British Auction house Dreweatts has been selling exceptional art, furniture, jewellery and watches since 1759 from its historic country estate. This month its Watches and Luxury Accessories sale, which can be accessed online from around the world, will include a private collection of vintage Heuer wristwatches; a brand that has been growing in importance and value in recent years as Dreweatt’s senior watch specialist Adrian Hailwood explains.
Although vintage Heuer watches have always had an enthusiastic following, their collecting could not, until recently, be considered mainstream. In 1996 TAG Heuer launched their first re-issue, the beautifully realized Carrera CS3110, and each subsequent delve into the archives shone a little more light on the fascinating possibilities of the historical models.
That this interest was largely influenced by the modern re-issues was shown at the seminal Haslinger Collection auction, 2010, where the top prices were achieved by a Monaco and a Chronomatic Autavia, both models had received the make-over treatment, although these were rarer variants.
Interestingly, the superstars of today, although reaching record prices for 2010 were well down the list when it came to achieved prices.
The Haslinger sale woke up the major watch auction houses to the possibility of Heuer and interest started to grow, but something changed along the way and suddenly the interest shifted from the 1970s to the 60s and the early Autavias and Carreras.
What it was, we cannot be sure of, but, personally, I believe it has a lot to do with the Rolex Daytona. As vintage prices sky-rocketed out of reach, then alternative Valjoux 72 powered watches became more attractive, and there was Heuer, with all the right ‘cool’ credentials waiting in the wings.
In 2016 the world officially went Heuer crazy. The first auction price over US$100,000 was achieved that autumn and in January 2017 a 1st execution ref. 2446 sold at retail for over US$200,000. The word ‘bubble’ began to be muttered and vintage Heuers of varying levels of condition and authenticity began to creep into every auction catalog. At the beginning of this year market observers told me that there was a softening taking place but I would describe it as more of a stabilizing.
The demand for vintage Heuer remains strong among the buying public, so I am told by my friends in the vintage retail community, but they are becoming more discerning and are not willing to buy just anything with the name Heuer on the dial.
If buyers are becoming pickier, this is because they are better informed, thanks to the sterling work of websites such as ‘Calibre 11’ and ‘On The Dash’, and while their Autavias and Carreras will always remain the superstars, interest is growing in the rest of the back catalog both earlier and later.
This interest is richly rewarded as there are elegant chronographs from the 1940s which wear their sporting personalities a little more lightly as well as true products of the 1970s whose designs range from the bold to the downright funky.
As with all collecting categories, the lesser known pieces will always be a lot more affordable, meaning that you could get a Valjoux 22 powered Heuer for a fraction of the cost of a similar 1940s Rolex or a more distinctive 1970s watch, still part of the Chronomatic family but a lot less pricey than an Autavia or Monaco.
After quiet beginnings the Heuer market has grown up fast but it appears there is much more growth to come. It is a sector with a wide range of styles and price-points, connections to motorsport, aviation and the military and a huge bank of knowledge and research to underpin it. After Rolex and Patek Philippe we all wondered what the ‘next big thing’ would be, and it seems that Heuer is a worthy candidate.