Astaguru’s Jehangir Readymoney decodes watch auctions
We all know and understand the immense growth second-hand items have seen over the past few years. The same phenomenon has also affected the world of watches. Although Christie’s and Phillips do not currently have a presence in India, that does not mean that we are lagging behind. Thanks to Astaguru, India’s only high-end auction house, the country has slowly opened up to the idea of auctions, especially watch auctions.
Conceptualized in 2008 with the sole purpose of creating a safe and secure platform for conducting online auctions for modern Indian and contemporary art, Astaguru has established itself as the go-to destination for all auctions. It all started with a focus on modern and contemporary Indian art, but over time the auction has added a range of other segments which include jewelry and fine silver, watches, textiles, memorabilia celebrities, rare books, numismatics, philately and vintage cars. The latest category added to their diverse portfolio is furniture and home decor.
With an eye for detail and a unique range of offerings, Astaguru has a deep focus on research-based conservation. We caught up with Jehangir Readymoney, a luxury watch consultant and specialist at Astaguru auction house, and a watch collector himself, to get some insight into how the auction works. We also discussed the future of the auction house in a growing market like India and the impact of globalization in the world of auction houses (especially for buyers and clients).
Can you shed some light on how Astaguru works? As the only premium auction house in India, how did it all start?
Jehangir Readymoney: Watch auctions in Astaguru initially started on a smaller scale with a few pieces. Since my arrival, we have started to organize and evolve different types of quality watches to bring them to a platform of a more international standard. We’ve covered the Holy Trinity of watchmaking (Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe) and Rolex as well as other brands. We also aim to understand the love for niche watches while integrating vintage into part of the program and introducing it to our customers. It is ultimately our buyers who have a certain love for both modern and vintage art. So there must be a whole range of watches in our auction and that is what we aim to offer our customers in Astaguru.
When it comes to watch auctions, how far do you think the Indian public has evolved? Is it growing?
There are two parts to this question. India and the general watch buyer is one of them. The second will be the general Astaguru buyers we are addressing. Starting with India in general we are a country that has traditionally been in the older mindset when it comes to watches where you had that stereotypical uncle with his Day-Date 36mm decades ago . That said, a smaller proportion of the country has started showing love for Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe and other brands. For example, the classic Golden Ellipse – is a fairly common timepiece in the Indian subcontinent. Although the Calatrava is a common piece, the golden ellipses that reach us are at a higher volume. This is the original way of thinking of the traditional watch buyer in India.
When it comes to customer evolution, 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 to influence and create brand awareness. The influence of knowledge and scholarship on the watches of almost every small part of the population has started to swell and intensify as everything is quickly available on our phones. In my day, I used to go to forums long before Instagram, do my research, and talk to different communities and watch groups. Now in India we have over 100 real and functioning watch groups.
Regarding the audience of Astaguru, our buyers travel abroad a lot and know the brands very well. They’ve had this knowledge for a while, but some of the newer and even older marketers have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge through social media. So he played a key role in both cases and I think it brought the notoriety and erudition of the watches to the highest level. In my opinion, we are in the golden age of watches.
How do you manage to strike a balance between the two audiences you mentioned?
The fact is that we must constantly be aware that our clientele evolves at the same time. The evolution of the market, let’s say there are a few independent brands and it has been in the Indian market for quite some time with niche buyers who are our customers. Despite the growing popularity, the introduction of independents at this time and in this setting may not be wise because the awareness is not there. When it comes to including a watch in the auction, there are a few things to keep in mind. This includes longevity, design, and how the brand will evolve or eventually die out. There are many things to keep in mind. So constantly changing over time and the evolution of what we introduce in our auctions has always been studied, evaluated and then implemented. There are a number of vintage buyers I have to go to, there are a number of people who want trendy pieces like the Hulk and the like. 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 organized and included in our catalog.
What challenges do you face when it comes to raising awareness about the world of auctions and vintage watches?
To be honest, it’s not necessarily a challenge for us, we’re almost looking forward to it. What happens is when a buyer is extremely knowledgeable about art and jewelry and has just gotten into watches we have a fantastic customer relations team who are happy to pass on information and knowledge to the customer. As head of the watch department, if there is a client who wants a particular brand or movement, I personally like to organize for them. We need to understand that this is a service and not just an auction house. It is over time that you assess which watch would be suitable for a particular buyer and have the ability to transfer it to the customer. It is very important that we guide and help them, it is not just a buying and selling service. This is how we take care of our customers.
Since many of our audiences are unfamiliar with a watch auction house or how this universe works, can you summarize the necessary points to keep in mind before buying from an auction house?
We have a period where we run advertisements that we plan to consign watches ahead of our auction several months in advance. Our known clientele, or partners or business partners or collectors come to us and consign their watches. As I mentioned before, there is a method to organize the auction and divide the types of watches we need 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 specialist watchmaker (depending on the timepiece we have) will review the piece and ensure that everything is up to date. The authenticity and condition of the watch are carefully checked, then we start documenting all the parts. Once done, we review our internal procedures on how to produce our catalog and maintain it for presentation to our clientele.
What are some of the things a customer should keep in mind before buying from an auction house?
Above all, watches are not an investment in any form, you have to buy what you like. Now, which part of the journey you’re in, whether it’s the beginning, the middle, or the end, depends on the buyer. If you were to buy a watch from an auction house, you should keep three things in mind; quality, condition and brand level 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 like our presence to grow in India and internationally as well. In terms of growth, what we would like to see is market growth and more coins entering India. We would like to see most of the pieces from Astaguru as the main and 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 become very high value independents like FP Journe and Greubel Forsey etc. to gain more of a foothold in our brand.
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