Every day is a treasure hunt for John Reardon of Christie’s,
the world’s largest auction house.
By Roberta Naas
Portraits by Dani Vernon
John Reardon, International Head of Watches for Christie’s Auction House has no ordinary job. At any given moment, the 42-year-old watch lover can be found flying off around the world on treasure hunts for timepieces, or listening to stories about love, life, and death.
Based in the 300,000-square-foot Christie’s auction space in Rockefeller Center, Reardon heads up a team of about 30 watch specialists around the world and spends about 75 percent of his time on the road, scouring leads to find the most unusual watches to put up for auction, or helping clients build world-class collections.
“Picture the excitement of a stock-market trading floor, combined with the ultimate Antiques Roadshow moment and the drama of a Shark Tank episode, and that is my job,” says Reardon enthusiastically. “I handle the technical mastery of the most brilliant watchmaking minds of the past two centuries on a daily basis. It is a dream come true.”
Reardon admits that he got hooked on watches, or more specifically, clocks, at a young age, when, as a high-school teenager, he visited the American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol, Connecticut. He was immediately smitten with the mechanical works of art. Thanks to the very astute clockmaker and curator of the museum, Stuart Mitchell, Reardon quickly learned clock-making, and how to overhaul old clocks. He was so good at it that he even started his own business from the family home.
“From those earliest days of working at the museum, learning the history and story behind each timepiece captivated me,” says Reardon. “These were mechanical tools—meant to be used—and yet each one encapsulates so much history.”
In fact, to this day, Reardon insists it is the stories that still capture his heart. Much like a man of the cloth in the confessional, Reardon regularly hears all sorts of stories from owners who bare their souls to him when deciding to sell an heirloom watch.
“What I do is all about relationships and trust. You become part of people’s families; they share what their plans are for the money they will get from selling a watch. Because a watch is so personal and so dear, especially if it goes back a generation or two, there is typically drama, and because money is involved, with the human element, there is more drama. It is the most fascinating job in the world.”
While Reardon’s discretion prevents him from sharing many of the stories, he says that some of the most thrilling acquisitions and sales he has made revolve around people’s lives. Among his highlights of the past year was finding a Patek Philippe Coin watch in mint condition made in 1971 with a John F. Kennedy coin. He had never seen such a watch before, and learned that there are only two JFK coin watches known to exist. The watch had a presale estimate starting at $15,000, but on auction day two bidders took it all the way to $47,500. “It wasn’t expensive by any means, but it exemplifies how we take a client from start to finish at auction, and how we get a feel-good moment at the end when we tell the client how much their watch sold for.”
That particular coin watch had even more meaning for Reardon than it may have for most, because he had spent nearly a decade working for Patek Philippe. After college, Reardon joined Sotheby’s Auction House for several years until he received what he describes as the “dream call”—Patek Philippe asking him to join the company. He spent the ensuing nine years with the brand, training salespeople, handling the watches, and writing the first of his three books: Patek Philippe in America, Marketing the World’s Foremost Watch. “Patek Philippe is my adopted religion,” says Reardon, noting his strong admiration for the Stern family (owners of Patek Philippe) and the legend they have built.
Going to Christie’s in 2013, though, afforded Reardon the ability to re-engage his love of vintage pieces and to experience the entire breadth of the industry—from vintage to modern—including watches made by many of the finest brands in the world.
“Every day is a discovery, a new learning experience,” says Reardon. “I love waking up in the morning and having an in-box full of leads about potential trophy watches, or people contacting me looking for advice. You just never know what you are going to see next. It doesn’t get much better than that.”