By Thieyacine Fall
If you follow the watch industry closely, you will notice that Phillips’ watch department has been killing it for the last few years. Innovative sales such as Winning Icons which showcased the once elusive Paul Newman 6239 as the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction for $17.8 million, as well as other groundbreaking sales featuring a steel 1518, the “Bao Dai Rolex” and John Goldberger’s white gold “Unicorn Rolex” have anointed Phillips the market leader in fine watch auctions. Launched in November of 2014 in association with Bacs & Russo, Phillips has catapulted to the top of the market in just two short years. Now, if Aurel Bacs is the watch industry’s storyteller extraordinaire and superstar auctioneer, then Paul Boutros is who I would consider the stealth assassin of the market. I can imagine Boutrous quietly in the shadows wearing a blue suit and a stainless steel GMT Master with a Pepsi bezel (which he by the way was likely the first person in the United States to receive) making deals with collectors, appraising items and helping oil the innovative gears of Phillips with his talented horological team.
Paul Newman’s 6239 Daytona
Photo: Courtesy of Henry Leutwyler/Contour by Getty Images
Paul Boutros’ career in the watch industry is certainly not traditional. An electrical engineer by trade, and point man for the very reputable military contractor Lockheed Martin, his early resume reads like a Tom Clancy novel, but don’t let that fool you, this man knows his way around a helium escape valve or two. His deep passion for mechanical watches began at the age of 10 when upon coming back from a coin show with his father an immigrant from Egypt, and collector of all things in his own right, a young Paul dragged his father into a WEMPE boutique on Fifth Ave in New York after being struck by the astronomical prices of the timepieces in the display window. “What would you like to see young man?”, asked the young saleswoman to a prepubescent Paul, and like any true horophile he chose a $23,000 IWC Portofino moonphased pocketwatch. The saleswoman opened the half-hunter caseback leaving Paul mesmerized by the mechanical innards.
“From that moment on I learned all I could about watches. I would go through my father’s Wall Street Journal and New York Times newspapers for the watch brand advertisements, and I would call them for their catalogues.”
Elvis’ Omega Ref. H6582/D96043
Photo: Courtesy of Phillips
While building his career in the aeronautics and defense industry, his knowledge on high end, quality wristwatch history also began to grow. Writing for publications such as ThePurists, Barron’s, TimeZone, and once blogs became the new medium, he also contributed to Hodinkee. It was only a matter of time before he decided to take his horological knowledge and consult on his own with the self-titled consulting firm Boutros Group. His self-made success in the watch industry happened to catch the eye of Aurel Bacs in 2014, who was secretly trying to build a watch department for Phillips. Paul shares that Aurel described a compelling new concept when he said that he wanted him to be a part of his team. Phillips’ strategy was going to be different and attract global audiences. With fewer watches to sell, they were going to focus on the highest quality timepieces with a dedication to scholarship, transparency, and client services.
After a productive meeting with the Bacs & Russo team in Geneva, Boutros Group was hired to help build the watch department – exactly four years to the day of our interview with Paul. Back then, Paul quit his day job and signed on to work for Phillips only two months before the official launch of the department and even before Aurel finalized his contract with Phillips. Talk about a leap of faith!
Photo: Courtesy of classicdriver.com
Mr. Boutros has a lot of great watch related stories, but I would have to say my favorite is how the King of Rock and Roll’s Omega came to be and how Phillips received the contract to auction it. Boutros shares the story about the sellers uncle on that fateful night.
“One day he was sitting at a bar in Las Vegas and Elvis Presley walks in, as they are sitting at the bar his uncle says to Elvis ‘that is a beautiful watch’, and Elvis reciprocates by saying the same about his uncle’s Hamilton Ventura.”
What happened next was unbelievable.
“Elvis was known to give away personal belongings randomly, so Elvis literally gave him the watch off of his wrist and the seller’s uncle proceeded to give Elvis his Hamilton.”
Decades went by and the seller’s nephew was looking to auction off possibly one of the most historical timepieces from one of the greatest entertainers of all time, but received nothing but lowball estimates from other auction houses, that is until he came to Phillips and spoke to Paul.
“I told him well, you have come to Phillips and we have a great passion for watches and we know that there is a great story behind your watch.”
Phillips’ pre-sale estimate for the watch was set at $50k - $100k, the Omega ended up selling for $1.8M. Phillips had just struck again. What is Phillips’ secret to getting record breaking sale after sale, you ask?
"We take great care with production of our catalogues, we devote a lot of resources and make the watches that are entrusted to us shine, not only in catalogue form, but also our press, which is both traditional and digital.”
Phillips is doing just that, making watches entrusted to them shine, and they are showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, especially when men like Paul Boutros are at the helm.