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20th Anniversary
Aurel Bacs - Phillips Watch Department

Aurel Bacs Phillips Watch Department

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Over the past 20 years, Aurel Bacs has played a decisive role in the growth of the watch auction market, in part due to his extensive knowledge of vintage watches, and more especially thanks to his outstanding ability to enhance the value of pieces, establishing new records year after year. Bacs auctions are events in their own right. His interventions are nothing short of a performance, as he switches between languages and summarises the highlights of a story… “I organise our auctions the way I would have liked them to be organised for me”, he says. Indeed, doing things his own way has been a guiding thread throughout his career, rather than being at the mercy of an overly cumbersome organisation that might hold him back. He acquired his passion for watches in the company of his father, an architect. After studying business at HEC Saint-Gall and law in Zurich, he joined Sotheby’s as a watch specialist at the age of 23. His knowledge soon got him noticed, as did his Swiss-German appetite for hard work and rigorous discipline – and he never looked back. He was appointed auctioneer at the age of 27, and scored his first hammer price of over CHF 1 million for a watch at the age of 28. It was at this time that he met his wife Livia; together, they left Sotheby’s to pursue their new idea: sell less, but do the selling better – taking more time over each watch, and more time with each customer. In 2001, Bacs joined Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg to set up the relevant department. In 2002, aged 30, he sold what was then the most expensive wristwatch of all time – a Patek Philippe that netted CHF 3 million. In 2003, he joined Christie’s as head of department, and continued his ascension, breaking record after record. Sales figures went from 8 to over 130 million.

Phillips Watch Department

Aurel Bacs © Phillips

In 2015, Aurel Bacs returned to work with Phillips again. In the space of less than two years, the auction house became world leader. Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona sold for USD $17.8 million, the highest price ever achieved for a vintage wristwatch; a Patek Philippe auctioned for CHF 11 million is another of the many sales to have gone into the watchmaking history books under Aurel Bacs’ hammer. “I fell in love with fine watchmaking. Very much in love”, he says of those years. “It’s a passion that I find highly stimulating both intellectually and emotionally, giving me a great deal of satisfaction. The desire to share and pass on what I know is constantly burning within me; it’s an almost religious, missionary fervour. So as long as I can see a smile on the faces of my customers, I’ll be carrying on.” There’s a great deal of talk about passion; but Aurel Bacs is a man who walks the talk.

*Written by Marine Lemonnier Brennan

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English, with a 10% discount if you use the following code: WT2021.

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