Jehangir Readymoney, luxury watch expert at Astaguru – India’s premium auction house talks vintage watches, watch auction industry in India and more.
We all know and understand the immense growth pre-loved items have enjoyed in the past few years. The same phenomenon has impacted the world of watches as well. While the likes of Christie’s and Phillips are not present in India currently, this does not mean we are lagging behind. Thanks to Astaguru — India’s only premium auction house — the country has slowly opened up to the idea of auctions, especially watch auctions.
Conceptualised in the year 2008 with the sole purpose of creating a safe and secure platform to conduct online auctions for Modern India and contemporary art, Astaguru has established itself as the go-to destination for all things auction. It began with a focus on modern and contemporary Indian art, but with time the auction has added a range of other segments which include Jewellery & Fine Silver, Timepieces, Textiles, Celebrity Memorabilia, Rare Books, Numismatic, Philately and Vintage Cars. The latest category added to their diverse portfolio is furniture and home décor.
With an eye for detail and a unique range of offerings, Astaguru is deeply focused on research-based curation. We caught up with Jehangir Readymoney, a luxury watch consultant and specialist with auction house Astaguru, and a watch collector himself, to get some insights into the workings of the auction. We also discussed the future of the auction house in a growing market like India and the impact of globalisation in the world of auction houses (especially for the buyers and customers).
Can you throw some light on the workings of Astaguru? As the only premium auction house in India, how did it all get started?
Jehangir Readymoney: The watch auctions at Astaguru initially started on a smaller scale with a few pieces. Ever since I joined, we have started curating and evolving different types of quality watches to bring them to a platform of a more international standard. We have covered the Holy Trinity of watchmaking (Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe) and Rolex along with some other brands. We also aim to understand the love for niche watches while also getting vintage into the part of the programme and introducing it to our customers. They are, at the end of the day, our buyers who have a certain love for art which is modern and vintage all at once. So there has to be a whole spectrum of watches in our auction and that is what we aim to give to our customers at Astaguru.
When it comes to watch auctions, how evolved do you think the audience in India is? Is it growing?
There are two parts to this question. One part of it is India and the general watch buyer. The second is going to be the Astaguru buyers in general that we cater to. Beginning with India in general, we are a country that has traditionally been in the older frame of mind when it comes to watches where you had this stereotypical uncle with his Day-Date 36mm decades ago. Having said that, a smaller proportion of the country has started showing its love for Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe and other brands. For example, the classic Golden Ellipse – is a timepiece that has been quite common in the Indian subcontinent. Despite the Calatrava being a common piece, the Golden Ellipses that come through to us are at a higher volume. That is the original way of thinking of the traditional watch buyer in India.
When it comes to the evolution of the customer, if we can go back five years to when the steel sports watch was just making its introduction, we see that Instagram has been the biggest catalyst when it comes to influencing and creating brand awareness. The influence of knowledge and scholarship on watches from almost every small part of the population has started to balloon and escalate because everything is rapidly available on our phones. Now back in my time, I used to go on forums way before Instagram and do my research and talk to different communities and watch groups. Now in India, we have over 100 plus actual, functioning watch groups.
Now in terms of the Astaguru audience, our buyers are very internationally travelled and very well-aware of brands. They have had this knowledge for some time, but some of the newer and even older buyers have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from social media. So, it has played a key role in both instances and I think that has made the awareness and scholarship of timepieces to its highest as it has ever been. According to me, we are in the golden era of watches.
How do you manage to strike a balance between the two audience groups you mentioned?
The thing is that we have to constantly be aware that our clientele is evolving at the same time. The evolution of how the market is, let’s say there are a few independent brands and it has been in the Indian market for some time with niche buyers which are our clients. Despite the growing popularity, introducing independents in this time and frame might not be sensible cause the awareness is not there. In terms of including a watch in the auction, there are a couple of elements to keep in mind. It includes longevity, design, and how the brand will eventually evolve or die out. There are many things to keep in mind. So evolving constantly over time and the evolution of what we introduce to our auction has always been studied, evaluated and then implemented. There are a certain number of vintage buyers that I need to cater to, there are a certain number of people who want hyped pieces like the Hulk etc. which we cater to and then there are classic buyers who are only there for specific sizes, novel metals and specific complications. All of this is curated and included in our catalogue.
What are the challenges you face when it comes to educating the general public on the world of auctions and vintage watches?
To be honest, it is not necessarily a challenge for us, we almost look forward to it. What happens is when a buyer is extremely knowledgeable about art and jewellery and is just getting into watches, we have a fantastic customer relations team who are happy to pass information and knowledge to the client. As the head of the watch department, if there is any customer who wants a particular brand or movement, I personally enjoy curating for them. We have to understand that this is a service and not just an auction house. It is over time you gauge what watch would suit a particular buyer and have the capability of transferring that to the client. It is very crucial that we guide them and help them, it is not just a buying and selling service. So that’s how we take care of our clients.
As many of our audiences are not aware of a watch auction house or how this universe works, can you give a summary of the necessary points one needs to keep in mind before buying from an auction house?
We have a period where we give out advertisements that we are looking at consigning watches before our auction many months in advance. Our known clientele, or partners or business partners or collectors come to us and consign their watches. As I have already mentioned, there is a method as to how I curate the auction and divide the types of watches we require for the buyers we have. Now once we have made our selection, the watches go through a quality control process where an experienced watchmaker or a specialised watchmaker (depending on the timepiece that we have) will go through the piece and make sure everything is up to date. The authenticity and condition of the watch are checked thoroughly and then we start documenting all of the pieces down. Once this is done, we go through our internal procedures on how to produce our catalogue and curate it to present it to our clientele.
What are some of the things that a customer needs to keep in mind before buying from an auction house?
First and foremost, watches are not an investment in any shape or form, you should buy what you love. Now which part of the journey you are in whether at the beginning or middle or end of it, depends on the buyer. If you were to get a watch at an auction house, you need to keep three things in mind; quality, condition and in terms of the brand to stick to the classics.
How do you see Astaguru growing in the future? What are your immediate goals?
Of course, we would like to grow, we would want our presence to grow in India and internationally as well. In terms of growth, what we would like to see is the market growth and more pieces coming into India. We would like to see most of the pieces in Astaguru as the primary and the upper echelons of watch auctions in India. We would like to grow in terms of the number of lots in our auction and we would also like to grow into extremely high-value independents like F.P Journe and Greubel Forsey etc. to take more of a foothold in our brand.
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