Can Phillips’ Online Auction Spark a New Model of Luxury Sales?

The auction house Phillips Asia will host its first-ever cross-category online auction, Refresh: Reload, in Hong Kong from May 20 to 28. With a specific focus on the Hong Kong market, the auction will feature a total 186 lots of 20th century and contemporary art, watches, and jewels.

“Our global Spring calendar this year is made up entirely of online-only sales and we have seen strong participation already,” said Delissa Handoko, associate specialist, head of online sales, Hong Kong, Phillips. “At Phillips we have also seen a great deal of cross-category collecting, and as collectors’ tastes continue to evolve globally, we are excited to present this online-only sale.”

Alongside heritage luxury watch brands like Patek Pilippe and Rolex, the auction will feature high-end jewelry labels such as Cartier and Graff, as well as contemporary household artist names like Daniel Arsham, Takashi Murakami, KAWS, which have become a huge draw to a younger clienteles, further validating this new form of luxury consumption.

The highest price item is Flower of Joy – Blackberry Madness from the iconic Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami at HK $550,000 to 750,000, while the lowest is from the renowned American artist Daniel Arsham’s Mickey Mouse at HK $3,000 to 5,000.

Jing Take

Phillips’ choice of targeting the Hong Kong market is a strategic one, as it’s a convenient entry point into the greater China region, addressing the wave of sophisticated Chinese millennial consumers, whose new-found interest in contemporary art and culture, and their desire to add pieces to their budding collections. This group of young collectors — the new “cultural consumer” — are inventing a new approach to building their personal art collections.

This approach has its beginnings in streetwear and pop culture, as well as contemporary art, which has become not only radically accessible to the general public, but also viewed as a popular social currency among the younger generations in China. Given this, art and culture has become more consumable. And now, as more and more young Chinese look for increased meaning in their luxury purchases, art and culture will hold a greater appeal and social status like an Hermès Birkin bag.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only further accelerated the shift from established luxury brands to an art-fusion new luxury. Chinese consumers are growing more conscious and selective of what they are purchasing, with quality outweighing quantity, and a tighter focus on investment-worthy items. Moreover, as auctions have moved more online — radically breaking down the high-status world of collecting — this younger group now finds participating in them much more accessible.

What Phillips is offering with Refresh: Reload could well be what these consumers are looking for — a way to break the fine line between luxury and art collection. As auction houses like Phillips, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s are creating more programs in the luxury resale businesses and contemporary art, luxury e-tailers like Net-A-Porter or Farfetch may face a new breed of competitors, who are eager to build a new model to attract these new Chinese cultural consumers.

The Jing Take reports on a leading piece of news while presenting our editorial team’s analysis of its key implications for the luxury industry. In this recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debates that sprout up on Chinese social media.

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Art & Auction