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Roger Rueg­ger talks with Aurel Bacs, Se­nior Con­sul­tant, Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo

— Roger Rueg­ger took the op­por­tu­nity to talk with Aurel Bacs, Se­nior Con­sul­tant, Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo, about the vin­tage watch mar­ket, col­lect­ing watches and the mo­ment in his ca­reer when he thought his heart had skipped a beat.

What makes a watch col­lectible to you?

In my view, it should pro­voke some­thing, a re­ac­tion of some sort. It should in­spire and, ei­ther in­tel­lec­tu­ally or emo­tion­ally, stim­u­late me – or, to ex­press it in the lan­guage of a child, “Me want!”

How do you de­fine ‘vin­tage’?

Lin­guis­ti­cally speak­ing, the term “vin­tage” is, of course, con­nected to its age. How­ever, many schol­ars, but also my­self, do not see this as an ab­so­lute num­ber but rather as a con­se­quence of cer­tain his­tor­i­cal events. Specif­i­cally, I have in mind when the watch in­dus­try in­tro­duced CAD and CAM. I con­sider a vin­tage time­piece a watch pro­duced be­fore this land­scape-chang­ing event.

To re­store or not to re­store?

at is cer­tainly the most dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer – all my thoughts sur­round­ing this topic could fill pages. Cer­tainly, all orig­i­nal and in per­fect con­di­tion is al­ways bet­ter than com­pletely over-re­stored and still in lousy con­di­tion. How­ever, I do be­lieve that we, jointly as a com­mu­nity, have vastly ex­ag­ger­ated to the point where I hear com­ments that hon­estly shock me, for in­stance: “I’m not buy­ing this watch be­cause the pre­vi­ous owner has ex­changed the chrono­graph hand against an­other pe­riod-cor­rect one. I know be­cause a friend told me.” In my view, if we do not al­low room for thought­ful and em­pa­thetic restora­tion when nec­es­sary, we will soon, as a mar­ket, have a se­ri­ous prob­lem be­cause there are sim­ply not enough “one-owner-since-new, never-worn, al­ways-been-in-a-drawer, in-like­new-con­di­tion” watches in the world!

Is there a watch in your col­lec­tion you would never sell?

I would never sell a watch that has ei­ther been a gift from a dear per­son of mine or that has marked a unique mo­ment in my life. Sim­ply put, I would never sell a watch that has sen­ti­men­tal value, even if I could re­place it with a tech­ni­cally iden­ti­cal piece. ere would still be a huge dif­fer­ence to me.

What was your first ‘real’ watch?

(Smiles) De­pends what you con­sider a ‘real’ watch! In hind­sight, it was prob­a­bly the stain­less-steel me­chan­i­cal IWC that I re­ceived for my con­fir­ma­tion.

Which watch (of your own col­lec­tion) do you most re­gret hav­ing bought/sold?

I never re­gret­ted any watch that I bought! How­ever, I re­gret most watches that I sold.

Is the vin­tage sec­tor over­heated?

I sin­cerely do not think so. If some­one in­vested, 10 or 15 years ago, 1 mil­lion USD in a bas­ket of blue chip vin­tage cars or con­tem­po­rary art, he or she would be bet­ter off (fi­nan­cially speak­ing) than the watch col­lec­tor hav­ing done the same. Of course, those who in­vested the same amount in Ap­ple, Google or Ama­zon shares would be the win­ners. In other words, as long as de­mand is grow­ing year by year and sup­ply, for nat­u­ral rea­sons, of course, can­not fol­low, we should be quite re­laxed. It is get­ting more dif­fi­cult ev­ery year to find spare parts and watch­mak­ers ca­pa­ble of restor­ing a vin­tage watch. Has the in­dus­try aban­doned its past? With con­tin­u­ously in­creas­ing de­mand for beau­ti­ful vin­tage watches, we also see a par­al­lel in­crease in de­mand for orig­i­nal vin­tage spare parts, nat­u­rally. Once these stocks will be ex­hausted there won’t be any left. ank­fully, this will not hap­pen be­cause new gen­er­a­tion watch­mak­ers can be trained, and we will hope­fully not be fac­ing a def­i­nite lim­ited sup­ply.

A large num­ber of brands are re­launch­ing homage watches. How do you feel about that?

It is ab­so­lutely nat­u­ral that there is a de­mand for faith­ful con­tem­po­rary rein­ter­pre­ta­tions of iconic vin­tage watches. I do not see this in any way con­flict­ual but rather com­ple­men­tary – these watches of­ten rep­re­sent good value and can be worn with a lit­tle less con­cern.

If a watch has a fas­ci­nat­ing prove­nance and a beau­ti­ful story, it sud­denly be­comes ef­fec­tively more im­por­tant.

How im­por­tant is the story a watch has to tell?

is is ex­tremely per­sonal and can vary from col­lec­tor to col­lec­tor – some col­lec­tors may also value the same story very dif­fer­ently. To me per­son­ally, if a watch has a fas­ci­nat­ing prove­nance and a beau­ti­ful story, it sud­denly be­comes ef­fec­tively more im­por­tant.

What was your most emo­tional/ex­cit­ing mo­ment since you started with Phillips in 2014?

I think that there were too many ex­cit­ing mo­ments in the last 2 to 3 years here at Phillips to list them all. But def­i­nitely, there were more than in my past 20 years of ca­reer! If I had to men­tion one spe­cific mo­ment, then it would be the auc­tion­ing of the Joanne Wood­ward/paul New­man Rolex Day­tona sold in Oc­to­ber 2017 for 17.8 mil­lion USD. When I started the bid­ding at 1 mil­lion USD and the first tele­phone bid­der shouted, “10 mil­lion USD, Sir!”, at this pre­cise mo­ment, I re­ally thought that my heart stopped beat­ing.

Your ad­vice to a watch col­lec­tor? The best con­tem­po­rary watch you can buy?

Do your re­search, buy only from sources you trust, fol­low your heart and per­sonal taste, and buy the best you can af­ford.

Who should be the next per­son to get “The Last Word” (and why)?

I would like to sug­gest Mike Tay of e Hour Glass. I hardly know any­one who loves watches as much as he does, ei­ther vin­tage or con­tem­po­rary, low­bud­get to mu­seum-qual­ity grail watches, and si­mul­ta­ne­ously sees the mar­ket from a pro­fes­sional and a pas­sion­ate col­lec­tor’s point of view. Last but not least, he is a great friend and a true gen­tle­man.

Aurel Bacs, Se­nior Con­sul­tant, Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo

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