The vintage Heuers have been hot lately, so the dynamics of supply and demand tell us that with the recent strong increases in prices, we are likely to see more vintage Heuer chronographs coming into the market. In April and May 2016, we saw Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips and three other auction houses sell over 75 vintage Heuers, with record prices achieved for many models. See our report on these six April and May auctions HERE.
With this increased interest in vintage Heuer chronographs, it’s not surprising to see the Paris-based auction house Artcurial offering another 40 vintage Heuers, at a sale to be held in Monte Carlo, on July 18, 2016. The sale consists of 400 watches, with the Heuers placed at lots 273 through 312. Here is the Online Catalog for the sale. Or you can flip through the E Catalog, if you prefer. You can see a gallery of all 40 of the Heuers HERE.
I have not studied the watches in detail, spoken with any representatives of Atrcurial or requested any Condition Reports. Putting these 40 watches into perspective, however, it seems clear that if the Heuers that we see in the market are fitted to a bell curve, these 40 would fit onto the lower part of the curve. The best of these 40 watches represent what might be average watches for other auction houses, with many of the Artcurial watches being among the worst that we have seen. The “bottom line” — When an auction house doesn’t know the difference between a reference number and a serial number, what value can they really add?
Based on a quick review of these 40 Heuers, we can break them down into The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. And just for fun, we will add a couple of categories — The Questionable, The Project and The Optimist.
Autavia 2446C GMTs have been in great demand lately, and the one offered as Lot 281 appears to be a nice one. The condition of the bezel seems to be the primary factor dictating the vale of these watches, and this one looks nice. The hands also look clean and original.
Artcurial is also offering some nice Carreras in the auction. My two choices are the three-register, manual-wind model from the 1960s (Lot 285), which has the favored Tachymeter scale on the dial. There are several automatic Carreras from the 1970s, including an early one (circa 1970) with the blue dial (Lot 290).
I would point out that while all three of these watches look “Good”, none are exceptionally rare or the type of marquee watches that we have seen in other recent Heuer auctions.
Fakes are bad, so let’s look at three bad watches included in the auction.
Over the years, we have seen a steady stream of Monacos with poor-quality dials that appear to have been refinished. The printing on these dials is crude, and the applied markers are placed in odd positions on the dial. Spotting these nasty looking watches is fairly easy, and we have written about them in detail HERE, so it is surprising to see Artcurial offer this one as Lot 296.
If the poor lineage of this Monaco has been well-documented, it’s a little more difficult to catalog the Montreals. On Lot 299, the dial appears to be from a genuine Montreal, Reference 110.503 NC, but I am unable to account for the case. Start with a normal Montreal case, remove the inner bezel (with its tachymeter and pulsations scales, and the case still does not match that of a genuine Montreal. I’m not sure what it is . . . I am sure that it’s bad.
But the distinction of being the worst of the worst in this auction goes to the Daytona offered as Lot 310. Heuer produced two versions of the Daytona – one with a dark blue dial and the other with a fume (smoke) colored dial. That’s all – two models, blue and fume. On both these Daytonas, the registers are the same color as the dial. You can see the real Daytonas HERE.
Someone has repainted a Daytona dial, to be black with white registers. It takes the prize for being the worst among these 40 vintage Heuer chronographs.
In the “Ugly” category, we have selected three watches that appear to be (mostly) genuine, but are in terrible condition. We note that each of these three watches is fairly common — at least by Heuer standards — making it all the more surprising that an auction house would offer them for sale. Yes, auctions sometimes need “filler”, but we would have hoped that Artcurial could have come up with some better-quality filler. Watches like these are listed on eBay every day.
Lot 278 is one of the most common of the vintage Heuers, the “Viceroy” model sold by Heuer in 1972 as part of a promotion with Viceroy cigarettes. At any given time, you can find a handful of these offered for sale on eBay or through dealer . . . but you will be hard-pressed to find one that looks as bad as the one offered by Artcurial.
Lot 279 is an Autavia Reference 73463, a manual-wind watch in the “Siffert” colors. This model Autavia is less common than the Viceroy, but we can expect to see a few of them over the course of the year. With spots and other marks on the dial, and a beaten up bezel, not many will look worse than this one offered by Artcurial. Finally, in Lot 305, we have a very tired looking Montreal.
We have two watches in our Questionable category, a gold cushion-shaped watch said to be from the 1930s (Lot 275) and a pilot’s style watch that appears to be from the 1960s.
Lot 275 is engraved with a name and the year 1939, but there is no similar watch found in Heuer catalogs from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s. Yes, we are aware of chronographs made by Heuer that never appeared in its catalogs. Perhaps this is one of them . . . which earns it the “Questionable” ranking.
Lot 284 is an odd looking thing. The dial generally looks similar to that used by Heuer in its Bundeswehr chronographs, and the movement is the Valjoux 230 that was used in the Bunds, but I have never seen this case used on a Heuer chronograph (although it does appear to be the same case that Dodane used on many of its pilots chronographs). I’m not sure what it is, but it sure doesn’t look like any Heuer that I have ever seen. Let’s give it the benefit of the doubt, and put it in the Questionable category. Odds are, that it belongs in the Bad category, with the fakes.
The Parts Watch
In its May auction, Auctionata sold a “Franken” Autavia, comprised of components from at least three different models, for the tidy sum of 62,000 euro, as described here. Well, it seems like the folks at Artcurial decided to pursue this same strategy, with the Autavia being sold as Lot 286.
The dial is too early for the case (serial number 88521), and the hands are far too short for an Autavia (probably having come from a Carrera). So here we have it – the good, the bad, the ugly, all in one watch. Use the dial with your first execution case; use the case for your Reference 3646 Andretti project; use the hands for a Valjoux 92 Carrera. Oddly enough, even the box is mismatched, coming from a later watch. So hey, it worked for Auctionata, let’s see how it goes for Artcurial.
Throughout this quick preview of the Artcurial auction, I have resisted the urge to discuss the estimates published by Artcurial. While some of the estimates appear to be reasonable, many of them seem to be well above prevailing market prices.
The pair of Easy Rider chronographs offered as Lot 308 deserve our special attention, however, with the estimate of 2,000 to 3,000 euro. Maybe this estimate will prove to be realistic, but that will be surprising. We see these chronographs sold on eBay with some frequency, at a price of $800 to $1,000 each.
The results of this auction were nothing short of awful. Take a mediocre group of watches, add in a couple of “franken” samples, impose relatively low limits on first time bidders, and add some technical difficulties with the internet / telephone bidding, and we can understand the results. And, not to belabor the obvious — Artcurial is not exactly Christie’s, Sotheby’s or Phillips, even on a good day.
Of the 40 lots that were included in the catalog, three lots were withdrawn from the sale — these were the “Bad” ones (frankens) that we had described. Of the remaining 37 lots, 11 were sold and 26 went unsold.
And it hardly gets any better when we look at the prices realized on the 11 watches that were sold. The Heuer Mareographe was probably the best watch in the auction, and it sold for 17,550 euro (including the buyer’s premium); vintage Heuer enthusiasts expected that it would easily break the $20,000 euro mark. A few of the others sold at approximately their fair market value (eBay equivalent prices), which raises the question of why anyone would bother selling in an auction like this, to realize this sort of price.
The Bottom Line
We know that a rising tide lifts all ships, but this auction proved that the rising tide we have seen lately for the vintage Heuers was not enough to lift this group of poor-to-mediocre watches above prevailing eBay prices. With a 27.5 percent sell-through rate (11 of 40 lots), and weak prices for the ones that sold, this was a waste of everyone’s time — sellers, prospective buyers and the auction house itself. We can only hope that as other auction houses and dealers seek to take advantage of the surge in prices for and interest in the vintage Heuers, they will assemble better groups of watches and execute their auctions in a more professional manner.
July 12, 2016
updated for results, July 24, 2016