Pascal Grenacher: Dear John, it’s great to see you again, this time in London. Can you tell us something about this Dubai Watch Week Forum in London?
John Reardon: When it comes to London, you could say that it is a hotbed of horology. Although we do not have many watch sales here, many of our clients have come to live and work here. That is why we often spend time in London – one of the central hubs of horology. Not to mention that purchasing power and craftsmanship are at a very high level in London, especially when it comes to the watch industry. It is exactly why we are here. It is all about tradition here in the UK. That is why we think this is the perfect place for Dubai Watch Week.
Pascal Grenacher: Before we delve deeper into the subject, I would like to thank you for your hospitality and warm welcome; here in your lovely London Headquarters. Now, could you please tell us more about Christie’s and it’s early days, before we move on to your watch business?
John Reardon: Of course. For Christie’s, it all began in the 18th century. Back then, it was only a small house. Today, we are proud to say that Christie’s Auction House is one of the leaders in art business around the globe. The progress made throughout all these decades and centuries is truly something special. Quite an extraordinary story, really. I would say that all the people involved are at the core of its amazing development. From our department and management to the administrators and people who work here at Christie’s, every single person contributes with their heart and soul to help reach success. It is all about fine art, luxury items, and creating something beautiful – which is what makes working at Christie’s a unique and enjoyable experience.
If you compare our world, the watch industry, to other branches, like jewellery making, you can see that we are still very young. Timepieces have always been my passion, and even though we have created something extraordinary with Christie’s in our field of expertise, we have to keep in mind that there are masters of similar craft who have been around for much longer than us. You could say that watch collecting did not really hit the stride until the late 1980s. Look at the 1989 Patek Philippe auction – it was then that the traditional auction houses truly began to grow. In other words, that was when things became interesting for watch enthusiasts and, of course, for Christie’s.
We embraced various sales channels, mainly those regarding watches, of course, and our business expanded beyond auctions. Today, we have numerous clients and our online business is consistently thriving. At the moment we have a few live sales online, with up to 200 pieces being uploaded monthly, bringing in new clients, and new price points.
We are at a point where we are successfully attracting buyers who possibly never even thought of buying a watch at an auction house in their life; at least not until they became familiar with Christie’s.
Pascal Grenacher: When did the online business really took off for you, what do you think? Two, three years ago?
John Reardon: From day one, my drive, my passion was directed towards selling watches, and doing it online was a very interesting proposal. But it didn’t really launch up until, let’s say, about four years ago. Luckily, since then, we have managed to create a valid business method, with clients that trust us. Out of nowhere it really exploded and started becoming bigger and bigger. In the past, having a million-dollar sale online was unheard of. For us, today, it is no big deal. As of now, we are working on our first potential two-million-dollar sale online, with other sales planned for October, and December. The best thing about it is, it is a completely independent business and in no way does it affect the rest of our plans and projects. The same team is working on both ends.
Pascal Grenacher: Are the people who buy from you online the same clients you encounter at auction houses or private sales?
John Reardon: At the end of the day, when I look at the list, where we have hundreds of names of the people that bought from us, there will always be many, many people I do not know. Then again, if we take a look at specific live sales where we can see who the buyers and underbidders are, there will definitely be names that we are already familiar with. Sometimes, these people are Christie’s art clients, sometimes it is a completely new audience – which is what makes this type of business extremely profitable. They might have simply seen an advertisement on social media and chose to trust us in helping them buy their first $10,000 watch. Another thing that is incredible, we are able to track people’s journeys through these online sales. They would start by buying a watch and possibly end up shopping for some new jewellery, painting, etc. Thus, our clients can explore our whole world of luxury brands from the comfort of their own home.
Pascal Grenacher: Do you use this data as part of a marketing strategy, with the purpose of perhaps finding new solutions and ideas for future customers?
John Reardon: That all depends on the opt-in; what the customer chooses to do. If they are looking for more information and suggestions from us, the platform is intended to provide it. Let’s say that someone is interested in Patek Philippe. They will, of course, receive appropriate suggestions of watches that appear automatically, but also via our team. We are always focused on providing clients with the pieces they find interesting. It is also possible to help clients find new pieces they never heard of before, by combining all the necessary information, from our platform, private sales and traditional auctions.
Pascal Grenacher: How many people work at Christie’s for the timepieces department?
John Reardon: Our team consists of twenty-seven people, from all around the world. When I started doing business in the watch industry, or watch auctions, to be more precise, in the late 1990s, it was hard finding reliable and valid information. Back then, there were no watch communities, at least not like today. You had books and people who were watches specialists and knew everything there is to know about this line of work. Luckily, today, Christie’s watch department is a global network, consisting of specialists, ready to give clients the right information right away. Whatever a client needs, whether it is information about vintage Rolex pieces or Vacheron Constantin, we have someone focused on that particular branch that will provide all the necessary information.
Pascal Grenacher: Talking about specialists, you mentioned Patek Philippe. Could you tell us more about your collaboration and how it all started?
John Reardon: Yes, I came across Patek Philippe while working for another auction house in the late 1990s, right after graduating college. At first, I was quite fascinated with Rolex, which people who know me today might find really funny. It did not take long for Patek Philippe to become my main ’obsession’ and after spending four years in the auction world, I got the dream phone call. Patek Philippe offered me a job, and for a decade I worked for Patek Philippe USA. I had the most amazing experience working with them.
While working there, my only exposure to professional vintage pieces was when they were coming in for service. Incredible pieces passed down from generation to generation, that would never be sold at an auction. I felt the need to further satisfy my passion, and so I wrote three books on the history of the company while working for them. It was a kind of a love letter, a way to show my gratitude to the brand and the manufacturer. Ten years have passed so quickly, and it was these books that helped me realize how much I had missed watches. That is why coming to Christie’s remains one of the best decision I have ever made. A wonderful opportunity to work with the greatest Patek Philippe collectors on a daily basis yet again, constantly travelling and meeting them. I do not actually see them as my clients now; I consider them my lifelong friends. Our work together is nothing short of a wonderful and thrilling journey – one that I hope will last many years to come.
Pascal Grenacher: Well said, it is clear how much this means to you and how much passion you have for this business.
John Reardon: Indeed, it is a great company. So many beautiful, innovating timepieces, so much intelligent people working hard, and pleasant surprises along the way.
Pascal Grenacher: Speaking of Dubai Watch Week, we talked about the connection with the event taking place in Dubai for the first three editions. Now, for the first time, it does not actually take place in Dubai – how did this opportunity for you arise?
John Reardon: Actually, Christie’s has had the pleasure to be part of Dubai Watch Week from the very beginning. I, personally, was part of the first and third edition. Christie’s has been involved in all three. The idea of bringing it here to London appeared shocking to me at first. But, when you think about it, what the vision of Dubai Watch Week presents; it is unlike any other event. Normally, politics and similar nonsense tend to find their way into these things.
Dubai Watch Week is different because it is so pure and positive. It is about the exchange of ideas, an event from which people walk away feeling good and happy. You have all the brands, auction houses and collectors in one place, which is fantastic. We all have the same vision and a common goal, which is to share knowledge and grow together in this business that we so dearly love. When all is said and done, bringing Dubai Watch Week to London undoubtedly makes sense; and not just London – this wonderful concept should be spread around the world for people to take part in and enjoy.