What’s It Worth? – When Value Collides With World Events

Like last week, this article is about back in the day — but with the added entertainment value of me having lost $40,000.

The most expensive wristwatch I had ever purchased (at the time), a Ref. 1523 by Patek Philippe – was bought in partnership with a California dealer in April 1989. We paid $180,000 and put it in a Hong Kong auction with an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. The market was on fire and we were sure it would fetch more than the estimate.

As the June auction date approached, an extraordinary thing happened in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square (an event often euphemistically referred to in China as the June Fourth Incident), and when we arrived in Hong Kong, it took us four hours to get to our hotel, because there were tens of thousands of demonstrators in the street. The auctioneer said the auction would go on as planned, but we were skeptical.

When we got there the next day we were shocked to see only five people in attendance; this event usually drew hundreds (if not thousands) of buyers. Needless to say, our watch sold for far less than the estimate. The auctioneer sold it to a phone bidder, claiming it didn’t bring much money because most 1523 Pateks had world maps in the center and this one had a plain, simple blue disc – rendering it less desirable.

I completely forgot about the watch and the resultant loss of money until it resurfaced last year at an auction in Geneva, where it was touted as extremely rare because it had a simple disk in the center. It fetched $2.7 million at auction.

Am I crying in my beer? Oh, yeah.

Value of T-shirt: $30

What it cost me: $40,000

If you have a rare, expensive watch, let us bid on it. We will meet you at your home, bank or attorney’s office. We are experienced at Patek Philippe, Cartier, Tiffany, Rolex and Omega – especially vintage.

JEFF HESS, Owner & Appraiser

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