Fancy a vintage Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, with a side of Damien Hirst? A Takashi Murakami to match your 2006 Rolex “Kermit” Submariner with an on-trend green bezel?
Phillips thinks you might.
From Sept. 16 to 23, the auction house is scheduled to host its fourth iteration of Intersect, a cross-category online auction that combines watches, jewelry and contemporary art in a single sale. Curated by Phillips Hong Kong, Intersect is expected to do well as the most recent version, held in March, realized more than 21.1 million Hong Kong dollars, or $2.7 million.
It was the largest amount Phillips had ever achieved in an online auction, with 97 percent of the lots sold. (Although other online auctions have done much better, with, for example, Sotheby’s tallying almost $200 million in a July 2020 online art sale.)
But perhaps the most important statistics to an auction house with its eye on the future: Forty-seven percent of the auction’s 550 registrants, from 50 countries, were new to the house and half were younger than 40.
Intersect’s popularity has been credited to an emerging crop of watch collectors, who view the pastime as intertwined with luxury, lifestyle and other fashionable interests. They are different than watch auction bidders of the past, said Thomas Perazzi, head of watches for Phillips Asia. Those were mostly men in their 50s and 60s and from Europe and America, seeking wristwatches from the 1930s to 1960s and some pocket watches, he said.
This generation of collectors is in their mid-20s and early 30s, includes more women, and is particularly interested in sports watches (“Steel is the cheapest material, but it’s now more expensive than gold and platinum,” Mr. Perazzi said. “That’s also completely changed”). They also are partial to young independent brands like Richard Mille and F.P. Journe, both only 22 years old.
Daniel Sum, a watch collector and co-founder of the Shanghai Watch Gang, has bid on items in Intersect. He said he and his friends, born in a digital age, had never considered watches as a tool for telling time. “Instead, it’s always been: ‘How does a watch fit into my lifestyle?’ ‘What does it say about me?’” he said.
Mr. Perazzi called such collectors the “cool generation,” which links watches with streetwear pursuits like buying sneakers or owning graffiti art. “Social life and the social environment for the new generation has changed,” he said. “Today a Royal Oak absolutely makes sense to have with a Banksy painting. It reflects a new way of collecting and thinking.”
And, he said, the choices “separate their lifestyles from their parents’, which was more traditional.”
In terms of contemporary art, pieces by Kaws (the professional name of the American artist Brian Donnelly), Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami have been especially popular on Intersect, Mr. Perazzi said. The lots often are edition prints, with sales estimates around 200,000 to 400,000 Hong Kong dollars, which can appeal to younger buyers. In comparison, pieces sold at a Phillips contemporary art evening sale are likely to be more than 2 million to 3 million Hong Kong dollars.
Phillips is not the only house offering cross-category auctions, but it has been a front-runner (the pandemic and new technologies have “completely reshaped our auction strategies,” Mr. Perazzi said).
In July, Sotheby’s Hong Kong held its first mixed sale, which combined watches and rare sneakers. The sale brought in 19.8 million Hong Kong dollars, just exceeding its pre-sale estimates of 13.8 million to 19.7 Hong Kong dollars, with top lots that included an F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain that sold for 2.5 million Hong Kong dollars and a pair of 2019 Nike Air Force 1 Hyperstrike Scarr’s Pizza sneakers, which went for 945,000 Hong Kong dollars, nearly 10 times its high estimate. Before, Sotheby’s had previewed a mix of items at the same time but never sold across categories in a single sale.
As for Christie’s, it has sold watches and jewelry in the same sale but has not included contemporary art.
Justin Mastine-Frost is editor in chief of WatchUSeek, which markets itself as one of the internet’s largest watch forums with more than 450,000 members, and whose parent company, VerticalScope, hosts more than 800 communities for enthusiasts of cigars, pets and more. He said he was surprised that auction houses had only now started offering cross-category sales.
“The mentality behind collecting is something that really transcends category,” he said. “People who have a collecting nature aren’t typically pigeonholed to a single thing.”
For example, he said, WatchUSeek hosts a section called Café that is dedicated to hobbies other than watches, and it now has more than 430,000 threads on topics including fashion, sneakers, music and whisky. The forum has attracted more than 18 million views since it began keeping count in 2005. “It’s quite high traffic for the site,” Mr. Mastine-Frost said. “So, conversations are being had outside the usual categories.”
Mr. Sum added that such conversations led to cross-pollination, too. He bids only on watches but admits to browsing Intersect’s other categories, like contemporary art, because his friends are into art.
“One of the most annoying things is going to a dinner with your friends and they’re talking about something so deeply, and which they’re clearly so passionate about, and you can’t contribute to that conversation,” he said. “It’s a pretty bad feeling to have.”
Intersect sparked his curiosity, he said: “The sale gives you an excuse to ask what lot has been placed next to a watch and ask why it’s there. Then you go research it.”
As intriguing as the sale may seem, Mr. Perazzi said that curating Intersect was “a real headache,” involving multiple meetings with colleagues. “I personally discuss with the two other departments to understand the features of a painting, why it’s rare, and then try to match it to a watch,” he said. “My jewelry colleagues go and do the same with a stone or bangle or necklace.”
The hard work has not gone unnoticed. “I love to see how Phillips actually incorporates lifestyle aspects into the auction, to make it relevant,” Mr. Sum said. “That will maybe kick off a certain trend or something that I hadn’t thought about from just purely looking at watches. It is a cliché, but these are the finer things in life. Learning about this is learning about yourself.”