Mr. Bacs, we live in an age of high technology where we can read the exact time everywhere on smartphones and computers. Why do we even need mechanical watches anymore?
Exactly for that reason, because we live in this age. An example: we wear clothes so we don’t have to run around naked all the time. So why do we even need haute couture? Even though we don’t really need it, the big fashion houses are more successful now than ever before. We’ll throw a product out after a couple of months because it’s cheaper to buy a new one than repair the old. That’s why handcrafted items are becoming so valuable, because so many modern objects just lack soul.
But spending several hundred thousand euros on a vintage watch – isn’t that over the top?
Everybody has to decide what price he or she is comfortable with. Of course, we’re talking about connoisseur pricing here. And a lot of it naturally depends on what a particular bidder can afford. The central banks printed a lot of money in recent years, and as a result it’s worth a lot less than it used to be. 30 years ago, a millionaire could live really well just off his interest income. Today he’d be lucky to afford a row house. Within a single generation the proportions, the zeroes, the commas have all radically shifted. Look at the art market – vintage watches are cheap by comparison.
What does an expensive watch communicate?
Men are interested in mechanical things. Buying a wristwatch has one clear advantage over buying a plane or a boat – you don’t have to leave it in a hangar or in the harbour. Nobody tucks his Impressionist masterpiece under his arm and brings it to a meeting. But a watch can go everywhere – even into your bedroom.
What is it about antique watches that you find so interesting?
Their history. Their aesthetics. Their uniqueness. Many watches were only manufactured once, or else their 100-year lifespans made them oneof- a-kind. With a person, you can tell by their scars and wrinkles whether or not they’ve spent their lives tilling the fields or working in a law office. The same is true of a watch. And the technology inside is important as well. Are we talking about a cookie-cutter product? Or was this timepiece just as revolutionary as gullwing doors were to the supercar industry?
Do you still remember the very first watch that attracted your attention?
At 13 or 14, I discovered IWC pilot watches. The back side has engravings, air force insignias and serial numbers on it. It occurred to me that one of them might have actually belonged to someone who flew a Spitfire or a Junker, maybe got shot down and had to parachute out, and suddenly I found myself daydreaming. There’s no doubt that an antique watch has been through more than you have yourself. It’s like a time machine that sweeps you into another era.
On his wrist, Bacs wears a simple Patek Philippe from the 1940s, for which his parents loaned him the money when he was 14. They advanced him 1,600 Swiss francs under one condition – that the youngster pay it all back. For two solid years, Bacs turned over every penny he saved to his parents, until the coveted day arrived when he could finally wear the watch for the first time.
How did you first get involved with watches?
My father always appreciated a nice mechanical watch – and still does, for that matter. I’d go with him on trips to the watchmaker’s, to antique shops and to the goldsmith’s. Almost before I knew it, I had become a bona fide watch freak.
Did you have any idea then that you would be earning money with your hobby later in life?
No way. I started off studying economics and law at university, but to be honest, I only did that because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t study very hard – always just enough to get me through the next test. After three years of that, my mother showed me a Sotheby’s help wanted ad in a watch magazine: they were looking for an expert to work in their watch department. They probably thought my application was some kind of prank at first: a 23-year-old kid thinks he can head up the Geneva watch department!? I still got the job, but after the first month I thought it was so awful that I almost quit and went back to university. But in hindsight I’m very grateful to my first boss. She taught me the real meaning of hard work. I really had to buckle down those first six months though.