World class watch expert and auction veteran Sabine Kegel joins the Collectability team
At Collectability, our goal is to provide our clients with the very best advice and scholarship on all things Patek Philippe. It is therefore a great honor that we welcome one of the most highly regarded watch experts and auction veterans in the industry, Sabine Kegel to our team. Sabine lives and works in Geneva and will represent Collectability throughout Europe and Asia. With over 25 years experience in the watch auction world, Sabine is respected by the world’s most important watch collectors and institutions. In the following interview, John Reardon talks to his friend and colleague about her career and plans for the future with Collectability.
John Reardon: First, please tell us about yourself professionally and your ongoing horological journey?
Sabine Kegel: I have been fascinated by watches since I was a teenager. Getting hired by Christie’s for their watch department in 1995 felt like winning the lottery! I learned from scratch so to say, and learned by doing, and a lot from books and catalogues of past auctions as there was no internet at the time. I took some watchmaking classes too, including at the NAWCC School of Horology, which was very helpful, but it was clear that I would be a terrible watchmaker! Being passionate about watches is an ongoing journey – you learn something new and intriguing literally every day!
JR: What was your favorite part about working in the auction world?
SK: There is never a dull moment, even if at times you wished there was. You never know in advance what the day is going to bring. You have the incredible chance of seeing exceptional pieces that nobody else can see, not only watches, you meet exceptional people and you learn so much not only about watches, but also about art, jewelry, history, human beings (their good and the bad sides!) – the list could go on and on. I really enjoyed it, it was a fantastic time.
JR: What are some of your greatest Patek discoveries over the past three decades?
SK: There were many, particularly in the late 1990s/early 2000s, before the full arrival of the internet. We placed ads in local newspapers and had a lot of success, particularly in Spain at the time; often over 20 clients with watches would contact us in a day, but you never knew in advance what they would show. One day a couple, and their son arrived with a pink on pink ref. 1436 inherited from a relative, they had no idea what they had. A dealer had made them a rather low offer but fortunately they decided to check with us as well. When I gave them the estimate, it must have been around 120 – 180,000 CHF back then, they thought I was kidding. Anyway, they consigned, they attended the auction in Geneva, sitting nicely dressed and anxious in the front row, and could just not believe it when it hammered I think at 200,000 CHF. They were so happy, it was a lot of money for them and really changed their life. Sometime later I discovered a pink second series ref. 2499 from the widow of the original owner and a couple of years later the first (and so far only) of the two known pink ref. 3448s, retailed by Freccero, with the original certificate, also from a private consigner. Both did extremely well and changed the lives of their former owners. And finally, a very intriguing “Cabriolet” pocket watch with a fusée and chain transmission and imitated English hallmarks — if it had not been for the original Patek Philippe Certificate with it I would have never identified it as such. It sold for nearly 300,000 CHF and is today in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
JR: Why did you decide and how does it feel to leave the auction world after over 25 years?
SK: The time had come for me to slow down and move on. I needed more time for myself, for my family, which was very difficult to combine with the faster and faster auction house path. It was a great experience which I wouldn’t want to miss for the world but I am really happy being on the other side now!
JR: Why Collectability?
SK: Well we were a great team already when you, Elisa and I were working together at Christie’s, now we continue as a great team together with Tania. We share the same passion, particularly for vintage Patek Philippe, and I love the educational part, which is hard to find on other watch sites. I very much appreciate your approach in general, the Collectability articles, videos and podcasts are always super informative while also being very entertaining. I feel that we compliment each other extremely well and I enjoy being the European representative of Collectability.
JR: Where do you see the watch market going in late 2022 and beyond?
SK: Even with the ongoing insecurity caused by inflation, the war etc., demand for watches will stay strong and is likely to increase. We will experience a correction in prices of some overvalued, modern watches, while timepieces from certain watchmakers will continue to be extremely popular and difficult to get, leading to watches of rather undervalued brands becoming increasingly popular too. And let’s not forget watches from independent makers who seem to be at an all time high.
JR: How do you see the landscape of watch sellers changing?
SK: Collections of those who have been buying since the 1980s/90s and who are starting to sell now are often comprised of pocket watches, regrettably not all in demand at present. They often own great vintage wristwatches too, sometimes bought new and never used which are fantastic discoveries. Moving forward we will likely see less pocket watches coming up for sale, but more vintage watches and particularly much more modern.
JR: Do you see changes in the buying habits of collectors?
SK: With the big watch manufacturers increasing their production numbers there is a clear trend towards independent makers and their incredibly small output. This combined with their innovative techniques and designs, and often custom made models have made them “must haves” for many collectors. The bi-annual Only Watch charity sales, which gives newly arrived independent makers a great international platform, have clearly strongly contributed to this trend.
JR: You advise many of the top collectors in the world. What do you most enjoy from these relationships?
SK: Having known most of them for a very long time we have very close, personal relationships, I think I can safely say we have become friends. Another very enjoyable aspect is the trust they have in me and how much they count on my advice.
JR: You are one of the most respected and knowledgeable horological scholars to ever work in the auction world. How did you balance your stringent academic standards with the fast pace profit driven nature of auction?
SK: This is very kind of you to say! My reputation is extremely important, if not the most important thing to me so I just keep on sticking to my principles and ethics.
JR: In the world of Patek Philippe, do you prefer modern or vintage?
SK: My heart beats for vintage but I do appreciate some of the modern models as well. And from a commercial point of view you have to acknowledge their importance.
JR: What are the three categories of Patek Philippe collecting you find to be most exciting?
SR: Patek Philippe antique and vintage timepieces, say up to the 1980s, for their technical developments, ingenuity and aesthetics. All the Patek Philippe clocks as there is great variety among the high precision master clocks, time clocks, chronometers, the beautifully decorated dome clocks etc. Last but not least, the funky Patek Philippe pieces made in the 1970s, often unique watch and jewelry sets with extraordinary designs, letter openers, lighters etc.
JR: In the world of Patek Philippe, can you share your recommendations on references to Buy, Sell and Hold?
SK: Buy: great condition, Patek Philippe time-only vintage and pocket watches which are still very moderately priced. Sell: if you want to take advantage of the very strong demand and potentially high prices to be achieved at present — any complicated vintage Patek Philippe wristwatch or enameled pieces, preferably decorated by Susanne Rohr, Anita Porchet or Carlo Poluzzi. Hold: any Patek Philippe that you really enjoy owning and wearing!
JR: What watches do you most enjoy hunting and studying outside the world of Patek Philippe?
SK: I love pocket watches, there is so much to them from a technical, historical and decorative point of view. Enamel miniatures for example, exquisite works of art, or automatons made for the Chinese market, impossible to reproduce to such a level of finesse today despite all the technical means we have. I regret that pocket watches in general are undervalued, fortunately, there are still enthusiasts who share my passion for these marvels. And who knows, they might become fashionable again!
JR: What advice do you have for new collectors?
SK: Buy what you really like and what you want to wear. If one day you part with it and don’t get back what you paid, you have at least enjoyed it while you had it. Be very attentive to quality/condition as this is one of the most important value-keeping aspects. If you buy second hand, research prices and reputation of the vendors first.
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