“Piece Unique”. No matter what hobby you’re involved in or what you collect, when you hear those two words together you automatically know that something is rare, exclusive, and special. That was the idea behind the Only Watch Auction - to take a niche group of collectors, offer one-of-a-kind products, and auction them off all in the hopes of raising money for a good cause. But in recent weeks, there’s been a growing amount of criticism and speculation surrounding the Only Watch Auction which was due to celebrate its 10th year on November 5th. And a little over a week ago, a vague statement was released announcing its postponement until next year, causing many to wonder if there were any validity to the rumors circling the forums.
For those who may not know, the Only Watch auction is a biennial charity event that focuses on the auction of unique and one-of-a-kind watches created by some of the world's most prestigious watchmakers. The purpose driving the charity is to raise funds for research on Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that primarily affects young boys and results in progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Since its founding in 2005 after founder and Monégasque businessman Luc Pettavino’s son passed away from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the auction has raised roughly $100 million and has included watches from some of the most prestigious brands in the world including Audemars Piguet, Bulgari and F.P Journe to name a few.
Image Source Monochrome Watches
This year’s auction was set to include pieces from 62 watchmakers before its “indefinite postponement”. So how did we get here? Let’s take a look at what happened.
An Instagram story that went viral - collector Santa Laura created quite a stir when posting in his Instagram Stories that he had asked for a copy of Only Watch’s annual financial report. He took it further by leaving comments on one of Only Watch’s Instagram posts seeking clarity on how donations are managed and where he could find audited details on this. The comment became viral as the official response from Only Watch stating they donated 99% of funds was quickly deleted, increasing the speculation that things may not be as they seem.
Event organizers took to Instagram themselves in an effort to move onto the offensive. Still, no clear answers to the questions from Santa Laura and others were given. Instead, a series of stories in a question-and-answer format was posted and is still available in their story highlights. When answering the question of “What data do we make available on our financials?”, the charity answered that they “understand that there is a normal need for more information and material on how the funds are spent and are happy to address it and move forward together,” and added that they’ve appointed an auditor from KPMG Monaco to certify their accounts.
Image Source Only Watch Instagram Account
In the following days, Santa Laura continued to post on social media demanding transparency and answers to the Only Watch Auction financials. Those demands continued to go silent as other collectors caught on and also raised questions on where this over $100 million raised has gone.
Following the continued criticism, Only Watch released a financial report in an effort to provide transparency”. In this document, roughly only half of the money is accounted for in quite a bit of detail, which has not helped to curb the skepticism. It is documented that grants were distributed to 50 researchers around the world who are working on treatments for DMD. Approximately $40 million of those grants had gone to biotech companies Synthena and its parent company SQY Therapeutics. 49% of SQY is owned by Association Monégasque contre les Myopathies (AMM), a charity founded by Mr Pettavino, and who remains its chairman. Its purpose is to oversee the dispersal of the money raised by the Only Watch auctions.
Audemars Piguet pulls out of the Only Watch Auction. While not addressing any particular reason or the scandal directly, this decision added more fuel to the fire.
Just a day later, F.P Journe made a bold, and honestly quite risky statement by publicly voicing support for Pettavino, emphasizing his commitment to donating to “medical charity that is necessary to save children.”
Only Watch issued a statement promising to indefinitely suspend their auction until 2024, citing “We cannot bring ourselves to cast doubt on the sincerity of the commitment of all the parties involved in this project, nor can we allow this wonderful story to be rewritten.”
Why the continued scrutiny even after the auction released its financial report? With AMM being based in Monaco, there is no watchdog that they have to report to. So without this oversight, we do not know how much of the money has been dispersed and how much has been paid out for “overhead”. Seeing as how Mr. Pettavino is both a chairman of AMM and the founder of the Only Watch Auction, it is safe to say there is room to be a bit critical.
While we may not know how things will shake out long term, there’s a part of me that is a bit sad about this whole scandal. Only Watch was something I as a collector looked forward to each year. It showed what CAN happen, that in a competitive, often closed-minded industry, brands could get together and create beautiful works of art that would actually impact the world. My hope for the future is that the spirit behind the Only Watch Auction doesn’t die and that we can all come together in this often “vain” hobby of ours and do something good with it. However, after the depth of this scandal, I fear brands will be much more conservative in whether or not they agree to participate in charitable auctions to not risk their reputations. Regardless, a greater call for transparency in the industry is needed that goes beyond watch auctions. I suspect that going forward, this scandal will lead to much more communication from not only auction houses, but from brands as well regarding money raised for charitable contributions.