10 Collectible Sleepers at Phillips’s Hong Kong Watch Auction, From Neo-Vintage Standouts to Aughts Gems
The savvy collectors will pay close attention to these quieter lots at reasonable prices this weekend in Hong Kong as Phillips begins to hammer some amazing watches into new collections.
BY Allen Farmelo  |  May 24, 2024
8 Minute Read

The savvy, smart, experienced collectors I know don’t always go for the big lots on the watch auction circuit, but instead identify some really interesting pieces they’re passionate about that also seem like they’ll go up in value. Some of these collectors have flipped these low-key sleepers years later for serious money, which adds up to fund that newsworthy big lot at a later date. In one case I know of, a very chill purchase turned into a second home—and a rather nice one at that. If, like me, you are curious to know what this insider scene of the watch circuit is like, you may be interested in following the Hong Kong Watch Auction that Phillips is putting on this week, which happens to be full of interesting watches with entirely down-to-earth estimates. Let’s call them sleepers.

The key at this year’s Hong Kong Watch Auction is, in my estimation, to look at what is often called “neo-vintage.” This is a relatively new and hot category—one which I cynically believe pre-owned dealers created to jack up prices on out-of-style, ageing stock. Despite the crass impulse behind the genre’s creation, the result has been an increased awareness of what watch collectors often call “sweet spot” or “sleeper” pricing: Watches that are neither old enough to be vintage nor new enough to be hot pre-owned models. As a soft rule, neo-vintage watches are roughly 20 to 40 years old.

A few things to note about this selection below, however: First, neo-vintage watches are often wildly out of style, but they’re going to come back in, just as everything does after enough nostalgia and buzz accrues. Second, not all the watches I’m recommending are neo-vintage, as I think a few of the offerings at the Hong Kong Watch Auction of recent vintage could end up being “big watches” to own down the road, too. The softening market doesn’t hurt either.

Let’s jump into the lots I think you should keep an eye on.

Rolex Coral Oyster Perpetual 36 - Lot 803, $5,100 - $7200

Rolex Coral Oyster Perpetual 36 | Lot 803

Created in 2021, this coral Oyster Perpetual is probably the newest watch I’ll recommend here, but selling for around the retail prices, as estimated here, seems unlikely. These were hotter than hotcakes when they dropped in multiple colours, drawing interest around the 1970’s Stella Dials to which these colourful OPs pay tribute. Coral is among the hottest—both in hue and in demand. Keep an eye on this one, because it only takes two people who really want it to send it off the charts. If it doesn’t soar, and you dig it, then pounce! 

Presale estimates: US$5,100 to US$7,200 (HK$39,785 to HK$56,170)

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph | Lot 816

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph | Lot 816

This is a great example of the neo-vintage effect. From 2005, this one is just 19 years old, and its estimate range is downright low for a stainless steel Ref. 25860ST. If anything else tells me the watch market is slowing down, it could be the estimate on lot 816, which I’m going to watch closely. Mid-pandemic, this reference was nearly unobtainable.

Presale estimates: US$19,200 to US$32,100 (HK$149,785 to HK$250,420)

Rolex GMT Master II 16718 | Lot 829

Rolex GMT Master II 16718 | Lot 829

I’ve gone on at length about how the four-, five- and six-digit reference numbers from Rolex have created a kind of lull around the value of the five-digit references, and this watch only proves my theory. Dating to 2002, this GMT Master II is entirely solid gold and ready to be scooped up in the mid-US$20,000 (HK$156,025) region. Neither rare nor really even in style right now, the model is only going to go up in value as it ages into the vintage category over the next decade. Being post-1998–1999, it will be loaded with Super-LumiNova, and, on this example, I’m seeing a rather well preserved aluminium bezel insert and only modest polishing. Definitely watching this bad boy.

Presale estimates: US$20,500 to US$30,800 (HK$159,925 to HK$240,280)

Vacheron Constantin 40 mm Triple Calendar | Lot 834

Vacheron Constantin 40 mm Triple Calendar | Lot 834

These were so hot when they launched a few years ago that everyone seemed to have one. Then they were kind of the meh-watch, and then they were all over the used market, and still are today. Why this Ref. 3110V/000A-B425 from 2019 is at auction is a good question. I think this could go for (gulp) under US$10,000 (HK$78,015)—because, in my opinion, this isn’t the kind of watch people go to auctions to find (more of an eBay watch, if there is such a thing). As a minor collector of Vacheron Constantin myself, I don’t even particularly like this model at 40 mm (seems cartoonish), but I know a potential steal when I see one. Could be a total sleeper. And it is beautiful, really.

Presale estimates: US$7,700 to US$15,400 (HK$60,070 to HK$120,150)

Rolex Datejust Two Tone Diamonds | Lot 850

Rolex Datejust Two Tone Diamonds (NOS) | Lot 850

This reference 116233 is from 2010, and it is listed as new old stock (NOS), which means it’s never been worn. It also comes with its original box, hang tags, and owner’s card. Snag this one for under US$10,000 (HK$78,020), drop it in the safe, and watch it outperform your portfolio year after year. Then, once the market is hot for these tasty Champagne dials—because everything goes in and out of style—bring it back to Phillips and flip it for that money you’re going to drop on the truly rare gem of your collection.

Presale estimates: US$6,200 to US$10,300 (HK$48,370 to HK$80,355)

White Gold Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar—Lot 854, $25,600 - $51,300

White Gold Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar | Lot 854

It wasn’t that long ago that Patek Philippe was still making perpetual calendars at the “correct” size of 36 mm—this my opinion, of course, but one I feel quite strongly about. A reference 3940G-013 that could land in the middle of the US$30,000 (HK$234,045) range? Need I say more? This is the magic of that neo-vintage sweet spot in a nutshell. The 2005 vintage may be a dead zone now, but give it 10 years and boom!

Presale estimates: US$25,600 to US$51,300 (HK$199,720 to HK$400,220)

Platinum Patek Philippe Annual Calendar | Lot 856

Platinum Patek Philippe Annual Calendar | Lot 856

For starters, 37 mm is a very tasty size for a truly complicated Patek Philippe. Add in the platinum build, the slate-grey dial, the moon phase, and this thing is simply a crazy good deal. The 2002 vintage puts it squarely in the neo-vintage category. With a classic visage and amazing pedigree, barring some unforeseen apocalyptic event, I am 100 per cent confident you won’t be getting a reference 5056P-001 for this kind of money for much longer. If this one stays below US$20,000 (HK$156,030), I’d be amazed—and impressed by the savvy bidder who took it home for peanuts.

Presale estimates: US$15,400 to US$25,600 (HK$120,145 to HK$199,720)

F. P. Journe Resonance (First Generation) | Lot 865

FP Journe Resonance (First Generation) | Lot 865

I know the six-figure mark may not sound like a deal, but this is a first generation Resonance, people! We have detailed this remarkable model from FP Journe, so you can read up on why it’s significant and why a Gen. 1 is going to be the thing to put your kids through college in no time at all. Frankly, I’m shocked at the estimate, but given the softening of the market and threat of rising interest rates, this could be the moment to jump on one of these rare beauties. As odd as it may sound, this may be the sleeper of this auction. Note the 2002 date of creation, which seems to be the sweet spot for this year’s edition of the Hong Kong Watch Auction.

Presale estimates: US$121,000 to US$231,000 (HK$943,950 to HK$1.8 million)

Piaget Altiplano Stone Dial Ref. 9025 | Lot 869

Piaget Altiplano Marble Dial Ref. 9025 | Lot 869

Piaget is hot. Stone dials are hot. Thin watches are hot. Small watches are hot. Why aren’t you rushing to place your bid for this 30 mm, marble-faced beauty? Get into this mid-1990s model for the price of a long weekend in the islands, and you’ll turn that into a two-week stay further abroad before you know it.

Presale estimates: US$3,200 to US$6,400 (HK$24,960 to HK$49,925)

Patek Philippe Calatrava With Salmon Dial | Lot 886

Patek Philippe Calatrava With Salmon Dial | Lot 886

Reference 3796 was Patek’s follow up to the venerable reference 96 that started it all in 1932. And if there’s a company that makes a proper salmon dial, it is Patek Philippe. I think every watch writer goes through what I just went through before including this watch: The temptation to not include it so that the price stays as low as I can possibly keep it. Why? Because I really want this watch! But I am a journalist first and a watch collector second, so here it is in all its affordable glory, one of the most beautiful 31 mm watches ever produced in the history of watchmaking. This baby is exactly 30 years old, setting it straight in the middle of the neo-vintage market. And with a hint of reluctance, I sign off with this pink gold piece of perfection. Happy bidding!

Presale estimates: US$6,400 to US$12,800 (HK$49,925 to HK$99,850)

All images courtesy of Phillips.