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Auction sales reached a record $ 15 billion, fueled by younger collectors.

Artist Chris Karnabuchi stands in front of his sculptures of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (left) depicting the painting by Laolu Senbanjo, also known as Laolu NYC, at Sotheby’s New York on December 9, 2021.

Ed Jones | AFP | Getty Images

The Big Three auction houses hit a record $ 15 billion in sales this year as the rise in global wealth and a wave of young collectors have driven the sale of everything from Basquiats to Birkin bags.

Christie’s on Monday reported total sales of $ 7.1 billion for 2021, the highest in five years. Sotheby’s previously reported total sales of $ 7.3 billion, the highest in the company’s 277-year history. Phillips said its sales this year rose to $ 1.2 billion, also a record for the company.

“All categories are the best,” said Guillaume Cerutti, CEO of Christie’s.

Auction records highlight global wealth growth during the pandemic, as government stimulus, central bank easing, rising asset prices and a rebound in consumer demand have created a huge wave of liquidity for wealthy buyers. The boom in cryptocurrency and online stock trading has also spawned a new generation of young wealthy collectors who have started shopping online for everything from art and classic cars to luxury goods, wine, watches and diamonds.

The most expensive work sold at auction this year was Pablo Picasso’s “Femme assise pres d’une fenetre”, which sold at Christie’s for $ 103.4 million. The second largest was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s film In This Business, which sold for $ 93.1 million.

Driving all growth – from the finest masterpieces to collectible sneakers – has been a new generation of collectors who have never been clients of major auction houses before. Sotheby’s said that this year 44% of auction participants were new to the auction and half of Phillips’ buyers were new. At Christie’s, 35% of all shoppers were new, with two-thirds coming through online sales. A third of their new customers were millennials.

The growth in non-fungible token sales also boosted sales. Christie’s kicked off the NFT auction boom in March with the sale of Biple’s Everydays for $ 69 million. NFT’s total sales were $ 150 million. Sotheby’s reported $ 100 million in NFT sales. This year he launched Sotheby’s Metaverse, a new marketplace for NFT.

The luxury category, which includes watches, jewelry, wine, handbags and other fashion items, has delivered some of the biggest surprises in price and demand. The Phillips Watches experienced an unprecedented year of white gloves, with 100% of the auction items sold for a total of $ 209.3 million.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s reported about $ 1 billion in luxury goods sales as the rich raised prices far above asset valuations. At Sotheby’s, almost two-thirds of the luxury lots sold at a price higher than their estimate. Christie’s results were aided by the sale of Marie Antoinette’s bracelets for $ 8 million, as well as the sale of Hermes Himalaya Diamond Kelly bags for $ 515,000 and a 15-carat purple-pink diamond for $ 29 million.

Large auction houses have also benefited from continued growth in so-called private sales, where assets are sold directly to buyers without an auction. Private sales at Christie’s hit a record $ 1.7 billion, while Sotheby’s hit $ 1.3 billion.

Wealthy shoppers also came from all over the world, especially from Asia. Asian buyers account for nearly a third of sales at Christie’s and 46% of orders and purchases for lots over $ 5 million at Sotheby’s.

“There have been more and more collectors in Asia over the past year, and a huge amount of wealth has accumulated over the past year,” Cerutti said. “These two factors – the new wealth in Asia, plus liquidity, markets and cryptocurrency – have helped immensely.”


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