On Monday, November 12, 2018, Christie’s will hold its sale of Rare Watches in Geneva.  Included in this sale, as Lot 118, is a Heuer Skipper chronograph, Reference 7754. The watch is serial number 105645, and Christie’s provides an estimate of CHF 25,000 to CHF 45,000.

The Reference 7754 is the first version of the Skipper model, and was introduced in 1968, to celebrate the victory of Intrepid on the defense of the America’s Cup, in September 1967. Because this first Skipper was housed in the case used for the Heuer Carrera, collectors refer to this rare model as the “Skipperrera”.  The Skipperrera is a rare model, with perhaps two or three samples coming onto the market in any given year.  For complete information about the history of the Skipper see our posting The Voyage of the Skipper.

The Photos

The Christie’s catalog for the auction includes the following photograph for Lot 118 —

When a prospective purchaser (Carlo S) requested additional photos of the watch, Christie’s provided several photos, including the following photo —

Here is the OnTheDash discussion forum posting, in which Carlo S describes his research relating to this watch.  We have included additional photographs provided by Christie’s in the gallery below.

A comparison of the photograph appearing in the auction catalog and the photos provided by Christie’s in response to requests from prospective purchasers shows that the photograph in the auction catalog has been “fixed” or “repaired” to make the following changes:

  • Fixed damage to the bottom of the dial, above the “T Swiss”
  • Fixed damage to the bottom of the dial, adjacent to the tension ring, between the 33 and 35 minute marks
  • “T Swiss” marking at the bottom of the dial appears to have been “pasted” into place
  • Removed scratches and marks from the lugs

The following photos show some of these changes from the photos of the actual watch (shown above) to the photo appearing in the catalog (shown below).

Christie’s Response

This issue first become widely known when a collector published a message on the OnTheDash vintage Heuer Discussion Forum. Soon after this message was published, I contacted Christie’s and made them aware of the discussion on the forum.

A representative responded quickly, and told me that a “mistake was made” in the post-production of the catalog, and that a “Salesroom Announcement” would be added to the online catalog. This Salesroom Notice provided as follows: “Please note that the image of this watch in the catalogue does not accurately reflect the condition. Additional photos will be sent to you to show the dial and the case that reflects the description in our condition report of this important watch.”.

The following is included in the Condition Report for the watch — “The watch has been professionally overhauled in the workshops of TAG Heuer in 2018, including full servicing of the movement, replacing of the register and chronograph hands and the crown. The dial was not touched during this intervention, it shows small scratches in places, a larger one above the T Swiss indication, the luminous material is original, discoloured and partially missing. Service central seconds hand. The case has been polished, with small surface scratches and dents in places.”

The Problem

The explanation from Christie’s — that the altered images resulted from a “mistake” in post-production — makes absolutely no sense at all.  Think about it — the auction house takes photographs for the catalog.  What purpose could possibly be served by using Photoshop (or a similar program) to hide damage to the dial and case?  Christie’s is not creating “reference guides” to show what the watches should look like.  Christie’s is publishing catalogs to show what the watches they are selling actually look like.  So it seems to me the only purpose in “repairing” the catalog photo would be to deceive prospective purchasers.  It’s that simple.

I believe that the Salesroom Notice that Christie’s added to the online catalog does not properly resolve the issue.  Of course, there is the issue of the printed catalogs that have been distributed, where no such “Notice” can be added.  But, by way of example, what about the posting on the influential blog, Hodinkee, suggesting that “the stunning condition [of the Skipperrera] will surely make it a benchmark for all future sales.”  The Salesroom Notice is not effective to correct the previews of the watch that have been published, as well as the private conversations and recommendations.  And, as collectors, how will we explain that this stellar sample sold at some deeply discounted price?

Unfortunately, Christie’s conduct relating to this Skipperrera is only one example of what seems to be a plague infecting the major auction houses, as they have attempted to sell some marginal vintage Heuer chronographs.  Over the last couple of years, we have seen major auction houses sell vintage Heuers that have been assembled from parts, as well as watches that were created from different models (the so called, “Frankens”).  Perhaps the folks at Christie’s thought that using a little Photoshop to remove the blemishes from this Skipperrera would be OK, but in the end they got caught and I believe that their attempt to address the issue through the Salesroom Notice was insufficient.  I believe that the watch should have been withdrawn from the sale.

Why It Matters

In 2016 and 2017, collectors witnessed an amazing run up in prices for vintage Heuer chronographs.  We sought to explain how the $8,000 “Rindt” Autavias were now selling in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, with the occasional outlier at $60,000, as so many new collectors rushed into the vintage Heuer market.  Now, in 2018, as the market goes through a correction, we address the question, “What’s wrong with vintage Heuer?”  Indeed, many factors were at play in the run up, and many factors have contributed to the correction.  But let’s be sure that when we are making the list of negatives, we add “Shenanigans of the Auction Houses” to the list.  Rather than supporting the market with good watches and reliable information, they have added uncertainty and doubt, with conduct that appears to have ranged from ignorance to intentional misrepresentations.

But looking beyond the perspective of the “market” and the auction houses, we have to consider how these shenanigans impact individual buyers and sellers.  Buyers and sellers pay commissions to the auction houses for the services they provide; they pay to support a reliable platform where the best watches are bought and sold.  The sellers pay the auction houses to assemble groups of great watches, produce high-profile auctions and promote their watches to a group of attractive clients.  The buyers pay fees to the auction houses for sourcing good watches and then describing them accurately, so that they can bid with confidence.

In the case of the Skipperrera listed as Lot 118 in its November 2018 Geneva sale, Christie’s has done a disservice to all these parties — to the market, to the Heuer brand, to the community of collectors, to the seller and to prospective buyers.  Yes, shame on Christie’s for its handling of this watch.  All these parties deserved better.

Update — Result of the Sale

On Monday, November 12, 2018, the Skipper discussed in this posting sold for a final price of 53,750 CHF (representing the hammer price of 43,000 CHF and the 25% buyer’s commission).

Jeff Stein
November 11, 2018
Updated — November 12, 2018