Sotheby's sees HK watch sales up one-third in 2011

HONG KONG Wed May 25, 2011 2:44am EDT

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Sotheby's (BID.N), the world's largest publicly traded auction house, expects its auctions for watches to increase by a quarter this year in Hong Kong, now its biggest market for such auctions, an executive said on Tuesday.

Sotheby's, which competes with privately-held Christie's, the world's largest auction house, sees Hong Kong as an increasingly important market because it is now its biggest market for fine wines and Chinese art as well as watches.

It has sold a total of HK$73 million ($9.6 million) worth of wristwatches and other time-pieces so far in 2011 and expects the current pace to continue through the rest of 2011.

"I think it's very do-able to repeat that in the next season," Vanessa Herrera, director of China and Southeast Asia and head of the watches department, told the Reuters Global Luxury Summit in Hong Kong.

Sotheby's sold HK$109.3 million worth of time-pieces in Hong Kong in 2010.

"For us, we are constantly getting new blood, new people coming to transact. In our sales, 30 percent of the buyers are new," said Herrera, who herself wears a Rolex. "Watches are a very affordable luxury."

Last year, Sotheby's auctioned watches totaling $43 million worldwide, including buyers' premiums.

In Hong Kong, Sotheby's achieved record sales of HK$3.49 billion, driven by Chinese art, watches, wine and jewelry.

Sotheby's reported net income of $2.4 million for the first quarter of 2011, reversing a loss of $2.2 million a year earlier.

Last year proved one of the best for both auction giants, with Christie's posting a record $5 billion in sales and Sotheby's making $774 million in revenue, six times more than 2009 and its second-highest after 2007's record. It was a far cry from 2009's drop in sales amid the global financial crisis.

(Additional reporting by Rachel Lee and Alison Leung; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Chris Lewis and Matt Driskill)

(This story was corrected in paragraph seven to remove incorrect sales figure)

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