We tried to buy a watch at Bob Hawke’s estate auction, this is what happened We tried to buy a watch at Bob Hawke’s estate auction, this is what happened

We tried to buy a watch at Bob Hawke’s estate auction, this is what happened

Nick Kenyon

Bob Hawke’s estate auction offered a chance to reflect on a man known equally well for his capacity to skol a pint of beer in record time (he broke a beer drinking Guinness World Record in 1954) and being a past Prime Minister of Australia. The auction took place in a venue that could only be described as aptly representative of our country’s cross-sectional majority – an RSL in inner Sydney. It was an appropriate venue to celebrate the collected objects of one of Australia’s most fondly remembered leaders, as it grounded you in a sense of not taking it all too seriously, a reminder offered by the noise and flashing lights of the pokies room.

Bob Hawke's Estate Auction
Mr Hawke enjoying a spot of tennis.

Upon arrival there was an immediate sense of the man we were all here for. A crowd of close to 300 Sydney-siders filled the space, leaving standing room only. But there was no joy or excitement in the air. Instead, it was a state of respectful sobriety (yes, strange for an RSL), with people silently flicking through their catalogue or murmuring to their neighbour. There was a recognition that we were not gathered for an auction, but a memorial which offered insights into a man who once held the highest position in our political arena, through the objects he surrounded himself with over his life.

Bob Hawke's Estate Auction

While I was there out of curiosity, I also quietly had my eye on a few lots (most of which were horological in nature and covered by Felix here) that I hoped were within reasonable reach based on their estimates. Oh, how short-lived my hope was. Once bidding got underway, it became very clear very quickly that I needed to either get a bank loan or admit that I was going home empty-handed.

Bob Hawke's Estate Auction

The first few lots were sold, and the mood lifted as the auctioneer joked that the catalogue was selling itself, with items reaching double-digit multiples of their estimates. After one particularly aggressive flurry of bids for a pair of crystal candle sticks (sold for $1440 on an estimate of $200-400), the auctioneer offered the winning gentleman a pair of candles to go with his purchase.

Bob Hawke estate auction
Two crystal candle sticks, which sold for $1440.

Another highlight that demonstrated either a deep devotion to Bob Hawke, or that the winning bidder knew something no one else in the room did, was the sale of a 34cm tall circular Chinese bookcase, which had an estimate of $300-500 and ended up costing someone $24,000. Someone else paid $6000 for a Hawke’s Lager-branded esky, complete with a 6-pack of Hawke’s Lager to put inside it. There appeared to be a much deeper admiration for Mr Hawke than many had anticipated, expressed by lot after lot hammering for multiples of their predicted prices.

bob hawke estate sale
A Diplomatic Gift from Chinese leader, Zhao Ziyang, which sold for $24,000.

The clock and watch lots were peppered towards the end of the catalogue, and were also highly sought after. While both the Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos clock and the Raymond Weil Fidelio were both withdrawn before the sale, a steel Bulgari watch sold very strongly against its $400-600 estimate.

Bob Hawke's Estate Auction
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos clock, which was not included in the final sale.

I did a little market research on the price of a Bulgari BB33SLD before the sale, and arrived at $1200 being a fair price – double the upper estimate. The watch went on to sell for $5040 including fees, once again showing the cult of Hawke was strong both in the room and around the world. There were 600 people reportedly bidding online. A George Nelson ball clock sold for $1680 (est. $400-600), and an unassuming brass carriage clock sold for $1800 (est. $100-200), making it a clean sweep of strong performances by the time-telling objects in the catalogue.

bob hawke estate sale
The Bulgari watch that sold for 8.4 times its upper estimate.

While I left the room that night with only a catalogue in my hand, I took with me an impression of just how well regarded Bob Hawke was. If the watch world takes auction results as a measure of how important a watch is, then the results of the Bob Hawke estate auction should signify clearly that he was an important man.