Osvaldo Patrizzi Responds

Subtitle

Antiquorum Founder Sets Record Straight

 

I am writing regarding the front-page story by Stacy Meichtry that ran October 8th regarding auctions in the field of horology, and the accompanying commentary by Michael Connally based on information in Meichtry¿s story.

 

It has taken me several days to compose my thoughts given the extensiveness of the misinformation, and the grave allegations and implications.  Meichtry distorted every "fact" presented in his piece, and as a result of his superficial and inaccurate reporting, irrefutable damage has been done not only to my own reputation, but to the reputation of the firm that I built, and to other respected professionals in the field. 

 

In particular, the record regarding his allegations of financial impropriety and unethical practices must be set straight. Whether he was unable to comprehend what he was told, whether he was influenced by jealous competitors, whether he wanted to create a sensational story, or whether he was the unwitting pawn of the current management of Antiquorum, the fact remains that most of the information in the piece he wrote was unfounded, parts were complete fabrication, and there seems to have been no independent ¿fact checking¿ done by the WSJ prior to its publication. The damage done by Meichtry¿s piece was further  reinforced by Connally¿s comments impugning not only my reputation but that of the entire watch industry without first verifying the validity of Meichtry¿s information.    

 

Since the story appeared, other internationally respected newspapers¿such as the October 10th issues of Finanz und Wirtschaft, ¿Gewitter über dem Uhrenmarkt¿,   written by Von Christian von Faber Castell, and just previous to the printing of the WSJ article,  Le Temps writes ¿Osvaldo Patrizzi porte  plainte  contre Antiquorum¿, October 6th,  by Bastien Buss ¿ have printed substantive stories that completely contradict what appeared in the WSJ.  I would like to clarify the facts here for your readers since Meichtry has misinformed and misled them altogether as to my character, the financial reliability of the company I founded in 1974 and led as CEO until July 2007, and about ¿Thematic Auctions¿ altogether.  

 

First, Meichtry maligns me and my running of the company, alluding to financial impropriety. He reports that an audit was undertaken, and implies that something was amiss when the accounting firm ¿would not comment.¿ The story is slanted to suggest that I am of dubious character, and that I was not running the business properly, and that eliminating me in a take-over in which the new Japanese company, Artist House, would take over the company was a good thing and would ¿save Antiquorum.¿ The suggestion of any impropriety  is not only without foundation, but just the opposite is true:  Audits were held every 3 months. I do not understand why Meichtry failed to learn¿and report¿that during the 18 month period from which time the Japanese investor, Artist House, became involved with Antiquorum, there were audits every 3 months in accordance with the Japanese Stock Exchange. There was not a single case of financial impropriety; nothing was ever found to be amiss. 

Meichtry mentioned only briefly, on my behalf, that there was a ¿preliminary injunction  in a Genevan civil court.¿  But how is it that Meichtry didn¿t report on the lawsuit by Habsburg Holdings against Artist House, and my lawsuit for breach of contract? We haven¿t seen any coverage in the WSJ of major changes at Artist House since the WSJ story appeared on Monday. Readers should be informed that there have been resignations at Artist House, and Artist House is suing the man who orchestrated the ¿take-over¿ of Antiquorum and my ousting from the company, their consultant and Antiquorum¿s new CEO , Yo Tsukahara.

 

Even worse than the distortions and inaccuracies about me and my company from a financial perspective is the distortion and misrepresentation of facts pertaining to ¿thematic sales¿ and ¿questions of ethics¿.  Meichtry and Connally portray thematic sales as secretive and ethically questionable, implying collusion between Antiquorum and major watch manufacturers to delude collectors and manipulate the watch market.  Again, the allegations are unfounded, distorted, and factually incorrect.  There is too little space here to tell the whole story. But it is important to clear the air on some of the allegations that were made:

 

  • First, there is nothing ¿secretive¿ or ¿ethically questionable¿ about thematic auctions, and Antiquorum¿s thematic auctions in particular.  If Meichtry had done any research, he¿d have discovered that  these auctions are extremely transparent.. In Switzerland the law demands the presence of a government official, a judiciaire who is present and presides over the entire sale. These sales are also rigorously followed by the trade press and everybody else in the auction world and the watch world.  Today Sotheby¿s and Christies have followed Antiquorum¿s lead, and have initiated their own ¿thematic sales¿ because they have realized the many benefits to collectors.   

 

  • There is no collusion between Antiquorum and any watch manufacturer, nor has there ever been.  The ¿Thematic Auctions¿ started by Antiquorum are not only innovative but very much welcomed and appreciated by collectors.  These events  are often years in the making because they offer the rarest, most important, most precious masterpieces related to the particular theme.  Contrary to what Meichtry reported, we search the entire world in preparation for these events. Watches come from many sources, including individuals and private estates, as is the case with any auction. Thematic sales do not focus simply on a particular brand, although focusing on a particular brand has great appeal to collectors as well.  Meichtry, however, failed to mention other ¿themes¿ that have been equally successful, and which embrace numerous factors of value to horological collectors and connoisseurs. These include a ¿country¿ theme (as in our French or British Horology auctions), an ¿era¿ (as in our 100 Years of the Wristwatch), or some specialized theme (such as Antiqourum in Love, devoted to the theme of love). The experts present the theme from historical, artistic, technological, creative, and cultural aspects, for the benefit and education of collectors worldwide. 
  • Thematic auctions present a unique opportunity for all. This includes watch manufacturers, but not for the reason Meichtry suggests.  It is an important venue for the manufacturers themselves to locate and possibly acquire an important part of their own history, and to learn what makes that particular watch special in a variety of contexts. Everyone who participates in a thematic event enjoys the opportunity to delve into the subject as never before. The thematic catalogues themselves are highly prized and collected.  

While the success of a particular watch, and the price it brings at auction , may have a positive impact on brand recognition when it comes to marketing and selling new watches, to suggest a thematic auction is a stunt to ¿up¿ retail prices for a brand is preposterous.  The majority of watches sold at thematic auctions haven¿t been made for 50 years, or more. Usually there are only a few remaining in existence today, and there is no comparison between these watches and modern watches.

 

  • A thematic sale is not, as reported in the WSJ, a scam in which there is a partnership between the manufacturer of a particular brand and the auction house, with everything pre-arranged.  This allegation is libelous.  In some cases, when the theme focuses on a particular brand we will work together with the company that manufactured the brand to provide various services, such as issuing a ¿report of authenticity¿ on each and every piece sold (as we did in the Cartier and Vacheron Constantin thematic sales). In a field where counterfeits, fraud and misrepresentation run wild, documentation is rare and valued. For me, it was a matter of doing ¿due diligence,¿ to reassure our clientele and to protect our own brand image.

In some cases, knowing that a thematic auction for a particular brand may have a dramatic impact in the world of watch collectors, a company may discuss with us the possibility of participating in the excitement of the moment by making a special piece for the auction, or by hosting a reception to mark the moment. Similar marketing and promotional activities occur in many other fields.  There is nothing secretive or unethical about it.  

 

  • There was a list of seven watches which was given as an example of how manufacturers bid up their own brands in order to get ¿¿their wares perceived as things of extraordinary value, worth an out-of-the-ordinary price.¿  Meichtry and Connally have again misinformed your readers and misled them by omitting the time line, omitting the reason for the purchase, and by omitting other pertinent data that would have disproven this allegation.

In the case of the seven watches shown in the WSJ, all were exceptionally rare watches made between 1923 and the 1950¿s; five of the seven were unique pieces (meaning only one such watch was ever made); and of the remaining two, the Patek Philippe was one of only 3 that were ever made, and the Omega one of only 7 ever made¿and none of the others are known to exist today.  Because of their rarity, these watches are extremely valuable to any collector and are considered museum pieces.  It was for this reason that Philippe Stern, of Patek Philippe, bought them¿for his museum¿which is the finest horological museum in the world.

 Five of these were purchased by Stern between 1987 and 2000; a sixth watch that the WSJ reported as having been purchased by Stern ¿ the split-second Patek ¿ was not; it was purchased by a Middle-Eastern sheikh. Philippe Stern purchased watches over a 20-year period, for his museum. It took this long because of the rarity of the pieces he acquired. In addition, he has purchased an additional 1500 watches for the museum over the years¿primarily from Antiquorum¿for which he has paid many millions of dollars for masterpieces that were not even made by Patek Philippe.    

Meichtry and Connally have no knowledge of the watch industry, nor have they tracked the impact of such sales on ¿retail¿ prices of new watches or they would have seen clearly that they are not affected by auctions results on such rare items, on pieces that have not been available for decades, and are no longer in production. They are no longer available to anyone, in any market. And today, some of the pieces purchased so many years ago are already worth 2-10 times more than Stern paid. They are appreciating in value because they become rarer and rarer with each passing year, and more and more collectors have entered the field of horology.  There is nothing here to ¿¿.raise ethical questions¿¿   However, I think that ¿ethical questions¿ should be raised in regard to the clear bias with which this story was written, and one must ask why certain ¿facts¿ were presented while other pertinent data was omitted.

It is a similar story with regard to their reporting on our ¿Omegamania¿ event.  The seventh watch in the list is the Omega Constellation, the only one known to exist in platinum, with a platinum bracelet, dating from the 1950¿s. This is an exceptionally rare watch, and Nicolas Hayek wanted to have it, at any price!  He was successful.  It is true that Omega gave its support for the sale ¿ technical support ¿ and it is the first time that an auction house has ever sold every lot with a 2 year overhaul guarantee by its manufacturer, even for watches over 100 years old. This was an unprecedented and unique opportunity for the buyer, and the vendor.  

How can one question Omega¿s interest in buying this, and other pieces, for their museum?  What is wrong, or unethical in doing this?  If I were the Singapore collector who paid $8,000 for a watch on which Omega was the under-bidder, I would be delighted knowing I had something very special since Omega was not bidding on anything other than the best. 

It was refreshing to learn Mr. Hayek¿s reaction to the article¿he said that while most companies invest their money to buy back their own shares, the Swatch Group invests its money in its history. 

 

While I would have liked to take the entire article apart, point by point, it would take more room than the initial story. But I hope readers will make their own decision as to whether or not there has been any impropriety, financially or ethically, by me, Stern or Hayek, or the company I founded.

 

Respectfully,

Osvaldo Patrizzi

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