Joey Luk, Co-Head of Sale, Watches Dubai, holds the top lot watch Audemars Piguet, at Sotheby’s at Dubai International Financial Centre. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: Fancy making an investment, but don’t want to get into stock or owing a property right now? Then you should consider buying a watch.

Pre-owned watches are becoming hot-ticket items at auctions, much along the lines of what antique jewellery, vintage cars and fine art. The global watch auction market is having one of its “best years”.

“Our worldwide (watch) sales already total $63.9 million, which is 15 per cent more than our 2017 annual total and with four more sales to go until December,” said Sam Hines, the Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s Watch Division. “Our two flagship auctions in Hong Kong in April and October realised our highest totals for a watch sale in Asia in the last five years.”

Wealthy investors in the UAE on the lookout for alternative assets have a chance to do some serious buying in Dubai next week, with Sotheby’s launching its first watch auction in the Middle East. The auctioneer feels the timing of the event couldn’t get any better.

Displayed watches at Sotheby's at Dubai International Financial Centre in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

“In the last five years, the number of Middle Eastern bidders in our global watch sales climbed by 40 per cent,” said Hines. “Over the same period, collectors from the region bought timepieces in excess of $25 million. Last year, almost half of Middle Eastern buyers in our watch sales worldwide were first-time buyers.”

Those coming for the auction in Dubai need some serious cash to get their hands on the watches being put up. One of them, a 52-jewel laden Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Grande Complication from 2002 is expected to fetch between $400,000-$600,000.

For somebody looking for a watch less pricey, there’s one ranging from $2,000 for a Rolex featuring a special dial. In all, there are to be 121 lots at the November 18 auction.

But what’s with this craving for alternative assets? According to Andrew Shirley, Wealth Report Editor at the London-headquartered consultancy Knight Frank, “In times of political or economic uncertainty investors often look for tangible asset classes as a safe haven for their capital. With equities’ bull run seemingly faltering, more emphasis may shift towards luxury investments.

“Over the past 12 months we have seen a number of record prices set at auctions, including the $48.4m paid for a Ferrari 250 GTO. The best classic cars or works of art are attracting strong bidding.”

Watches are in the mix as well. In the 12 months to end June this year, Knight Frank reckons that vintage watches as an asset class are up 5 per cent, closely shadowing that of cars, at 6 per cent. Pure art leads the way with a 25 per cent uptick. “It is worth remembering that the majority of collectors are mainly driven by their passion for the asset class, whether it is art or classic cars,” Shirley added.

As for Sotheby’s, it plans to have Dubai as a permanent base for its annual watch auctions, alongside those held in Geneva, Hong Kong, London and New York.

“We are planning two other watch sales in Dubai next year, the first will take place in March,” said Hines. “This auction is part of a wider strategy to offer watches all year long via various channels — live auctions, online sales, private treaty. And Just last month, top lots of our Geneva watch sale were on view in Dubai, alongside jewels from the Bourbon Parma collection.”

For the world’s wealthy, age of an asset is never an issue

Classic cars have ruled the rankings in the last 10 years as the preferred choice of investors who do not want to park funds in just the traditional places. “Double- digit annual price growth was the norm until the beginning of 2017,” notes the recent Knight Frank “Wealth Report”. “However, over the past year or so the market has braked, allowing art and wine to overtake and clinch first and second places in the Index, which tracks the performance of 10 luxury asset classes.”