Christie's to expand private sales in Asia

GLENEAGLES (Reuters) - Auction house Christie’s plans to expand in the private sales market in Asia to tap newly wealthy customers and offset weakening confidence in the auction market as a result of the global downturn.

A model displays a natural pearl and diamond necklace as it is auctioned during a jewellery sale by Christie's in Dubai, in this file photo from April 29, 2008. . REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

Private sales, where Christie’s puts buyers and sellers of art directly in touch with each other, make up an increasing proportion of the auction house’s business, said Edward Dolman, Chief Executive of Christie’s International.

“As the market has struggled for confidence since last September, lots of clients have come to us asking to facilitate private sales at an agreed price, rather than put them up for auction,” he told Reuters.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Forbes CEO conference in Scotland, he said that of the group’s total turnover of about $5 billion (3 billion pounds) last year, $750 million was from private sales, up from just $100 million 3-4 years previously.

“Asia represents probably the most obvious potential for us going forward,” Dolman said, adding that Christie’s had just opened a new fine art security warehouse in Singapore which would help it execute private sales in the region.

Newly wealthy customers from places such as China, Russia and South America have driven the auction market higher over recent years and Dolman said these clients were proving more resilient in the downturn.


A successful sale in Hong Kong last month had inspired greater confidence in the region, Dolman said.

“The strength of these sales in Asia is the first tangible example of recovery. The New York and London markets are still struggling for volume but I’m hoping Asia’s going to lead the way.”

Dolman also said that while the recession had put some sellers off because of the fear they would not get the desired price for works of art, it had pushed other people into selling items as a way of reducing debt.

“We’re seeing clients who we wouldn’t have expected to sell, selling in order to deal with debt,” he added.

Dolman, who began his career at Christie’s in 1984 as a European furniture specialist, said 20th century decorative art such as tables, chairs and lamps was an area set to experience rising prices.

He said prices for these items had lagged but that the sale of an Eileen Gray leather chair for $28 million, almost 10 times its estimate, in an auction of the belongings of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent in February had signalled the beginning of a general price appreciation in 20th century art.

“The change in taste to contemporary works is here to stay,” said Dolman.