Artist House Sells Antiquorum for $97,000

The tumultuous saga of Antiquorum Auctioneers, the international watch auction house, continues.

Artist House Holdings, its former majority shareholder, says it sold its interest (2,100 shares) in Antiquorum on May 16 for about $97,000 (10 million yen) to a Hong Kong group called Forever Most Investment Ltd. Artist House—a publicly-traded Japanese company dealing in computers, consumer, products and entertainment—originally paid $30 million in early 2006 for 50 percent of Antiquorum’s equity. That rose to 99 percent by early this year, with additional investments. The May 16 sale was confirmed by Antiquorum.

According to its official statements, Artist House—which has had its own difficulties—decided it couldn’t continue to provide funding to Antiquorum.

Meanwhile, Antiquorum on May 20 said it has a new, unidentified majority shareholder (not the Hong Kong group). The unnamed “private investor” has purchased an additional 2,200 shares in Antiquorum for 2.2 million Swiss francs (about $2.1 million)—for 51 percent of Antiquorum—and loaned it another 5 million (about $4.8 million) Swiss francs, said John Yo Tsukahara, Antiquorum’s chairman and chief executive officer (pictured), in a JCK interview. That leaves the Hong Kong group with almost 49 percent.

No information. Although the sale was finalized May 16, Antiquorum still knew nothing about Forever Most Investment a week later.

“It is a strange situation,” JCK was told by Tsukahara, who resigned as an Artist House director at the start of April. “We have no idea who they are. We’ve asked Artist House to tell us, but we have no information.

“The new company [i.e., Forever Most Investment] and the former majority shareholder [Artist House Holdings] haven’t contacted us yet. We only know from Artist House public statements that they sold everything.” The transaction, said Artist House, includes Antiquorum SA, based in Geneva, Switzerland, and Antiquorum USA, in New York.

Tsukahara also told JCK that Antiquorum’s legal actions against its founder and former chairman Osvaldo Patrizzi (ousted by the then-new management in August 2007) will continue. “That is my position, and I assume the majority shareholder will support us,” said Tsukahara.

On his Web site, www.osvaldopatrizzi.com, Patrizzi said he’s “surprised” by the sale’s amount, but wished the new shareholders “all the best and hope that they will have the vision and ability to restore Antiquorum to the greatness that it once was.”

New partner. Tsukahara declined to identify Antiquorum’s new majority shareholder, but said he’s “delighted to find a new partner with a great understanding of the potential of Antiquorum.” The additional funding will strengthen Antiquorum’s financial stability and its shareholders’ equity, he said, “enable future expansion into new markets in Asia and elsewhere, help develop new opportunities and consolidate our leading position.”

Antiquorum, founded in 1974 by Patrizzi, an internationally-recognized horlogical expert, has had a bumpy year since 2007.

In August, following the establishment of a new board controlled by Artist House, Patrizzi was ousted as chairman and CEO, a year before retirement. Leaving with him were a number of long-time top Antiquorum officials and staffers. He was succeeded as president and CEO by Tsukahara, then a director of ArtistHouse Holdings. The new management cited “irreconcilable opinions” on strategy and direction for Patrizzi’s departure, and restructured operations.

The new management and Patrizzi subsequently filed civil and criminal actions against each other. The new management accused Patrizzi and members of his team of fraud and financial mismanagement, and seeks 43 million Swiss francs (about $41.7 million). Patrizzi claimed the new board, formed without his involvment, fired him “to take over the control” of Antiquorum, to which he would “in no way” agree. He said accusatiosns of financial mismanagement are “trumped-up” to justify that alleged takeover.

While Antiquorum continues to hold major watch auctions (the next is June 7 in Hong Kong), it has seen the departure not only of former Antiquorum staff and executives since August, but also since January, a number of the new ones, too. Tsukahara said recent turnovers are part of “the orcinary process, as we try to find the best structure for the company.”

Patrizzi & Co. Meanwhile, Patrizzi and members of his former executive team have started a new watch auction house. Called Patrizzi & Co. Auctioneers (www.patrizziauction.com) and launched Apr. 8, it offers several innovative concepts using new IT technologies, while eliminating some shortcomings of online auctions and online bidding.

The public will be able to participate on multi-screens in an auction conducted in several, simultaneous sessions, either in an auction room or online at home, letting them concentrate on a particular session while following parallel ones. This also allows more lots, and a greater variety of choice, to be auctioned in considerably less time than traditional auctions now, said Patrizzi & Co. Up to 1,500 lots can be sold in one day, for example, compared to 400 to 500 now.

The first multi-screen auctions will be in Geneva, this fall. Four to six auctions—both traditional and thematic, which Patrizzi pioneered at Antiquorum—are planned annually for Geneva, New York and Hong Kong.

The new company is also abolishing buyer’s commissions (traditionally paid to an auction house on objects they purchase) and will provide a five-year Guarantee of Authenticity for what clients buy, eliminating the ‘risk factor’ in buying important pieces in Internet auctions. Downloadable online catalogs, regularly updated, will be available at the Web site.

Patrizzi and Co. will be based in Geneva, with offices in New York, Hong Kong, Milan, Shanghai and, as of 2009, London. It expects to do 50 million Swiss Francs (about $48.3 million) in business in its first year.