Auctions hit record $ 15 billion, fueled by young collectors

Artist Chris Carnabuci stands in front of his sculptures by George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (left) featuring Laolu Senbanjo’s painting, otherwise known as Laolu NYC, “at the Sotheby’s auction house in New York City December 9, 2021.

Ed Jones | AFP | Getty Images

The Big Three auction houses have hit record sales of $ 15 billion this year, as an increase in global wealth and a wave of young first-time collectors drove sales of everything, from Basquiats bags to Birkin bags.

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

“Each category outperforms,” said Guillaume Cerutti, CEO of Christie’s.

Auction records highlight rising global wealth during the pandemic, as government stimulus, central bank easing, surging asset prices and a rebound in consumer demand created a massive wave of cash for wealthy buyers. The rise of crypto and online stock trading also spawned a new generation of wealthy young collectors who started buying everything from art and classic cars to luxury goods, wine, watches and more. diamonds online.

The most expensive artwork sold at auction this year was the giant “Woman Sitting by a Window” by Pablo Picasso, which fetched $ 103.4 million at Christie’s. The second biggest was “In This Case” by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which cost $ 93.1 million.

The engine of all growth – from fine art masterpieces to collectible sneakers – was a new generation of collectors who had never been clients of the big auction houses. Sotheby’s said 44% of its bidders this year were new to the auction house, while half of Phillips’ buyers were newbies. At Christie’s, 35% of all buyers were new, with two-thirds entering through online sales. A third of their new buyers were millennials.

The increase in non-fungible tokens also helped sales. Christie’s kicked off the NFT auction boom in March with the $ 69 million sale of Beeple’s “Everydays”. He racked up NFT’s total sales of $ 150 million. Sotheby’s reported NFT sales of $ 100 million; this year he launched Sotheby’s Metaverse, a new marketplace for NFTs.

The luxury category, which includes watches, jewelry, wine, handbags and other fashion items, has had some of the biggest surprises in terms of price and demand. Phillips Watches had an unprecedented “White Glove” year, where 100% of the lots offered for auction were sold, for a total of $ 209.3 million.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s both reported luxury sales of around $ 1 billion, as the wealthy raised prices well beyond asset estimates. At Sotheby’s, nearly two-thirds of luxury lots have sold more than their estimates. Christie’s results were aided by the sale of $ 8 million of Marie-Antoinette bracelets, as well as the sale of $ 515,000 of a Hermes Himalaya Diamond Kelly bag and a 15-karat pink purple diamond that has reached $ 29 million.

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

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

“There were more and more collectors and a huge amount of wealth produced over the past year in Asia,” Cerutti said. “These two factors – the new wealth in Asia, along with liquidity and the markets and crypto – have helped tremendously.”

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