Luxury

An exploration of the luxury market through trends, insights and expert opinions

Access is no longer a dirty word for auction houses

24.09.2018 Luxury : Retail : Acquisition

Could digital platforms and aspirational lots drive a new era of acquisition? Chiswick Auctions' Sarah Duncan explores the sector's challenges and opportunities.

AMA Fictional jewellery brand by Ada Sokol and Etienne Garachon AMA Fictional jewellery brand by Ada Sokol and Etienne Garachon

Augmented reality could soon come to the fore, allowing consumers to try on that vintage Breitling watch or Art Deco diamond bracelet before placing their very first bid.

Sarah Duncan, head of jewellery, Chiswick Auctions

Auction houses have traditionally fallen into two categories: the major players that make headlines for selling Rembrandts and Picassos, and the little guys who occasionally score a hit with a £800,000 Monet.

But with major auction houses focusing nearly exclusively on high-net worth consumers, the arts and antique markets have long been perceived as inaccessible. However, I believe that’s changing, and it’s all down to the birth of the middle-market auction house.

In the last 10 years, the UK market has undergone a seismic shift. The big players have pared back their presence, with larger houses such as Christie’s, Bonhams and Sotheby’s shifting their focus towards buyers in Hong Kong, New York and Switzerland, in turn creating new global hubs for fine art and luxury items.

How do you convince a 30-year-old guy not to walk into a Mayfair boutique to purchase his first Rolex, but to instead hash it out in the salesroom?

You might think this would leave the British consumer short changed. Where does one go if flush with some cash for a diamond necklace or an Old Master painting? The answer lies in the increasing growth and reputation of mid-market auctioneers. Chiswick Auctions has experienced significant growth in recent years, expanding its presence with a South Kensington gallery. Birmingham auctioneers Fellows has just acquired a large premises in the heart of London’s Mayfair. Meanwhile, Dublin-based Adam's recently held one of Ireland’s most successful jewellery auctions.

In fact, beyond furniture and art, the industry is witnessing a rise in interest and hammer prices for fine goods not traditionally considered a mainstay of the auction world. In 2017, a buyer at Christie’s Hong Kong broke the world record paying £253,700 ($333,062, €282,930) for a Hermès Birkin. Whether high-end handbags, wine, whiskey, fine jewellery or watches, the shift in market share towards contemporary luxury goods is here to stay.

The obvious target audience for these burgeoning categories is undeniably the aspirational window shopper. But how does one convince a 30-year-old guy not to walk into a Mayfair boutique to purchase his first Rolex or an engagement ring, but to instead hash it out in the salesroom? The challenge is to invest in these often younger buyers, guiding them on the path to becoming the established collectors of tomorrow.

Micro-bloggers are coming out to play in the auction world, bringing the benefits and thrill of buying at auction to a new generation of consumers.

As Accenture reports, 20 to 40 year olds in the US alone spend approximately $600 billion (£457bn, €510bn) per year. Crucially, they are using digital platforms to spend that money, meaning the answer could very well lie in social media engagement. Micro-bloggers are coming out to play in the auction world, and they will be the key to bringing the benefits and thrill of buying at auction to a new generation of consumers that want access to rare items in an increasingly mass-produced world.

This summer, Adam’s in Ireland collaborated with fashion designer Helen Cody, while Chiswick Auctions partnered with Condé Nast Traveller watch and jewellery editor Jessica Diamond to promote their seperate auctions. Chiswick’s private event for influencers and bloggers resulted in a 26% increase in followers for the Chiswick Handbags Instagram account. Even major player Sotheby’s has teamed with Liza Urla, founder of influential blog Gemologue, to promote its online-only Fine Jewels auction in September 2018.

Not long ago, just having the ability to present an online auction catalogue was revolutionary. Now, auctioneers around the world are following in the footsteps of luxury bands, using social media to connect with future, aspirational clients.

In my view, being ‘accessible’ is no longer a dirty word for auction houses. The middle-market players are driving this revolution to reflect modern consumption patterns, allowing new audiences to discover rare yet accessible treasures via their newsfeed or place bids during their lunch break. In fact, we could soon see augmented reality (AR) come to the fore, encouraging aspirational consumers to try on that vintage Breitling watch or Art Deco diamond bracelet before placing their very first bid.

Sarah Duncan is head of the jewellery department at Chiswick Auctions.

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