Antiquorum Auctioneers

Wow, I'm wandering around Antiquorum's showroom and some of the items for sale are breathtaking and then again so are the asking prices. Compared to old-line auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's whose roots date back to the mid-1700's, Antiquorum at 29 years old, is a mere babe in the woods. However, it seems to have found a big niche; specializing in horology.

Antiquorum recently moved its head office but the move wasn't too dramatic an upheaval seeing as how it was only to the building next door. In the middle of the picture accompanying this story you see a brown turn-of-the-century building, it's on the third floor where head honchos now hang their hats. The white building to the right, the one with the Rolex sign atop, houses Antiquorum's ground floor showroom and basement offices. The buildings front a busy street with lots of foot traffic including hordes of tourists thanks to Geneva's out-of-town bus station being right around the block. Just around another corner starts the Lake Geneva shoreline and four blocks away Geneva's main train station.

Before meeting my contact person, Ira McCobb-Marketing & Communications, I corral one of the company's experts on watches to answer a few questions. How do I know Etienne Lemenager is a watch expert? Because it says "Watch Expert" right on his business card. "So", I ask, "who makes the best watches?" Expecting Lemenager to throw out a few names I'm somewhat taken aback when he names only one, "Historically speaking it's Patek Philippe". My other question deals with spotting watches from a distance. I've found that unless you get very, very close to a person you can't see the name on the watch. I ask Lemenager, "Are there any watches you can spot from a distance and know right away who's the maker?" Lemenager answers, "Franck Muller". (Sidenote, in 2002 I visited Franck Muller's head office/factory near Geneva). Hmm, a few days ago I was checking out a jewelry/watch shop and saw a watch in the window that had the distinctive Franck Muller look. However, upon closer inspection it turned out to be an obscure named watch going for $300. (Franck Muller watches start at about $5,000). But, as Lemenager correctly points out, unlike me he's got the trained eye.

The accommodating McCobb answers questions and shows me around. Twenty-three people work here. Since this is Geneva's city center, parking is tight and employees are on their own as far as finding parking. There's no cafeteria but a break room where workers enjoy free soft drinks and coffee. Smoking policy? If you have your own office then smoking is allowed. It's 20 minutes to Geneva's airport, a five-minute walk to the central train station and 20 minutes to the nearest freeway.

Managing Director Michel Cohender occupies a third floor corner office. Nothing hangs on the walls, don't see any plants and note the marble fireplace. The view out the window? Cohender has a partial waterfront view. Actually, since the move into the building took place only weeks earlier, most everyone hasn't finished unpacking. Several offices in this turn-of-the-century building have cool-looking marble fireplaces but McCobb isn't sure if they're still useable or now only for show.

Thumbing through VOX, Antiquorum's own magazine, they have a listing of "The Most Important Pocket and Form Watches Ever Sold at Auction-by Value". Heading the list is an 18K gold pocket watch with 24 complications, circa 1933 by Patek Philippe which went for a cool $11 million dollars in 1999. Second on the list is an 18K gold clockwatch with 33 complications, circa 1989 also by Patek Philippe which went for $3 million. I'm familiar with the second watch because during my recent visit to Patek Philippe's headquarters/factory I met the watchmaker who spent NINE years working on the watch-known as "Calibre 89, The Most Complicated Watch Ever Made".