I was bidding over the phone on a 1850 regulator clock - sight unseen.
The clock was in typical distressed condition: complete, but in
desperate need of restoration. Starting with the mechanism itself, to
the silver dial and the mahogany case. All three major components would
require specialists work. Think thousands of dollars and months of hard
The clock was auctioned by Sydney auction house which specializes in
pretty much everything- from vintage cars, wine and furniture to even
diamonds. The pre-auction estimate was $5,000- $10,000 but on Sunday
morning, a couple hours before the auction, the lot was listed with a
new estimate of $10,000- $20,000.
$10K was as far as I was prepared to go. Beyond that figure, there would
be no joy of either acquiring the clock for stock or adding it to my
private collection. In addition, a hefty 25% + GST buyer's premium would
turn a ten thousand dollar bid into $13,000 purchase.
The bidding was fierce and in no time I was bidding against at least two
bidders, sitting on $12,500. It was time to pull out. I like the clock
but at $16,000 I had no choice but to let someone else have the joy of
Losing at an auction is not a big deal, especially not so on a lazy
Sunday morning. But I did end up a bit upset. The auctioneer acted as if
he was on drugs. Auctioning a fine antique clock like calling a finish
of Melbourne Cup was extremely annoying. And completely unnecessary. Not
to mention the obvious: thanks to corona, the auction room was empty
and bidders were competing simultaneously online and over the phone. I
could not see what was going on in the room, who is placing the bids
against me, at what speed and pace, or even if those bids were imaginary
And my goodness - the 30% buyers premium is simply criminal. Mind you -
there is a sellers premium as well, which most likely is 25% too. Which
means that on $10,000 sale auction house makes $5,500 profit. That is a
huge amount of money taking in to consideration zero investment in
stock, zero risk and zero guarantee on sold items. Not to mention that
almost every item that ends at auction would either have no provenance,
would require restoration, repair or even just polishing and that there
is no guarantee on authenticity or any guarantee on performance -
No names - but there is another auction house in Sydney which
persistently advertises "Fine jewellery and watches recovered by
Australian Federal Police". The modus operandi is simple: generate as
much hype, in hope that sensationalist media would pick it up and turn
it into a 'story'.
Like this one:
“From today they're auctioning off recovered fine jewellery from the proceeds of crime for 70% off.
If you consider yourself a bit of a bargain hunter, true crime buff or
just have a penchant for bling, it’s quite literally your lucky day.
Running from today until May 17th, the Australian Federal Police are
auctioning off a bunch of recovered fine jewellery and watches via
[deleted] for a song.
Without leaving the comfort of your lounge you’ll be able to pick up a
luxury piece from the likes of Cartier, Bvlgari, Tiffany or Rolex,
through an online auction for up 80% less than its retail value.”
Note the loaded narrative: crime, bargains, luxury, police, 80% less, Rolex and Cartier. Who can resist?
In reality, while all this could be true, most likely your chances of
picking a bargain are painfully slim. Notoriously, such ‘recovery items’
are often used just to sparkle the otherwise ordinary stock, which
could be a mix of private items, retail or jewellers wholesale stock-
and who knows what else.
I really admire auctioneers who are experts in everything from needles
to locomotives. And when one day that Rolex ‘proceed of crime bought for
a song’ ends up at a Rolex service centre for an overhaul, you may be
in for a surprise.
“Auctions” in the time of Covid are for bored fools with deep pockets.
If you can’t attend it in person and bid in person, don’t waste your
time. If you do end up as a ‘winner’, most likely, you’ve paid too much.
And if you got it for a song, then you are probably tone deaf.
Bottom line: buy new and enjoy the pride of ownership. Preowned is fine –
only when bought from a reputable expert you can trust. Everything else
– at your own risk.