Leadership Shifts in Sotheby’s Watch Department After Record Auction

by Barbara Wilson

Following the record-breaking sale of Sylvester Stallone’s Patek Philippe Grand Master Chime for $5.4 million, Sotheby’s Watch Department is undergoing a significant leadership change. Geoff Hess, formerly the head of watches for the Americas, and international watch specialist Sam Hines have both been promoted.


Sotheby’s recent Important Watches sale in New York on June 5 saw Sylvester Stallone’s Patek Philippe Reference 6300G-010 Grandmaster Chime fetch an astounding $5.4 million. This landmark sale, which marked the highest ever for a modern watch at Sotheby’s, signaled a shift from the traditional, conservative auction atmosphere of the past. The event’s success also triggered significant changes in the leadership of Sotheby’s watch department.


“We aimed to create an engaging auction room experience—complete with cocktail tables, a hot dog stand, and champagne,” said Geoff Hess, newly appointed global head of watches, in an interview with Robb Report. Hess’s promotion was announced last week, alongside the news that Sam Hines would be returning as the Hong Kong-based chairman of the watches department after a stint with Loupe This.


“The watch community is unique in its global sense of camaraderie,” Hess remarked. “Our focus will be on providing exceptional service and fostering a deeper connection within this community.”


This vision will guide Hess as he steers the future of Sotheby’s watch auctions. Alongside Hines, who will concentrate on events and social content, Hess plans to innovate the auction experience. Upcoming initiatives include events like RollieFest 2025 and an increase in engaging social media content.

Hess noted the successful spring season, highlighted by the sale of Stallone’s Grand Master Chime. “We had eight videos at our auction, which really brought the watches to life,” he said. He also mentioned the Rough Diamonds auction in April, held in collaboration with Heist-Out magazine, in a downtown Geneva wine cellar—a setting that enhanced the unique auction experience.

“Hosting an event in such a distinctive location was fantastic,” Hess said. “It underscores our commitment to making the auction experience enjoyable, especially as market trends shift.”

Hines, set to start his new role in Hong Kong at the end of June, will be part of Sotheby’s launch of the new Maison at Landmark Chater in July. This move represents a significant expansion of Sotheby’s operations in Asia.

“In Hong Kong, auctions were traditionally seasonal, held at the Hong Kong Convention Center,” Hines explained. “Now, with our dedicated space, we have the flexibility to hold auctions year-round. The new Maison includes retail and gallery spaces, revolutionizing our Asian business.”

Hines highlighted the growing importance of the Asian market. “Twenty years ago, the Asian market was relatively small compared to the U.S. or Europe. Today, it’s rapidly becoming a major player, with some of the biggest buyers located in Asia,” he said. “This growth mirrors New York’s market evolution from 10 to 15 years ago.”

Sotheby’s is also revising its sales calendar. “Global management is questioning the necessity of traditional auction months. If an exciting sale can happen in August, why not?” Hines noted.

Additionally, Sotheby’s simplified fee structure, introduced in February and effective from May 20, aims to attract new buyers and sellers. The house now charges a 20% rate on purchases up to $6 million and 10% on amounts above $6 million, applicable to all auctions except for cars, real estate, wine, and spirits.

The recent Important Watches sale in New York showcased the benefits of this new pricing model. “We had over 1,400 registered bidders, an increase of 400 from last June,” Hess said. “This significant rise, with over a third being new buyers, demonstrates the growing interest in our auctions.”

While both Hess and Hines acknowledged the recent decline in secondary watch prices, they stressed that enthusiasm for collecting remains strong. “Despite the downtrend, the joy of collecting is back,” Hess said. “Collectors are now embracing smaller watches, moving away from the previously popular 40 mm sports models.”

He also noted the rising interest in Cartier. “There’s a notable shift towards new case shapes and smaller sizes, making brands like Cartier more appealing. AP’s recent launch of their mini Royal Oak is a perfect example.”

Hess concluded, “It’s not about one brand being hotter than another. It’s about size, shape, and price. The thrill of the hunt is stronger now, with buyers having more choices, leading to greater enjoyment of the hobby.”


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