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Fellows Auctioneers broke its record during the first COVID lockdown in terms of sales at an auction.
Since then, the Birmingham-based auction house has capitalised on that growth and in conversation this week with the business’s Business Development Manager and Auctioneer, Nicola Whittaker, explained how important trust among other things is important.
Here’s what was said:
WP: How much of Fellows’ work is with watches?
NW: We have at least one watch auction per month. We tend to divide our auctions into The Luxury Watch Sale and Watches and Watch Accessories. The Luxury Watch Sale is our flagship watch auction, featuring watches from £1,000 upwards.
Our Watches and Watch Accessories auction focuses more on smaller, more affordable watch brands as well as various horological ephemera. We find that accessories such as boxes, watch winders and promotional items really catch the eye of collectors. When we have watch tools for sale, the achieve very strong results as they are generally hard to come by in the secondary market.
Our watch auctions make up around 1/3 of our auctions both by value and quantity. The size of our watch team reflects this. It is the second largest department in the business after the jewellery department. We hold weekly jewellery auctions, selling around 1,000 – 1,500 lots of jewellery each week.
WP: Have you seen this grow in recent years as the pre-owned market has grown more generally too?
NW: Yes. We have seen more people registering for our watch auctions than ever before. WatchPro covered our record-breaking online auction during the first COVID lockdown in the UK. I am glad to say that we have not seen the numbers drop since then.
People seem more confident both selling and buying at auction. I think a lot of this is due not only to the public’s general confidence online but also the transparency with which we conduct business. We have worked hard to gain our stellar reputation as an honest auction house. Combine this with our long time in business and overwhelmingly positive online reviews, we are seeing our auctions become increasingly popular among trade and private clients.
WP: Which brands seem to perform best in the auction room?
It really changes. We’re lucky having monthly auctions so that we can track trends in a relatively short time period. We always see strong results for popular Rolex and Omega models.
WP: How has technology grown to be an important part of your business as auctioneers?
NW: It’s extremely important.
99% of our business is conducted online in one way or another. We offer online customer services such as the online chat feature on our website, virtual viewings and valuations, and online bidding. We were one of the first auctioneers to offer live online bidding and are still among the very few that offer it at no extra cost to the buyer.
WP: How was business managed throughout the pandemic?
NW: First and foremost, our team was the most important factor in our auctions thriving throughout the pandemic and the lockdowns. Many people took on new approaches to fulfilling their roles whether that was remotely or in our offices.
The directors also invested a lot in new projects that were aimed at improving customer service. They have certainly been worth it. Our free shipping offer is now standard on most auctions and is the feature that most people comment on when leaving us a review on Trustpilot.
We worked hard and weren’t afraid to try new things. Some aspects we have not kept up – the auction from home was a bit much- but our virtual viewings were such a success that we are still conducting them alongside our traditional viewings. We led the charge in our industry on these offerings and are still innovating to offer a customer-centric service.
WP: Has the consumer been willing to pay more for watches since the pandemic?
NW: I don’t think we can really make a comparison. So much has changed over the nearly 3 years since the pandemic began. Whether it is exchange rates or cost of materials, they all have an impact on the value of watches, jewellery and other luxury goods.
WP: What are the comparisons between watches and jewellery from an auctioneers point of view?
NW: Watches require more in-depth cataloguing than jewellery. Not only do our team have to accurately describe the item, they also look at the movement’s functionality. It is also not unheard of to get multiple examples of the same watch model in an auction. We rarely see this with jewellery.
Despite this, they are similar in a business sense. We still offer the same level of customer service for both departments – multiple photos for each lot, a condition report as standard and free shipping.
WP: How do you see things changing in the next 6 months and beyond?
NW: If only we knew. We can only react to the circumstances with which we are confronted. However, we have been in business for over 140 years, we are used to change.
WATCHPRO covered a German Luftwaffe Watch going under the hammer at Fellows. You can find out more HERE.