THE LAST WORD
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