On December 8, Artcurial auctioned off some 69 lots in a sale titled “Panerai Only,” the first public auction dedicated to the Italian brand. The sale included timepieces made from the 1930s to the present day. Notwithstanding its commercial aspirations, it aimed to give greater visibility to a brand whose history and production were cloaked in secrecy for years due to its military connection.
“The brand deserves to be better known by the public,” said Marie Sanna-Legrand, a specialist in Artcurial’s watch department. “Panerai has produced unusual diving watches since its founding. It was only natural for us to dedicate a sale to the brand just ahead of its 80th anniversary,” she said.
The 80th anniversary in question refers to the birth of the Radiomir, first made by Panerai in 1936 for Italian military divers. The brand itself dates back to 1860 when it started as a small shop backed by an atelier and watchmaking school, primarily supplying measuring instruments and diving watches to the Italian Marine.
In 1997, the brand was acquired by the Compagnie Financière Richemont. Today, Panerai produces its own movements and assembles its watches in a manufacture in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
In sheer numbers, the sale was less than spectacular. It totaled €1,014,010 (including premium) against a presale estimate of €1,325,800 (not including premium), with only 43 percent of the lots sold and 63 percent sold by value.
“When you consider the historical pieces, 80 percent were sold,” said Romain Rea, an outside specialist retained by Artcurial to procure consignments and prepare the catalogue. “Limited editions also sold well to collectors and dealers. It was the middle range, pieces priced between €3,000 and €15,000, what we call second-hand pieces, that sold less well, in the 20 percent range. This is a phenomenon we have witnessed globally in the watch market,” he added.
According to the auction house, two world records were achieved. Lot 52, labeled an exceptional and rare limited edition 1956 stainless steel diving watch was sold for €125,800. Lot 38, a Radiomir model PAM00021, a 1997 limited edition wristwatch with a Rolex movement and a re-edition of the 1938 Radiomir, sold for €103,500. Both found buyers at or close to their lowest estimates.
Two other models, lots 25 and 40, from the 1950s, both with Rolex-manufactured movements, found buyers for €101,000, at their lowest estimates.
“We had gathered historical pieces that trace the brand’s history and important stages of production,” Mr. Rea said. “There was a time when there were few clients for Panerai watches. Now, there is a growing collector base and the sale helped in further developing that base.”
Educating the public and developing a collector-base with an appreciation of the merits of a brand can help narrow the gap with the top market sellers, Patek Philippe and Rolex. Clearly, the global result of the Panerai sale pales in comparison to the spectacular results that, say, a Patek Philippe or Rolex sale can generate.
Just weeks before the Panerai Only sale, Sotheby’s had sold the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication for nearly $24 million. Christie’s single brand Patek anniversary auction last November generated $19,7 million. A year earlier, Christie’s single-themed Rolex auction titled “Rolex Daytona Lesson One” had fetched $13 million.
While Christie’s and Sotheby’s may shun brands other top sellers for theme sales, auction houses like Artcurial can carve their own niche market and capture clients out-priced by a rare Rolex or Patek.
“Thematic watch sales are a strategy we believe in and that we will continue in the future,” said Ms. Valade, Director of the Watch and Jewel Department, Artcurial.