“We should dare to mix artistic universes”
Françoise Adam, the new Director at Christie’s Geneva, is aiming at further cultural mix and opening minds on new artistic synergies. Portrait.
By Cristina D’Agostino02 novembre 2021
The meeting was set at Christies in old-town Geneva. Françoise Adam, the director of the prestigious auction house’s Geneva subsidiary welcomes those who walk through the door of the mythical brand with simplicity and warmth.
It’s very modern, accessible and spectacular, which is why online sales are interesting
Françoise Adam, director of Christie's Geneva
She talks about how lucky she feels to be able to work in a building with such ancient history, even though modern facilities actively sought will soon be her team’s new work location. “They will be much more adapted to the way we work today, she said walking up the stairs of the building’s tower on Place de la Taconnerie.
On her desk, laying on a tray, some jewels for the next Geneva Magnificent Jewels auction (9 November) and Jewels online (2 to 11 November). When asked to choose among them, Françoise Adam’s choice immediately goes to a Dior ring, with daisies formed by aquamarines and enamel created by Victoire de Castellane, a timeless design which goes back to the years 2000. She then grabs a mirror and suggests on having us try an Indian necklace, made of flat-cut diamonds, impressive but relatively “affordable”, with a value set at 15,000 Swiss francs. She says: “It’s very modern, accessible and spectacular, which is why online sales are interesting.” Next is a pair of brooches created by Suzanne Belperron, from 1950. “She is very sought after and even more so since the Duchess of Windsor’s auction in 1987, which held several pieces from this designer.”
She then has us guess what lies in a small blue velvet pouch next. “These are Marie-Antoinette’s diamonds bracelets! They are dated from 1775. I saw them worn as chokers, but Marie-Antoinette used to wear them also hanging from her waist; they have an amazing look! These are the star pieces of the next Geneva Magnificent Jewels sale. They were made by Boehmer, the private Marie-Antoinettes’s renowned jeweler. The bracelets’ valuation is between 2 and 4 million francs. The diamonds and the provenance are impossible to value, but first and foremost, it is difficult to put a price on the “Marie-Antoinette value”. That’s what it’s all about. Such jewels with a prestigious provenance and perfect traceability are rare (the first inscription on these bracelets in an inventory are dated from 1793). “Moreover, the bracelets are still in their original state, they have not been reworked for 250 years - this is very rare”, added Françoise Adam..
Create an intimate relationship with clients
It was essential after long months of home office to resume managing the teams, remotivating our young talents, go back to the office, even if watch and jewelry specialists still needed to be in contact with the objects over the past months, to work on synergies
Françoise Adam, director of Christie's Geneva
Yet what are the other priorities of the new director of the Geneva office today? “It was essential after long months of home office to resume managing the teams, remotivating our young talents, go back to the office, even if watch and jewelry specialists still needed to be in contact with the objects over the past months, to work on synergies.” It’s a return to the roots for this Lausanne native who graduated from Saint Gallen University and majored in Finance. While her career seemed to destine her to the banking world, after two years spent on the trading floor at the SBS, she leaves the finance sector in favor of press distribution at Naville. “I loved it. Press was booming in the years 2000. I presented 500 publications and I had to be quick and adaptable. She then chooses to go to London to follow art history courses at Christie’s based on personal interests “to complete the very dry aspect of numbers and figures from studying in St-Gallen” she says.
The Yves-Saint-Laurent sale at the Grand Palais was a momentum in my career, a crazy project
She then starts a career at Christie’s, in Geneva, at the business development department, alongside the future Geneva’s subsidiary director, Eveline de Proyart, who she considers her mentor. That’s when she learns to work with big clients. “I loved this universe that was both demanding and stimulating. I like to enjoy my work, I love personal contact, entering the client’s universe, gain their trust, represent them, create an intimate and a long-term relationship.” She then joins the Paris office from 2006 to 2010, where she leads the Client development and advisory department and coaches city representatives. The Parisian journey ends “at a climax, she says, with the Yves-Saint-Laurent sale at the Grand Palais in 2009. There were months of intense preparation, incredible experience while putting the exhibition together, in a location that had never hosted auctions. The bet was to recreate the private apartment of Yves-Saint-Laurent and to exhibit auctioned pieces in order for clients to be perfectly immersed in his universe. It was a crazy project, a momentum in a career and a milestone for the whole team.”
This attraction for human relations, and the exceptional international client portfolio based in French-speaking Switzerland push her to rejoin the Christie’s house after ten years spent managing the Safra collection at the family office. “Timing was perfect. I needed a new challenge in my career at 50. When Eveline approached me to take over from her, as she was nominated chairwoman of Christie’s Switzerland, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to come back.”
To not tire the market
Françoise’s mission was from then on to increase the client network, accompany teams in each department and improve the business development department, in order for Geneva to shine on the international scene. She also had to increase synergies with the Zurich office, by organizing joint conferences on artistic themes, as the one recently organized on Giacometti, and to join interests from both sides of the Sarine. “I like to build new synergies, unite collectors around their passion, as well as confront them to other artistic universes. My vision is about reconnecting teams and stimulating them. My priority is to move offices, integrate a modern structure, to erase physical as well as mental barriers between departments. Nowadays, collectors are polyvalent, and so should we. This mix will enrich their universe and ours.”
The audiences, the types of objects that we are seeking have changed, including NFTs. It is fascinating to think about mixing worlds and offering tangible and intangible objects
Françoise Adam has to lead the way of this new opening alongside digital and online sales, a globalization that is deeply changing the auction universe. She admits it, everything changed over ten years. “The audiences, the types of objects that we are seeking have changed, including NFTs. It is fascinating to think about mixing worlds and offering tangible and intangible objects. Private clients need to be surprised. In fact, it is evolving quite a bit. In the first half of 2021, 30% were new customers, of which 31% were millennials. We are at the start of a phenomenal change. On this point, client mentalities have clearly evolved. While online sales could be considered by salespeople as belittling for their object, it now offers a wider range of exposure that lasts longer in time, as it spans over ten days and can offer objects valued at hundreds of thousands of francs. Over the last online sale in July, 98% of objects were sold and we totaled results that exceeded our expectations, over 1.7 million francs. But on the contrary to our competitors, we do not want to increase this. We need to remain selective.”
Christie's International's first six months of 2021 generated a total of USD 3.5 billion, of which USD 225.7 million was contributed by online sales. Since the pandemic, Christie's Geneva has gone from two live sales sessions in May and June to around ten sales per year if we combine online and physical sales. Françoise Adam concludes: “The excitement around the sale of Marie Antoinette's diamond bracelets and other lots with royal provenance is already present and we look forward to opening the exhibition to the public this Thursday, 4 November 2021, at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues.”
Clearly, the auction world is doing well. Even very well. However, there is a potential pitfall for the profession: the market could dry up or become saturated, if sales continue to multiply among all the players in the world.
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