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I refer to the fact that an auction house in an early January sale refused to allow the complete viewing of two pocket watches.

On enquiry, they told me that the vendor did not want anyone to open the cases and that they had instead put photographs of the movements online.

Given that photographs alone cannot provide the necessary information to properly assess the condition and originality of any mechanical antique, I persisted in my attempt to view, but met with a flat denial.

I understand the damage that case opening knives can do in inexpert hands, and that watch mechanisms can be delicate, but auction houses have been getting round this problem for many years.

The usual way is have a member of staff who knows how to open the cases properly. Either that, or the case is left open for the movement to be inspected, under close scrutiny by a member of staff if thought necessary.

Neither of those options was offered in this case, however. I left the (non)viewing most annoyed.

‘Specialist, not gambler’

Lest readers think this was an object with a £60,000+ estimate, they should know that the low estimate was just £600, and that as a specialist in the field, not a gambler, I cannot buy without proper viewing – and no, I did not bid blind.

The real reason for this letter is not to complain about the inadequacies of this auction house, but to alert watch buyers to this new practice and, I sincerely hope, to stop it before it goes any further.

Two other points are, however, worth raising:

Firstly, would I have any chance of being paid if I were to invoice the auction house for the two and a half hours of my time that it took not to view?

Secondly, is a commission rate of 20%+ to buyers reasonable in circumstances that prevent them from properly viewing an object on public view at a public auction?

David Penney

Antiquarian horologist and horological consultant