NEWS: Phillips Auctioneers To Introduce Watch Sales As Part Of Ambitious Expansion

Auctioneers Phillips, a distant third in the contemporary art market, will soon start watch sales as part of ambitious expansion plans led by new management and funded by Mercury Group, the largest luxury retailer in Russia. Talk in the industry is that Christie’s watch department alumnus will soon join Phillips.

Acquired by Mercury Group in 2008, Phillips auctioneers is now gearing up to take on market leaders Christie’s and Sotheby’s in art, and also watches. Edward Dolman, formerly the chairman and chief executive at Christie’s, took on the same roles at Phillips in July. In a story outlining Phillips’ expansion plans, The New York Times quoted Mr Dolman saying that “class-leading” watch auctions will soon be part of Phillips’ repertoire, confirming what many in the watch industry have believed for some time. Earlier this year, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie magazine wondered out loud – echoing what many in the business were saying – if Aurel Bacs, the charismatic former head of watches at Christie’s, is returning to Phillips. Bacs was Phillips’ head of watches until he decamped for Christie’s in 2003. With Bacs being responsible for bringing the hammer down on some of the most expensive timepieces ever sold, his departure late last year ignited plenty of speculation. That only increased with the recent departure of Bacs’ successor at Christie’s, Sam Hines. Phillips’ entry into the world of watch auctions will shake up the cosy duopoly of Christie’s and Sotheby’s, with Antiquorum and Bonhams trailing behind. Market leader Christie’s sold over US$134 million worth of timepieces in 2013. It is worth remembering that this is the second attempted revival of Phillips. Started by a former employee of Christie’s in 1796, Phillips was bought by LVMH in 1999. With Christie’s then and now owned by Francois Pinault of Kering, this was seen as an attempt by Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH, to one-up his rival while becoming a player in the art market. Then known as Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, the company racked up several hundred millions dollars in losses for LVMH, a consequence of generous guarantees prices to sellers. Arnault, France’s richest man, threw in the towel in 2002, selling out to Phillips’ management.

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