“For me, it’s a life-altering sum of money” – What it feels like to sell a watch you found in your sock drawer for $240,000 “For me, it’s a life-altering sum of money” – What it feels like to sell a watch you found in your sock drawer for $240,000

“For me, it’s a life-altering sum of money” – What it feels like to sell a watch you found in your sock drawer for $240,000

Luke Benedictus

Back in June, we told you about Paul Draper*.  He got in touch with us after reading our story about how a report estimated that $60 billion USD of watches were gathering dust in people’s homes due to their owners’ failure to recognise what their timepieces were actually worth. The article motivated Paul to take action. Sitting in his sock drawer was a watch that he’d been given for his 21st birthday, but that he hadn’t worn for more than 20 years. However, this wasn’t just any old watch, but a Vacheron Constantin 222.

This reader's Vacheron Constantin 222 is now worth $115k
A Vacheron Constantin 222 (Picture credit: Monochrome)

Essentially the precursor to the Overseas, this Vacheron is a sports watch with an integrated bracelet that was launched in 1977 to mark the brand’s 222nd anniversary. Often confused as being the handiwork of Gerard Genta, it’s actually the creation of Jörg Hysek, a promising young watch designer who’d cut his teeth at Rolex before setting up his own design business, with Vacheron becoming one of his early clients.

Only 1000 pieces were made of this distinctive watch with its tonneau-shaped case of brushed steel topped by an intriguing scalloped bezel. Inside it’s propelled by the Calibre 1120 movement – a tweaked version of the ultra-thin Jaeger-LeCoultre mechanism that was also employed by the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Despite its “holy trinity” heritage and the mania around 1970s steel sports watches, for many years the 222 flew under the radar.

“Every few years, I’d drag it out and have a look at it and go on Chrono24 to see what it’s worth,” Paul said. “The last time was probably seven years ago and I found out it was about $22,000 AUD. Then I saw Nick’s story and thought: ‘I wonder what it’s worth now’.”

This proved to be a canny move because the value of the watch had rocketed. In 2019, Phillips sold a 222 for £53,000 while Christies secured £65,000 for another. Vacheron’s forgotten model was suddenly in wild demand.  And that was where we left things last time. Paul merely reaching out to let us know how that the T+T article he’d read was going to prove significant to his bank balance. But he didn’t realise how significant.

After speaking to us, Paul began to explore what the watch might be worth. First up, a second-hand dealer in Sydney lowballed him with an offer that Paul quickly knocked back. But the gleam in the man’s eye and eagerness to bid, alerted Paul to the fact that the watch was clearly worth a reasonable amount. That idea was reinforced when he offered the watch to a collector who made him a more substantial offer. “The collector said to me: ‘Look, I’m happy to buy it. But I think if you put this to auction you’re going to make more money’.” That prompted Paul to get in touch with the Phillips auction house in Geneva and suddenly things began to snowball fast.

Phillips had sold a 222 in May for 100,000 CHF.  After appraising Paul’s watch, they surmised it was in inferior condition so would presumably fetch a lower price. The reserve was set for 30,000 CHF. But following his conversations with Phillips and the collector, Paul hoped the watch would raise about 57,000 CHF (about $87,000 AUD / $62,000 USD). “That would still have been half a fortune for me,” he admits.

The auction took place in November at a hotel in Geneva, but due to complications over Covid, Paul didn’t attend in person. Instead he went on a rainy holiday in Coffs Harbour but followed the results closely online. The lots were sold over two days, but Paul realised the market was running hot when an original Omega Speedmaster with a brown tropical dial sold for 3.1m CHF off a 60,000 reserve. .

This reader's Vacheron Constantin 222 is now worth $115k
Paul’s 21st birthday present

Due to the time difference, Paul’s watch was due to be sold in the middle of the night in Australia. Realising he would only be watching the auction through his fingers powerless to affect the outcome, he opted not to follow the action live.

“Instead I got up at 4:30 in the morning with a nagging feeling,” he says. “I started scrolling through all the watches and looking at the prices until I got to mine. When I saw the figure, I had to look at it three times.  I just went, ‘No, that can’t be right. That certainly can’t be right. It’s 157,500 CHF! That can’t be right.’ Then I started shaking. I started literally shaking because that’s now over $200,000 AUD plus change for a watch. For me, it’s a life-altering sum of money. It’s changed all of our plans for the next five years.”

This was indeed a record price at auction for the Vacheron Constantin 222. So why is this specific model suddenly so in demand? Paul puts it down to growing interest in the Overseas and the fact that this particular model, whose 37mm diameter led it to be dubbed the “jumbo”, was the immediate precursor to that.

“I think it’s because it’s a 1977 model, which was the release year, and looking at the serial numbers it seems to have been production model number six,” Paul says. “So a Vacheron collector may very well have honed in on that. Plus it came with a few of the bits and bobs that collectors like – the swing tags, the box, the spare links, and the actual key to take the bezel on and off.”

This reader's Vacheron Constantin 222 is now worth $115k
The box of Paul’s Vacheron Constantin 222

The reason the 222 came into Paul’s possession in the first place was that he’s a watchmaker by trade and started his apprenticeship in the mid ’80s with the company that worked as the Vacheron service agents. “One of our clients had this watch and was looking to dispose of it, so he could get something else,” Paul explains. “Behind my back, my boss spoke to my father and said: ‘This watch would make an ideal 21st present.’ So my father did the deal and got me this watch for my 21st.”

Paul admits that he did have a moment of uncertainly when he was handing the watch over to the Phillips courier to take away. “I said to myself: ‘This is the right thing to do isn’t it, Dad?” Because my dad’s no longer with me. But I also know he was never super sentimental about things. People and relationships meant more to him than things.”

So what is Paul intending to do with his huge windfall? Originally estimating the money would be a third of what he finally got, he and his wife were planning to build a granny flat on their Sydney property. “Now we’re looking at buying a holiday house around Mollymook,” he says. “It’ll be Chateau 222.”

*The name has been changed as the interviewee’s request