“The latest Hong Kong auctions erased the Covid effects”

For more than a year, it has been nothing but a string of digital crushes. Pink diamonds, collectors’ watches, handbags, vintage wines are fought over during digital auctions. Aline Sylla-Walbaum, luxury general manager at Christie’s, details the digital ambitions of the house.

Aline Sylla-Walbaum, luxury general manager at Christie’s (Christie's)

The craze that started prior to the pandemic is confirmed. Online sales are skyrocketing. So much so that Christie’s wants to place this as its priority to conquer this new digital Eldorado. Aline Sylla-Walbaum, luxury general manager at Christie’s tells how the famous house now 255 years old, still in the hands of the family holding Artemis and controlled by the Pinault family, intends to play a global role in this turning point for digital auctions.

A strong-willed woman, ENA-graduate, back-to-back deputy executive director at the Louvre museum, culture and media advisory director to the French Prime Minister François Fillon, then deputy director at Unibail-Rodamco, Aline Sylla-Walbaum is nominated in June 2012 to take over the direction of Christie’s French subsidiary, before taking over the head of the Maison’s luxury department seven years ago. Digital interview with a woman of strong beliefs whose passion for art and the culture of beauty infuses greatly, even via zoom.

Online sales at Christie’s represent 80% of auctions in the luxury object sector. Can you tell us more?

The sale ratio and prices have been very high in 2020 in the luxury department of Christie’s, including bags for example. Why? Because boutiques have been closed since January in Asia and since the 13th of March in the USA and in the Middle East. My thought of course was to wonder whether luxury goods would remain relevant in spite of the pandemic. The response was clear and affirmative. An example: the online auctioned lots of London (June 2020) dedicated to handbags were sold at 100%. A diamond valued at 1 million dollars was sold at 2.11 million dollars online, without having any registered clients see the lot. This lifted psychological setbacks. Yes, I can confirm that online drives incredible sales.

Patek Philippe World Time wristwatch in 18K pink gold with cloisonné enamel dial depicting the Eastern Hemisphere. Ref. 1415, made in 1949 sold for $2,284,326 in Hong Kong, double its low estimate (Christie's)

Is capitalization on the patrimonial value of luxury goods increasing?

Yes, several lots have been sold to twice their estimate. Generally speaking, the trend continues. In March 2021, during the handbag auction in Hong-Kong, some lots reached 150% of their original estimate. On all our offered auctions since 2021, the lowest estimations have been at 122% and the highest at 262% of valuation, all luxury sectors included, wines, handbags, jewellery and watches, with a ratio of sales that oscillates between 84% and 100%. This is mainly online.

Is the appetite for luxury goods still important in spite of the pandemic?

Indeed, it has remained. In spite of the fact that occasions have been rare during the pandemic to wear the bought items in public, these sales have shown that private clients wanted to continue enjoying themselves, by discovering an even stronger connection with the objects, beyond their refuge currency and pure investment.

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