The year 2009 was an amazing year in the world of vintage Heuers. Our community developed in many new directions; prices for the vintage Heuers were relatively strong; and there were important events throughout the year. This column will present a few highlights of the year, along with some thoughts about what might lie ahead for 2010.
Development of Our Community; New Resources for Collectors: The community of vintage Heuer collectors developed in some amazing ways during the year 2009. We saw the opening of a new discussion forum, dedicated to the vintage Heuers, in Italy (VetroPlastica), with Gianvittorio Molteni as the driving force behind the forum. We had a new blog from David Chalmers in HK (Calibre11.com) and a new website from Richard Crosthwaite in the UK (heuermonaco.com).
All three of these are vibrant sites, with excellent new content on a daily basis. Beyond these informational resources, we also saw several dealers begin to focus on the vintage Heuers. Finally, several members of our community have joined Twitter, which has become an amazing tool for communicating within our community, especially for announcing new information and watch finds.All these realms — the watches, the information, the enthusiasts and the communications — feed on each other, in some powerful ways. In one example, we saw a dealer list a rare Heuer for sale and post about it on Twitter; from Twitter, information about the listing went to one of the forums; a reader spots the message and buys the watch, all this within a span of 15 minute; next, the new owner tells the story of his purchase on a discussion forum, with this posting being the subject of a Tweet. Watches, collectors and information, all very well connected. Each element fuels the others, and it creates a lot of excitement in our community.People talk about how the internet has changed vintage watch collecting over the past decade; the manner in which our vintage Heuer community has developed over the past year is almost as dramatic. Somehow, it all came together for our community in 2009!!
New Content in OnTheDash (and a New Look): We added a lot of new content to OnTheDash during 2009. The big new pieces were (a) a table covering the history of the Carreras, showing details of over 100 models, (b) a webpage showing the detailed history of the Caliber 11 / 11-I / 12 / 15 movements, (c) a new page telling the story of the 18 karat gold automatic Carreras (Reference 1158), and (d) an update and expansion of the Monaco reference table. Of course, other pages and sections were updated over the course of the year, including the page about Barack Obama’s watches. We also reorganized and updated our main pages for the Monacos and the Carreras.Beyond the new content included OnTheDash, I am proud that we executed a beautiful refresh of the design of the website. Our friends at TAG-Heuer (in Switzerland) did the design work, and the project was an absolute pleasure. Huge thanks to everyone at TAG-Heuer who was involved in this project.
The New Interest in Serial Numbers: If you were to review “for sale” listings and discussion forum postings for 2008 (or any previous years), you would find very few references to serial numbers. The serial numbers were largely ignored or even dismissed, as people thought that they were not meaningful to collectors. Suddenly, in 2009, serial numbers have become very much a part of our vocabulary. At least three of us have started tracking the serial numbers, they are meaningful in many situations; and, of course, we have only begun to scratch the surface. Building and maintaining a good database of serial numbers is a huge undertaking; I’m not sure where this project goes in 2010, but we have at least shown the value of these little numbers, marked between the lugs or on the chrono bridge.
The Market for Vintage Heuers: In a period in which most categories of assets (real estate, stocks, etc.) suffered significant losses in value, the vintage Heuers fared remarkably well. (While some may suggest that my view is distorted by the weak US Dollar, let me assure you that I can do the math and that I remember the prices, from a couple of years ago, when the Euro was at $1.55.) Yes, some of the “biggies” (Monaco 1133B) may have given up some of their previous gains (at least for the average pieces), but we saw numerous models reach entirely new levels, with strong consistency.And speaking of the “market”, does anyone here remember this thing called “eBay”? We used to stay up all night, searching for the BuyItNow bargains, sometimes even finding the $9.95 Autavia GMT (manual-wind) or the $1,500 Monaco (1133B). I can’t think of a year in which we have seen fewer vintage Heuers moving on eBay. PayPal seems to have scared off the sellers, and the sellers seem to have scared off the buyers. Suddenly, the reputable dealer sites and ChronoTrader seem like the better “market”.But we all know that the fanciest markets of all are the high-end auction houses, Antiquorum, Bonhams and Patrizzi, for example. In 2009, we saw Patrizzi stage the first “Heuer Only” auction in the 21st century, with very good results for the Heuers. Strong prices, for some relatively weak watches . . . encouraging for future auctions, that may have more of the good stuff.
My Own Collection: Looking back over the year 2009, I bought fewer watches than in some previous years, but I have reached the point of trying to “fill in” my collection with some of the “missing” ones, rather than just adding models and executions. In terms of my own collection, highlights of 2009 as follows:
- Best Acquisitions: Best acquisitions during 2009 included a fantastic old Seafarer (early execution), my first Carrera Dato 45 (black dial), the 18 karat gold automatic Carrera (Ref 1158 CHN), and the super rare, never-before-seen-in-the-metal “Memphis”. [How ironic that my two never-before-seen-in-the-metal acquisitions were a Memphis (at $250) and the Carrera 1158 CHN, at some multiple of this amount!]
- The Ones that Got Away: I missed out on a Black PVD Monaco, under suspicious circumstances related to the seller, but the good news is that this one ended up in friendly hands [congratulations to Abel], and has been beautifully restored. I don’t recall any case of “bidder’s remorse” in 2009 (i.e., a situation in which I was mad at myself, after an auction ended, for not bidding more on a watch). We all watched as a seller busted a deal on a Chronomatic Siffert, to sell at a huge multiple of his original listed price, but this is probably not the last time that we will see someone value money (or a watch) more than their honor.
- The Dearly Departed: Well, it’s December 31, 2009, and I know that I sold or traded away several watches over the course of the year. But right now, I can’t recall any that I regret selling, so this may be another measure of a good year for a collector.
- Monaco 1133B — Will the Third Time be the Charm?: For the third time in my collecting life, I have bought a 1133B Monaco, “just like Steve McQueen wore”, and for the third time in my life, it is getting very little wrist time. You see, the 1133B “transitional” is my preferred blue Monaco. So for the third time in my collecting life, I am wondering whether a vintage Heuer collector really “must” own one of these; I am also wondering whether, if I sell it or trade it away, a fourth one will come into my life . . . or will this be the end of the line for me and Steve?
- Some Themes and Trends: Early in 2009, I was working on the registry of the pre-Carrera (no-name) chronographs, and bought several beautiful chronos from the 1940’s . . . these really do seem like bargains. Later in the year, I seemed to be chasing the Carreras, primarily the manual-wind models from the 1960’s. I will admit that I have slowly moved away from the Caliber 12 chronographs, other than the big three (Autavia-Carrera-Monaco), so that the only other Caliber 12 chronograph currently in my collection is a black Cortina . . . that’s right, no Daytonas, Montreals, Monzas, etc. At the moment, I am liking the purity of the manual-wind Carreras; the earlier 1970’s Autavias (before they got top-heavy); just about any of the Monacos; and yes, I am still enjoying the pre-Carreras (and wondering how they can be such bargains relatives to the ones with the model names on the dials).
Some Priorities (Resolutions) for 2010: One of the fun things about this hobby is that on a given day, or in a given month, there’s no way to predict the interesting things that may come along. One day, I’m planning to update the Carrera section, and then I hear that Patrizzi will be doing a “Heuer Only” auction. I spend three weeks covering this auction, and then we get back to the Carrera section. I click on an old bookmark, and there’s the rarest of the rare: a Carrera 1158 CHN on the original bracelet. Over the next few weeks, I have a new watch and OnTheDash has a new webpage and 50 new photos. This makes it fun; it also makes it difficult to plot a course for 2010, or even to complete several projects that are underway. With that warning, here are some priorities for 2010
- Updating the Price Guide: OK, no more excuses. First, I was waiting for the Euro-USD exchange rate to stabilize; then, I was waiting to see the results of the Patrizzi “Heuer Only” auction; now, there are no more excuses. This is one of our most popular, useful pages . . . it is over two years old . . . updating it will the the top priority of 2010.
- State of the Collection Page: Over the years, I have done two or three of these pages, but I never had the time to do one at year-end 2008. I am determined to do one for year-end 2009, showing approximately 82 of the watches that matter most to me [that’s right, eighty two]. Stay tuned for further details.
- Camaro Reference Table: It took us five or six years to put pen to paper (or HTML to server) on the Carrera table; surely we can get the Camaro table done . . . right? I mean, there weren’t that many of them and we have a good draft of the table.
- Divers Table: The natives are restless for a table of Heuer’s dive watches; of course, after the table, we will need to add galleries and photos.
- Split Lap Unit 77: I found the designer, interviewed him (by e-mail), received amazing original materials, gathered the information and started writing this page . . . all this, in early 2009; completing this very interesting page will be a priority in 2009.
- Following the Auctions: It was fun following the Patrizzi “Heuer Only” auction, and setting up a new area of OnTheDash to follow the action. In 2010, we are likely to see at least one, and possibly two, major auctions featuring the vintage Heuers.
Thanks: I won’t even try to thank everyone by name, but if you have supplied photos (or watches or information about watches), searched through catalogs, tried to break the code on the serial numbers, sold a watch at a friendly price, found a watch for the community, organized an event, supplied parts to another collector, or Tweeted or posted messages about any of this, then you have contributed to the amazing fabric of this vintage Heuer community and we offer our sincere thanks.
Looking Forward to 2010: As I arrive at the end of this “too-big-to-fail” report, it’s difficult to make any precise predictions for 2009. Movements in the world economy and the value of vintage Heuers remain difficult to predict. What I can predict is that many of the forces that have contributed to our community in 2009 — informational resources, communications channels, support from TAG-Heuer, passionate collectors, committed dealers, interest from the major auction houses, and special events — will continue to gain momentum, and will be joined by many new contributors. I am optimistic that 2010 will be another wonderful year for the vintage Heuers.
So here’s wishing everyone a fantastic 2010.