2018 was quite simply a crazy, crazy year for luxury assets. Of course, it could just as easily be stated that the same could be said for virtually every other investible commodity, but ultimately that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not speaking of the crazy ups or downs, or tumultuous twists and turns experienced by Wall Street or agricultural commodities (or the painfully predictable death of pretend internet currencies – please don’t email me. I really don’t care to hear your continued sales pitch here). All things considered, luxury assets were fairly stable. The top end of the fine art market didn’t achieve the bonkers results it did in 2017, but that really breaks down to more of what was offered than the state of the market. The collector car markets, to a degree, were the opposite with several very important offerings coming to market, but what remained true on both sides (as well as in places like watches, wine, etc) was the fact that what was offered did better than expected pretty universally. What really made 2018 special, was what was offered, what happened as a result of it being offered and most critically what happened while it was being offered.
Here are the 5 most interesting luxury assets that hit the market in 2018:
- Macallan Valerio Adami “Holy Grail” of Whiskey – $1,101,729
Sold Bonhams Edenborough, October 3, 2018
Distilled in 1926 and bottled in 1986, bottles of this ultra exclusive spirit were designed by artist Valerio Adami. While 1 of only 12 ever produced, bottles of Macallan Valerio Adami are already regarded as the world’s most desirable. It isn’t known how many are still intact, but it is known for sure that 2 are for sure no longer in existence. The buyer was reported as a U.K.-based whisky connoisseur who was on the phone, in a taxi in Italy when the hammer came down.
Why it’s wild: Generally, when people think about investible beverages, wine is the first thing that comes to mind. Although 2018 was also a great year for wine (Sotheby’s hit it out of the park with their October sale in New York), it’s not in the 7-figure per bottle neighborhood like Macallan Valerio Adami. Further solidifying its position, this was the 2nd 7-figure sale for a bottle of Macallan Valerio Adami in 2018, with the first being in Hong Kong in May. Additionally, how great is the taxi cab story?
- Zao Wou-Ki, Juin-Octobre 1985 – $65,197,304
Sold Sotheby’s Hong Kong, September 30, 2018
If anything, the sale of Zao Wou-Ki’s Juin-Octobre 1985 proves, more than any other work of art sold in 2018, that size does matter. Not only are we speaking of sheer physical dimensions (this work is 33 feet in length), but the significance of the sale price and the amount of return for the consignor. Purchased by the seller in 2005 for a mere (LOL) $2,300,000, the September 2018 Sotheby’s sale represented a whopping return of 2,735%, making it one seriously smart investment. Perhaps even more importantly, Juin-Octobre 1985 also set a new high watermark for Asian artists, as well as placed on emphasis on the importance of region to the sale of luxury assets. Additionally, it places Zao in the room with the most important contemporary, post war American artists. Juin-Octobre 1985 (followed closely by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Flexible which sold at Phillips in New York in May for just over $45 million) was personally my favorite work sold in 2018. Incredible!
Why it’s wild: This is a big, giant painting that did a bunch of big, giant stuff. There’s no way it could have been left off this list
- David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) – $90,312,500
Sold Christie’s New York, November 15, 2018
Obviously, everybody in the collector car space is abundantly familiar with the no reserve approach, but it’s something more rarely seen in the art world. Most certainly at this level. Luckily, the gamble paid off for the courageous consignor and this worked exactly the way it was supposed to, hammering directly on estimate, with a starting bid of $18,000,000! This sale is important for a number of reasons. First, it set a new record for a living artist at auction (the record at private sale remains $110,000,000 for Jasper John’s Flag sold in 2010), but despite this essentially being the headline, it’s not the most important component of this exchange. What this sale most fervently showcased, is the theory that a no reserve situation still remains the purest marketplace reflection and this element may influence collectibles at this altitude for years to come.
Why it’s wild: This was a near 9-figure, no reserve sale, on a work of an artist who’s not currently a corpse. In any other 365-day block, this would easily be the craziest sale of the year. Not in 2018!
- 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO #4153 – $70,000,000
Sold Privately, Late April 2018
Great car, well known, well documented, excellent originality, restored correctly by the right people, verified by everybody and sold to a very astute new owner, this is a “no stories” car and a no stories sale and it achieved the maximum result as a result. Predicted by Ferrari historian Marcel Massini (and who am I to argue. He’s the guy….) to be a future $100,000,000 car, what really made this sale unusual is the public nature in which it took place. Most often, when cars approaching this stature change hands (away from auction lights anyway) it’s done with a whisper, with only those “in the know” gossiping about it, in various corners of the world, with very little fanfare and frequently lawyers delivering/taking delivery. Not to say this didn’t happen here initially, but when news hit, IT HIT. Seemingly every news outlet around the world had something mentioning this sale on their homepages….. sometimes for days at a time and until the announcement of #3413 and subsequent push of the selling auction house (more on that later) it was virtually every collector car website’s top story of 2018. Point is, this was a big deal.
Why it’s wild: An enormously important car, #4153 sold for a price that finally puts collector cars into the top end of the stratosphere of ultra high-end collectibles. It not only opened the market for other big-ticket offerings in this segment later last year, but also added another log to the campfire where the “are cars art?” conversation is deservedly taking place. This is where collector cars need to move into the future to stay relevant and sales like this help move things in that direction. Again, this was a big deal.
- Banksy, Girl with Balloon/Love is in the Bin – $1,400,000
Sold Sotheby’s London, October 5, 2018
Is there really any other option here? This was easily last years most talked about sale in a year filled to the roof with highly talked about sales. For anybody living under a rock, deep below the sea (who is in all actuality probably a crab), a work by graffiti artist Banksy crossed the block at Sotheby’s London. The artist rigged the frame with a shredder. When the lot crossed the block he activated it remotely and shredded the painting in front of the horrified audience, right as the hammer dropped. Then he posted a “how to” video on social media outlining the process. Following this, the world went crazy, the story basically immediately began trending worldwide, the work was renamed from “Girl with Balloon” to “Love is in the Bin” (as it had now evolved) and a new form of performance art was born. All of which will almost assuredly multiply the value of this work several times over.
Why it’s wild: What wasn’t wild here? This will unquestionably be talked about (and probably emulated to a degree) for decades! Find a crazier sale situation anywhere during recent history…. I dare you!
OK, I know what you’re thinking here….. (enter the 800-pound gorilla)
So, where’s #3413? We all know that RM Sotheby’s ran a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO in Monterey in August this year, it was the most expensive collector car ever sold at auction and everybody freaked out following the sale. The reason its not really on the list is largely because even though it was cool and expensive and everything else, nothing really happened. It was a less than perfect, re-bodied example (meaning not anywhere near as nice as #4153), and it basically hit estimate exactly, without any real drama on the block – not terribly interesting. Probably most importantly, was the fact that it followed #4153 on the calendar and #3413 certainly appeared to come to market in the first place as a result, rendering it less critical. The only thing really significant about this sale is that it happened in an auction setting and it was a better, more expensive example than the one Bonhams ran at no reserve (making it more interesting than this lot) in 2014, that didn’t have the stigma of killing a guy and burning up in a fire floating around it. For me, RM’s 2013 Monterey sale of the (then record setting) Eddie Smith 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 N.A.R.T. Spider ranks higher on the list that either of the aforementioned GTO sales. Point is, cooler stuff happened in 2018.
So, What’s Next?
Tangible luxury assets, including wine, art, classic cars and colored diamonds, etc, offer a degree of comfort that makes them appealing during unstable periods in the financial markets and as such are likely to continue outperforming stocks and bonds this year. The fact is, there is security in holding something physical and that is appealing. With things like gold also being perceived as less secure than it once was, I think we can most adequately look to the past to predict the future – to a degree anyway. Art provided strong returns last year, but ultimately, we look at the direction things are moving and have moved. Is art still king? Of course it is, but referencing the fortunes made in 2014 in the collector car market and the directions all markets are currently moving, its easy to assume that 2019 is likely to be a very good year for collector cars. Especially at the high end.
This is also likely to be a great year to buy at the lower end. For the first time, Gen-X and Millennials are in the driver’s seat so to speak in the collector car market and their desires are different and evolving. This will provide for some outstanding buys in the early stages for astute investors as new makes and models begin to increase in desirability (consider exotics and Japanese most urgently). Also, worth a mention is the “gold standards”. As more cash becomes available at the top end, more top end buyers return to the marketplace and demand changes, expect prices to rise again slightly on things like Enzo Era cars as well. Don’t expect leaps and bounds, but it should be enough to be worth the effort (if you want to call owning an Enzo Era Ferrari effort).
Early predictions: As far as major auction weeks go, Scottsdale will be down, Amelia up slightly, Monterey up slightly more. Dealers, who have overall had an outstanding few years, will likely begin to taper slightly, but will be held up by their investments in quality, current, market conscience, forward thinking marketing practices and the higher end of their respective inventories for the foreseeable future.
It should be a good year to once again play with cool cars!
We will see you out there!
PS Just for posterity’s sake, my favorite automotive offering last year was Gooding & Company’s beautiful 1958 Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France Berlinetta (#0905) which crossed the block in Monterey for $6,600,000 😊
Darin Roberge is CEO of Motorwerks Marketing and is a Marketing and Media Consultant in the Specialty Automotive and Live Events industries. Darin has been named a Business Trendsetter by Arizona Foothills Magazine, is a two-time nominee to Phoenix Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list and is one of Sports Car Market Magazine’s 40 Under 40. Learn more about Darin at www.MotorwerksMarketing.com