Cult of Personality: Celebrity watches at auction

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Over the past few days there have been several big auctions that have gotten a lot of press from the watch media. On the 18th February Christies held a James Bond Spectre auction featuring props, cars and watches that were used in the film. Daniel Craig's Prototype Seamaster 300 he wore whilst filming Spectre sold for $132,000. The Longines Conquest Heritage in 18kt Rose Gold, worn by Ralph Fiennes as M, sold for $28,560. Then a few days later the Seiko Ref. 6431-6030 that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs wore in a photoshot with the first Apple Macintosh sold for $42,500.

Steve Jobs, regardless of what you think of him or his machines, had a resoundingly huge impact on the world today however a cheap quartz Seiko selling for over $40,000 is complete madness. When you have Hodinkee's Jack Forster saying that because it graced Mr. Jobs wrist that the watch is "elevated to historic treasure status" you need to take a big step back and think for a moment at what on earth is going on. My favorite comment on that article goes to Jeff Hutton who said "Celebrity Contagion = Irrational exuberance = completely ridiculous'.

This is not the first time I've bemoaned seeing watches fetch ridiculously high premiums at auctions before. At the Phillips Watch auction last year, I wrote about how the finishing price for the James Bond Submariner case (Just the case! No movement. No functional watch) sold for $365,000. 

Now I understand that the proceeds of the Phillips Spectre auction all went to benefit various charities (UNMAS and Medecins Sans Frontieres for those particular lots) and it wouldn't be the first time that the combination of raising money for a good cause and 'auction fever' could lead to a surplus of paddles being raised. That doesn't change the fact that none of those watches were worth what was bid. The Longines Heritage Conquest is the same as one that could be bought from any Longines retailer today. Admittedly the Omega Seamaster 300 is a slightly special case as it was No. 1 out of of 8 prototypes that Daniel Craig wore during the filming of Spectre. This doesn't change the fact that it's identical to the other 7007 Limited Editions Omega released for the film nor is it really that different from the regular retail version to begin with. It's obviously worth more than a retail version but not by a long shot is it worth $132,000 and the less said about a $50 Seiko selling for $40,000 the better. 

I understand that when it comes to film memorabilia at auctions that perceived value is utterly subjective but I fear that these auctions are creating a dangerous precedent of price inflation that can only hurt the industry once the balloon breaks. Now in both these auctions, it could have been fans of Apple & James Bond that were bidding rather than strictly watch fans (I'd like to think that is the case with the Seiko) but when Hodinkee is bigging up the sale with it's hyperbolic prose, its inflates the credence of this cult of personality and the associated spectacle that overshadows the actual watches. 

The Spectre watches haven't been given the chance to accumulate the cultural cache that say Sean Connery's Big Crown Submariner has. For over fifty years watch fans have loved that watch, learned everything could about the model, argued about what color that NATO strap was countless times and it earned that love. If Rolex announced tomorrow that they had found the Rolex Big Crown from Goldfinger, bidding records would be smashed but Spectre has barely left cinemas at this point and we're being told that these are iconic watches worthy of huge premiums. They're not and we need to stop encouraging the belief that they are.