Currently, we are seeing a significant increase in the interest of collectors in watches created by independent watchmakers and small creative brands. We intend to support this trend through our work – in searching for important and attractive timepieces, in making accurate assessments of their prospects, and in researching and providing information that we publish while presenting watches we have selected for auction. Watchmaking, and above all the works of independent watchmakers and small creative brands, needs explaining = and a good amount of publicity. Without this, how else can one explain the value and difference between a timepiece produced by an independent watchmaker and an ordinary watch bought in a regular store? They both have hands, and they both tell us the time…
The topic of ‘independents’ seems to us – and we hope to the growing circle of our clients, friends and followers of our pages on social media as well – extremely exciting and important. We are, therefore, going to dedicate our May auction solely to independent watchmakers and small creative brands, and, moreover, mainly to unique pieces and extremely rare watches. The market of previously-enjoyed timepieces has already formed a list of ‘blue chips’, yet we are sure that this list is still far from complete. Many masters and their excellent watches deserve special attention.
We always strive to give special care and attention to these timepieces, ensuring they are noticed by connoisseurs and collectors if we believe that they remain underestimated. Our approach is based on a simple idea, which can be summarised thus: the number of independent watchmakers and small creative brands seems considerable and it increases every year, though the total result of their production on a planetary scale is extremely small. At the same time, the attractiveness of the watches they create and the charisma of the personalities behind them are often so high that we will soon encounter what for professionals in the market would be a concerning phenomenon – the owners of the best examples will not rush to part with them, even with the temptation of making a good profit.
The preparations for the May auction are still very much in progress at the moment, however, we can already share a few snippets about some of the fundamentally important lots and the watchmakers and brands that created them.
Ineichen Auctioneers was established in Zurich in 1973 to hold auctions for antique toys, helvetica, drawings, militaria, scientific instruments, books, carpets, and valuable antique papers. Just like most auction houses of the time, Ineichen Auctioneers started off as a family business, operating for a close circle of experts and friends.
Peter A. Ineichen, founder of the house, was mostly interested in the history of chronometry and began to specialize in watches and clocks. As the oldest auction house with a focus on watches in Switzerland, Ineichen Auctioneers has established itself as an important player in the field, both domestically and internationally.
First Years, First Results
Prices for watches began to soar in the 1970s. Ineichen Auctioneers continuously worked with collectors to ensure a steady flow of new pieces. Within the first 5 years of its existence, the auction house set 4 world records for watch sales. In 1975 and 1977, two auctions each saw two pieces sold at record prices, while in 1975, just two years after it had been founded, Ineichen Auctioneers was entrusted with the world-renowned collection of the Hellmut Kienzle watch museum.
Back in the 1970s, it wasn’t common to hold auctions dedicated exclusively to watches. Peter Ineichen introduced a new concept when he started dedicating his sales solely to horology.
Ineichen successfully set new benchmarks for historically important pocket watches. The Breguet No. 213, featuring an array of complications including a quarter repeater and equation of time, was originally purchased in 1800 by the French general Moreau, famous for bringing Napoleon Bonaparte to power. After Moreau passed away in 1813, the watch was resold to another outstanding historical personality – the French writer, translator, and founder of the first news agency ‘Agence Havas’ (known today as ‘Agence France-Presse’), Charles-Louis Havas. Ineichen, which by that time had become the frontrunner in the pocket watch trade, successfully sold the Breguet No. 213 for 500,000 CHF in 1975.
Ineichen played a vital role in ensuring the successful sale of another extremely rare and exquisite pocket watch, the “Montre garde-temps à tourbillon No.1918”, created by Abraham-Louis Breguet.
The famous Parisian watchmaker and inventor patented his revolutionary piece of mechanics – the tourbillon – in 1801. Between 1805 and 1826, Breguet sold just 35 watches equipped with his tourbillon regulator, one of which was the aforementioned piece “No.1918”. This was originally sold to Count Archinto of Milan in 1822. At an auction held in 1978, Ineichen sold this timepiece for the sensational price of 500,000 CHF.
In 1977, Ineichen Auctioneers moved its business to new premises on C.F. Meyerstrasse, opposite Zurich’s quaint Belvoir Park. This move allowed for regular conferences with art experts and friends.
Growing Stronger in Hard Times
The boom years came to a halt in the mid-1980s, causing the Swiss watch industry to struggle and contract. A further downturn was averted by investing in mass production, which eventually lead to interest in luxury watches flourishing again.
In 1982, Ineichen Auctioneers founded its publishing branch, beginning with a book on the Geneva watchmaking dynasty of Patek Philippe. This was published in collaboration with the iconic writing duo Martin Huber and Alan Banbery. The book included some of the rarest Patek Philippe pocket watches ever made, including the famous Henry Graves Supercomplication watch, which was sold for US$24 million at Sotheby’s. To this day, the book serves as a guide for the entire community. It was followed by a book on Hellmut Kienzle’s famous collection of antique watches (1984) and one on the history of the IWC International Watch Co. by Hans-Friedrich Tölke and Jürgen King (1986).
Ten years after its last move, in 1987 Ineichen Auctioneers relocated to Badenerstrasse. They began to hold auctions in the Casino across the street, with a focus on watches, jewellery and antique toys from 1996 onwards. Exclusive wristwatches, such as Paul Newman Rolexes, panda dial Tag-Heuer Carreras or Nautilus Patek Philippes, were sold to an international audience.
The relocation to Stadthausquai, in the heart of Zurich, gave them the opportunity to run a retail arm in conjunction with their existing auction business.
New Times - New Challenges
In the mid-1990s, Peter A. Ineichen control of the auction house to his son Frank.
In the 2000s, despite a strong boom in wristwatches from the top brands, the auction house stayed traditional and continued to deal mainly with antique and vintage watches. The beginning of 2010 saw the rapid development of online retailing and advertising, but Ineichen Auctioneers remained conservatively devoted to their customers. To adjust to a new business model, new management took over the operational part of the business in 2017, with Frank Ineichen remaining a consultant.
At that time, a diligent young man by the name of Artemy Lechbinsky – with a vast knowledge in all things watches, from antique pocket watches to contemporary independent watchmakers – envisioned the potential to transform this sleeping giant into a premier auction house. He aimed to bring back the glory days of Ineichen Auctioneers by building relationships with collectors and offering rare and independent wristwatches.
A Change for the Best
Starting from the end of 2017, a full transformation of both the design of the premises, including the shopfronts, and the technical equipment of the auction house began. A new team of professionals perfect for the new conditions was gathered.
2018 was a transitional year and required considerable efforts to restructure the business model. The auction house began to work with independent watchmakers and sell used watches in its stores. That year, Ineichen Zurich held 3 auctions (including jewellery).
In 2019, additional investments were attracted for the development of a new IT infrastructure, while the photographing of goods and their presentation to potential buyers was redesigned. Additionally, serious sums were invested in online advertising. All this resulted in sales growth of more than 5 times compared to 2018.
In 2020, the first stage of the new IT infrastructure was launched. The number of employees was increased several times, with a specific focus on the online marketing team. These adjustments allowed them to hold their most successful auction in terms of sales in the last 40 years.
Meanwhile, 2021 saw the auction house launch its own online store, start its own in-house online bidding platform, and complete its first sale through it.
At the May 22nd auction, the previous record by sales volume was broken. This auction was also marked by the sale of the most expensive NFT token from a watchmaker in history.
The November auctions more than doubled the result of the May record, proving that Ineichen is on a path of continuous and rapid growth.
Another milestone in the history of the auction house was achieved in 2021, with a new concept for auctions being introduced. Moving from large semi-annual auctions with over 200 pieces, focus has been given to "special" auctions. These auctions feature highly outstanding lots in amounts of no more than 50 per auction. Each auction has its own theme, uniting all the items allocated to it.
Having taken over the business, the new management is determined to continue the tradition of the Ineichen family while simultaneously adapting to the new circumstances and complexities of the global market. This responsive and flexible business adjustment keeps Ineichen interesting for both long-time consumers and new buyers.