Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

Featuring daily auctions of prestige, pre-owned timepieces, the online watch auctioneer LOUPE THIS was founded in July 2021 by Eric Ku and Justin Gruenberg. While it may be relatively new to the watch world, LOUPE THIS recently made horological history in May 2022 by auctioning off a rare, handmade 1967 Cartier Crash 18-karat gold watch for the majestic sum of $1,503,888. (This world-recording-setting transaction concluded after eight days and 81 bids.) Embodying a world record for the most valuable vintage Cartier watch ever sold, this milestone magnifies the platform’s leadership in online prestige, pre-owned watch auctions. Fittingly, the LOUPE THIS tagline is, “Watches in Focus.”

As Ku and Gruenberg recall, “We were flabbergasted when this particular watch reached the price it ended at. There hadn’t been a 1967 Cartier London Crash sold publicly in a very long time, and this goes to show that people are still trophy hunting out there, despite the macroeconomic climate.” The intrepid co-founders of LOUPE THIS have further burnished their reputation and influence by naming Hong Kong-based watch auction expert Sam Hines as the company’s managing director.

As co-founder Eric Ku explains, “Sam has a great reputation, as he’s been excelling in the business for several years and has directed many important sales around the world. Justin and I are working with Sam,” Ku continues, “because he brings additional expertise, authority and credibility to LOUPE THIS. Sam’s relationships and know-how are already allowing us to expand and enhance consignor, website visitor and auction buyer experiences.”

After joining Sotheby’s London in 2002 as a cataloguer trainee in the watch department, Hines sharpened his skills at Henri Stern Watch Agency, also known as Patek Phillipe USA. He went on to become the youngest head of department at Christie’s Auctions & Private Sales New York at age 28. He moved to Hong Kong in 2010 and by 2014, he was co-head of the global watch department at Christie’s. Thereafter, Hines served as global head of watches at Phillips and then in the same role at Sotheby’s starting in 2018. Hines helped grow Sotheby’s worldwide sales by 59% from USD $44 million that year. In 2019, sales grew by another 25%, enabling Sotheby’s to claim majority market share over competitors for the first time in more than a decade. In 2021, Sotheby’s worldwide sales increased to more than USD $150m.

LOUPE THIS has risen meteorically, for in less than one year of business, the site has attracted almost 4,000 registered users. What’s more, by May 2022, the online platform totaled $15 million in sales through its daily auctions every Monday through Friday. (To clarify, LOUPE THIS presents two lots a day on Monday and Friday, and three lots a day on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.) “We know that buying high end watches via online auctions is an everyday activity for many collectors,” says Justin Gruenberg. “The most engaged ones are researching, bidding on and buying watches all year long. Today’s enthusiasts are actively looking for different watches on a daily basis.” Ku chimes in. “The online watch world is a dynamic alternative universe to the traditional spring and fall watch auction schedules. LOUPE THIS fills in the downtime between the traditional watch auction sales with our daily auctions.”

As Ku elaborates, “Our daily watch sales distinguish us from other auction websites, and so does our advantageously low buyer’s premium, which is 10%, compared to the industry standard of 26%.” (Writer’s Note: cites a buyer’s premium of 6%.) Nevertheless, Ku, Gruenberg and Hines boast an unparalleled success ratio: since 2018, their respective sales tallies show that together, the three of them have sold more than a billion dollars of watches.) At LOUPE THIS, Ku relates, “We have sold over nearly 600 lots since July 2021. I think users appreciate our site’s ease of use of use, and bidding on watches every morning can be quite addictive!”

According to Gruenberg, “Sam has a deep and wide background in the prestige watch auction industry. He is a creative thinker who knows from extensive experience how best to present highly luxurious, collectible watches. As managing director,” Gruenberg continues, “Sam is helping us create a more streamlined approach to presenting auctions of important and highly collectible timepieces.”

Ku and Gruenberg have long been active in the watch industry. Ku has been involved with prestige, pre-owned and limited edition watches for 20 years. He began ascending to the heights of what watch connoisseur website Hodinkee dubs “super dealer” status in 2002 when he clinched a deal to buy 25 sports Rolex watches, including Daytonas, Submariners and Comex Sea-Dwellers. But his interest in watch trading really began when he was studying at UC Berkeley in 1997. In 2005, he launched his 10 Past Ten website with the profit he made at a Sotheby’s auction. Eric’s horological ventures include LOUPE THIS, the Vintage Rolex Forum, 10 Past Ten (selling vintage Rolex pieces online), and the California-based company Los Angeles Watch Works (specializing in servicing and restoration).

Gruenberg grew up surrounded by some of the world’s most prestigious and collectible watches thanks to his father, Donald, who founded Gruenberg Watches, a Beverly Hills, CA. company that has for several decades specialized in historically important, complicated and stylistically brilliant timepieces. As Gruenberg tells it, “We joke about how one of my dad’s friends attempted to teach me how to pronounce ‘Patek Philippe’ at the same time my parents were teaching me to say ‘Mommy and Daddy’. And my uncle’s dog,” Gruenberg continues, “was named Cartier. I guess you could say watches is a family thing.” The first watch I bought for personal use was a Rolex 1680 Submariner. I collect ‘time only’ watches,” he says. Although Gruenberg graduated from The Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at the New School in New York City, New York, as he recollects, “I spent most of my time scouring Craigslist and eBay for watch deals as I was already well into watches.” A mere 15-year-old when he bought his first collectible watch at an auction, Gruenberg’s winning bid for a vintage Patek Philippe chronograph totaled just over $100,000.

As it happens, each watch lot considered by LOUPE THIS for auction is scrutinized and graded according to specific guidelines. They are categorized “M” for modern, “V” for vintage, and then are given a post-assessment numerical score ranging from 7.5 to 10. At least 15 photos accompany each post, so that potential buyers can make an informed decision on their bids. “We describe the watch in detail, because transparency is an important part of our business. We have included a comments section too, where we invite people to share opinions or ask us questions about the piece. This fosters community,” says Ku. Those interested in bidding on any LOUPE THIS auctions are advised to bear in mind that the site adheres to a two-minute rule, meaning that in the last two minutes of each sale, a subsequent bid will extend closing time by an additional two minutes. The auction closes when those two minutes have passed without further bids.

To date, LOUPE THIS has also hosted several charity watch auctions, including one to support the World Central Kitchen in Ukraine and the Pink Dial Project that auctions one-off watches to fight breast cancer. Bids start at zero, and there is no reserve. When it comes to trends, the “The F.P. Journe market has been really hot for a while,” Ku claims. “We’ve had a few pieces in the $300,000.00 to $400,000.00 range. An F.P. Journe Platinum Chronomètre Resonance with ruthenium dial sold for $352,000.00, and we recently auctioned off a Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/014 with a sunburst olive-green dial at $369,000.00.”

While they note their short term goals include increasing the number of lots available on a daily basis while expanding the LOUPE THIS community, their long term mission is multi-layered. In the fullness of Time, they say, “We’d like to build out more features for the site, as well as evolve and expand the upper limits of pricing on watches that we offer.” Doubtless, Ku, Gruenberg and Hines are synchronizing their watches.

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