forty years of experience in the auction world.
Antiquorum previews their auctions in major cities around the world. While we know you can’t discuss details, can you discuss security in general terms, and also the simple risks of shipping watches internationally (accident, damage, physical loss of the objects, etc.)?
Security is an important part of our responsibility; our worldwide experts take great care of all the watches that are in our possession. The main difference between our closest competitors and us is that we have all the watches checked by a professional watchmaker before offering them at auction.
Please talk a little about Antiquorum’s initial foray onto the internet many years ago.
Antiquorum has a long history with online endeavors and in the early 2000s it pioneered online bidding in real time in addition to providing access to auction catalogues, sales results and a comprehensive watch database.
You recently concluded a sale of 40 unique pieces from Maurice Lacroix on your new e-commerce endeavor, the Antiquorum Watch Boutique. I’m sure that was a learning experience. Can you discuss your choice of a direct buying format?
Indeed it was a very interesting experience, which allowed us to try the ‘curated sale’ format for the first time on the watch boutique. It was fascinating to see the traffic to the site grow exponentially after sending out an announcement. We had over 65,000 visits to our watch boutique to date.
The ‘buy now’ option is self-explanatory — it offers a different way of transacting to that of the traditional auction. We wanted to provide collectors all over the world with a simple platform, on which to purchase timepieces anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night.
Our aim was also to target online buyers, who may in the future purchase more important pieces at auction.
Can you elaborate on why you teamed with Maurice Lacroix for the sale, and whether these pieces were made specially for Antiquorum?
The collaboration between Maurice Lacroix and Antiquorum Watch Boutique was a first attempt to help collectors to discover all aspects of the brand by promoting its values through different categories (glamour, innovation, iconic, design) while at the same time celebrating 40 years of Maurice Lacroix.
All watches were unique and never left the watch manufacture. The curated sale entitled ‘Unique Legacy Watch’ celebrated 40 years of innovative achievements.
Can you compare and contrast the Antiquorum Watch Boutique to, say, Christie’s online Watch Shop, which currently has a Chronographs Sale happening?
The main difference for Antiquorum is the wide variety of fixed price offers we have online, with a price range from US$500 up to 25,000 with different sales format:
After Auction Sale
Following all auctions worldwide, collectors will have the opportunity to make immediate after sale offers at a fixed price for a period of 15 days through the Antiquorum Watch Boutique.
Throughout the year, the Antiquorum Watch Boutique will offer watches with an average value of US$5,000 or below along with a selection of highlights up to US$25,000.
Collectors will also have the chance to purchase timepieces from a curated selection of watches based on a thematic sale, private collection or partnership with brands, or a notable or influential figure.
We think globally but we act locally in Geneva, New York and Hong Kong where our clients are able to consign regionally while reaching the largest audience of watch collectors through the support of Chrono24, which allows us to publish all of our offers on the world’s market place for watches. After three months we already have over 65,000 visitors.
Overall, what role do the auction houses play in collecting fine timepieces?
An important role of the auction houses is educating collectors. We develop new trends and always search for rare and historic pieces.
One example was the discovery of a Jaeger LeCoultre that belonged to General Douglas MacArthur which achieved a record price in our May auction. It was commented on not only by watch collectors, but also by the brand itself, who acquired the historically significant piece at auction as described in a recent article on Hodinkee.
How about the auction houses’ role in the business endeavors of independent luxury watch brokers?
Auction houses work with independent luxury watch brokers on a regular basis as they do with any other client, who wants to buy or sell at auction. Independent brokers will always have a relationship with auction houses as they are continuously looking for inventory and often auction houses provide access to rare and important pieces that are not easily found on the market.
You’ve worked with several auction houses. Can you describe Antiquorum’s uniqueness? Perhaps in the context of what drove you to come back last spring after a decade away?
Antiquorum has certainly made the greatest impact on my career and myself personally. During my first experience there ten years ago I had the privilege to participate in so many important thematic auctions as well as single owner sales like the Sandberg Watch Collection and The Thomas Engel Collection. These sales encouraged me to pursue my career and left me with the greatest memories.
After leaving Antiquorum, I had the opportunity to face new challenges and accomplished many notable sales with other auction houses, but after 20 years of experience and looking ahead at the challenges for the next 20 years, I thought I needed to accomplish something different and again Antiquorum gave me this opportunity.
With the help of a fantastic team, whom I have known very well all these years, the comeback is a definite success and the Antiquorum Watch Boutique is the answer to the challenges coming up for the next decades.
What do you make of the current state of the wrist watch universe in the context of three developments:
• the rise of cell phones and many young people not wearing watches at all;
• on the other hand, the growing interest of (especially) young men in vintage watches –often pieces older than they are, which is manifested in watch get-togethers like Adam Craniotes’ RedBar;
• and the rise of smart watches like the Pebble, the Apple Watch, Olio Devices, and the like?
As I see it, the watch market is currently divided into three different segments: the first one with modern timepieces – the largest one in terms of quantity with strong demand for brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex; the second one with vintage timepieces, which is limited in terms of quantity but very strong in terms of prices especially for rare timepieces of top 10/10 quality; and finally the so called ‘tool watches’ which is the new segment for smart watches, recently put forward with the launch of Apple Watch.
The growing interest can be seen in all these segments but these markets should not be confused; it is like wines and soft drinks, you cannot compare what is not comparable. In the future I see new devices and technology being used to promote the core values behind tradition and savoir-faire of Swiss watch industry – this is the goal of Antiquorum Watch Boutique, while Antiquorum Auctioneers will continue to bring the best expertise for all watches with a technical and historical interest.