Antiquorum Orders Audit of ‘Financial Management’

Antiquorum Auctioneers, the world’s leading fine watch auction house, is conducting an audit “regarding financial management and governance” in the wake of the departure of its founder and former chairman; its former managing director, and its former financial and administrative director.

The audit was “ordered,” said an Aug. 22 statement issued by Antiquorum, following the Aug. 2 ouster of Osvaldo Patrizzi, founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Antiquorum by its majority shareholders on Aug. 2. Patrizzi planned to retire at the end of 2008. However, this took “immediate effect after irreconcilable opinions with regard to the strategic focus of the company became explicit,” says Antiquorum’s statement.

Also leaving about the same time as Patrizzi were Michel Cohendet, managing director of Antiquorum, and his son Alex Cohendet, Antiquorum financial and administrative director. The Antiquorum statement made no mention of them.

Concerning the audit of Antiquorum’s books, Antiquorum spokesperson Karin Tasso earlier told JCK that it might take “some weeks more,” and that the action “isn’t unusual. It occurs whenever you have a big change like this, when you start fresh.” Antiquorum also closed the showroom at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, for the first half of August for inventory control.

Temporarily succeeding Patrizzi is John Tsukahara, a director of ArtistHouse Holdings, the Japanese company which became a partner of Antiquorum in 2006 and now holds majority control. Tsukahara has “taken over ad interim management” of Antiquorum, said the Aug. 22 statement. JCK was told earlier that Antiquorum’s new management is seeking someone to fill the post permanently.

The sudden departure of Patrizzi, a pioneer in online watch auctions and cultivating the international watch collectors’ market, had sparked some comments and questions in Internet chatrooms and forums for watch enthusiasts since early August. However, Antiquorum’s Aug. 22 statement is its formal comment on the matter.

“Despite Mr. Patrizzi’s pre-term department, business is in full swing” said Tasso. Its operations, long-term projects, planned events, and scheduled auctions are unaffected, she said. Antiquorum’s team of well-known watch experts, such as Brandon Thomas and Etienne Lemenager, continue to do “intensive work” on upcoming auctions, she noted. “We look forward to an exciting autumn auction season,” in particular the Sept. 20th “Only Watch” auction in Monaco, held under the patronage of Prince Albert II of Monaco, and led by auctioneers Brandon Thomas and Nicholas Mauboussin.

Also unaffected is TimeZone.com, the world’s largest English language community Web site for wristwatch enthusiasts, which Antiquorum bought early this year.

Osvaldo Patrizzi founded Antiquorum in 1974 and built it into the world’s leading auction house for fine timepieces and a leading source for the world’s watch collectors. Antiquorum has chalked up many world records in auctions of watches, clocks, and other timekeeping devices. In recent years, about 80 percent of all watches sold at auction above $800,000 were sold by it.

Antiquorum is an Internet pioneer, being the first auction house (in the early 1980s) to takes its watch auctions online (letting collectors both follow an auction and bid online). It’s known for its beautiful watch auction catalogs and for its thematic auctions, such as “The Quarter Millennium of Vacheron Constantin” (2005), with sales totaling $15.1 million, a record for the brand, or the April 2007, “Omegamania” auction of 300 rare Omega watches, totaling $5.5 million, which set several world records.

Today Antiquorum is headquartered in Geneva, with branches in 10 cities serving 13 countries, including New York (Antiquorum USA); London, Moscow, Paris, Milan, Munich, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

In 2006, Antiquorum sold 50 percent of its equity for about $30 million to Tokyo-based ArtistHouse Holdings Inc., which has businesses in entertainment, publishing, and Internet technology. The deal kept Patrizzi as Antiquorum’s chairman and CEO, and was expected to enable Antiquorum to expand its Asian publishing and Internet operations.

Early this year, Antiquorum announced its purchase of 13-year-old Timezone.com, the largest English language community Web site for watch enthusiasts, with over 45,000 registered users worldwide.