John Reardon is the man you want around if you have any queries about Patek Philippe. Or if you want to know about a vintage watch, the value it deserves or a potential watch you want to buy.
Born in Bristol, Connecticut, Reardon’s choice of career in the prestige watch industry was a happy accident. Growing up in the backyard of a small group of 19th and 20th-century clock companies—such as Waterbury Clock Co. and E. Ingraham—it was only a matter of time before he came in contact with clocks. The American Clock & Watch Museum, curated by the revered Dana Blackwell, was the first museum Reardon ever visited. Once he was in, Reardon never looked back. Under the tutelage of Blackwell and his successor, Stuart Mitchell, Reardon quickly learned clockmaking. And by the time he was in college, he was running a fully fledged clockmaking business from the basement of his family’s house.
His official entry into the world of watches came right before he was to fly to Malawi to join the Peace Corps. Sotheby’s senior vice president Daryn Schnipper offered him a job that catapulted Reardon to where he is now. During his early years at Sotheby’s, Reardon was responsible for cataloguing the popular and coveted Henry Graves Supercom-Little did he know that this would be the start of his passion for the illustrious brand. The rest, as they say, is history. He not only developed an avid interest in the brand, but also went on to work for it in 2001.
However, during his 10-year tenure at Patek Philippe, Reardon missed the world of vintage watches. He returned to Sotheby’s as the head of the watch department in the US in 2011, but soon left it for Christie’s, the world’s biggest watch auction house. After a six-year stint as international head of watches at Christie’s, Reardon has now launched his own company, Collectability LLC. We got in touch with him to talk about his new venture and his plans for the future.
WTI: What made you leave Christie’s and start your own company?
JR: After over two decades of working for large companies, it was time for me to fulfil my dream of starting my own company. I have been beyond fortunate to have worked for Patek Philippe and the two largest auction houses in the world. Yet, I always wanted to start my own small business when the time was right. That time is now! The vision of Collectability LLC reflects my own personal values and gives me complete control to assist my friends and clients in building exceptional vintage and modern watch collections in a highly customised and personalised manner.
WTI: What has been the most exciting aspect of venturing out on your own?
JR: Collectability is only a few months old now and I have already had many exciting horological adventures. I have also found the mechanics of setting up a small business quite exciting and interesting. The realities of registering a new business, accounting, marketing, social media and building a new website are all new to me and I realise the importance of a building a strong foundation for future growth. Although the nuts and bolts are not exactly glamorous, this part of the nascent stages of Collectability will never be forgotten. My tagline for my company is ‘An Education in Patek Philippe’. No one knows everything about everything in the world of Patek (unless your last name is Stern…), but I do know a thing or two and my company will share my personal journey in the constant and unending hunt for knowledge of all things Patek Philippe, down to the most obscure details.
WTI:What do you think about the emerging market of pre-owned watches?
JR: The pre-owned market is expanding in ways the watch world has never seen before. Many new players and buyers (are coming in), and the (new) ways of exchanging information are changing the pre-owned market at lightning speed. My company is focused on one niche in the market—vintage Patek Philippe. I find the pre-owned modern market more of a commodity trading floor, and availability and price rule the day. Vintage Patek Philippe is another story and this where the real scholarship comes to fruition.
WTI: How has the digital landscape shaped the pre-owned watch industry?
JR: Much of the recent growth of the pre-owned watch market is driven by the digital proliferation of new information about watches, where they are, and how much they are selling. A quick Google search can inform one of a wide range of intel on almost any topic, especially price points. The problem is that much of this information may be wrong or is incomplete… and could easily be misinterpreted.
WTI: What are you currently working on for your own company?
JR: I am currently building my inventory for a late 2019 website launch. I am buying some very interesting pieces from a wide variety of sources globally. The one rule for each of these acquisitions is that I would want to keep it within my own personal collection and it must meet my personal requirements of condition, historical importance and rarity. This leaves the standard exceptionally high…. The problem is that I fall in love with so many of these pieces and I don’t know if I will have the heart to sell them! Concurrently, I am writing dozens of articles for the launch of the Collectability website. This is a true pleasure as I am finally telling the stories and sharing facts that I have always wanted to share in my own voice.
WTI: Are you planning to get into other brands as well?
JR: Collectability will focus on only Patek Philippe to begin with. It is my wheelhouse, it is my passion, and it will be my sole focus, personally and professionally. Anything is possible in the future, but I am more than happy to focus on only Patek Philippe for the time being.
WTI: As you are venturing into the vintage watch sector, who do you see as your competition? Chrono24 or WatchBox?
JR: I don’t see Chrono24 or WatchBox, among many others, as competitors. The large companies are focused on pre-owned and the vintage market is a very different world, especially at the high end. Of course, many of the highest-ticket vintage Pateks will be sold at the major auction houses and a very developed dealer market will continue to trade in high-end vintage Pateks. I see Collectability as a resource to anyone or any entity that trades in vintage Patek. I see others in the world of vintage Patek Philippe as peers, colleagues, friends, and not as competitors. We can all learn from each other, help each other, share information and it will be to the benefit t of the collector. I know this is a bit idealistic, but we are all temporary custodians of the miniature mechanical works of art and should work to preserve them and show them the respect they deserve rather than focusing on competing. The future of this market rests on robust information exchange and sharing of data and expertise.
WTI: What do you think about Swiss watch giants moving into the preowned sector? Does that help or hurt your company?
JR: I think the Swiss watch giants are adjusting to the awareness and the growing acceptance of the pre-owned trade rather quickly. Generally, the most important concern for the brands is having properly trained watchmakers available to service and care for this ever-growing global inventory of watches. Each brand has its own strategy of (tackling) this growing trend and I respect what they are each doing.
WTI: What do you plan to bring to the table as the new senior international consultant to Christie’s Watches?
JR: I hope to help when I can, attend the auctions, advise collectors, and keep close to this group of people I highly respect. Over the past six years, the Christie’s team has become a second family for me, and I look forward to keeping these wonderful friendships and working relationships. For the important vintage Pateks that come to the market, it is my pleasure and honour to assist in the scholarship and presentation of these watches. I am also on the hunt for watches and collections that would best be sold at Christie’s. Ultimately, the decision of how to sell a watch belongs to the owner and, in many cases, auction is the best option. I am privileged to be able to assist clients in presenting all options of how to best bring their watches to the market.
WTI: What are your first memories of a watch?
JR: My first watch memories centre on my grandfather’s American-made Hamilton tonneau wristwatch. As a young boy, I remember him winding the watch and it intrigued me. The sound of winding a watch is simply magic in my opinion and, to this day, the sound and feel of winding a watch or a clock is a simple pleasure.
WTI: You have always been involved with watches, but the last time you spoke to us, you mentioned a personal clock collection, including English long-case clocks from the 17th century. How did that start?
JR: I personally remain fascinated by 17th and 18th century English longcase clocks. Unfortunately, this collecting segment is not as popular as other categories, but it creates an amazing opportunity for one to buy amazing horological treasures from this era at unbelievably reasonable numbers. For the price of a modern stainless steel Patek Philippe Nautilus, one can buy one or two incredible examples of these masterpieces! That’s an incredible value proposition for something 300 years old and I am always on the hunt for more examples for my personal collection.
WTI: From being obsessed with Patek Philippe to working for the brand, how did that come about?
JR: I was working my way up the ladder at Sotheby’s in the year 2000 when I first received the call from a Patek Philippe head hunter. I thought it was a joke at first as it seemed too good to be true. Imagine getting a call out of nowhere saying that Patek Philippe would like to meet and discuss a possible position….I felt at the time I had won the lottery and was so grateful for the opportunity.
WTI: When it comes to the auction market, how do you think it has changed today, especially within the digital landscape?
JR: In my opinion, the auction market for watches is changing much faster than any of us ever imagined possible. I look back at the auction landscape five years ago, assess where the industry is now, and imagine what the watch auction market will be in fi ve years. One thing for sure will change—the forensic assessment of the case, dial and movement of each watch will become paramount, especially with vintage (and every watch eventually becomes vintage). Gone will be the days of strong opinions of influencers being accepted as the final word and we will welcome a new era based on facts. The scholarship available to all will experience a punctuated growth in the very near future and will be amplified globally thanks to the internet. Imagine what this will do to market prices…. In the end, it is all about the collector and his or her ability to know exactly what he or she is buying.
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