Auction houses carry a wide range of items including antiquities, old master paintings, contemporary and modern art, jewellery, watches and wine, with each lot assessed by an in-house specialist. Anything from works by acclaimed artists to one-off jewels to items with unsurpassed provenance can come up at auction, but it’s a particularly popular way to sell rare items and pieces whose prices are not easily benchmarked or are highly dynamic. But the auction process, while appealing and increasingly accessible, can be intimidating, with the possibility of rampant bidding and the smash of the gavel before you’ve even grabbed hold of your paddle. So how do you ensure you know what you’re buying—and that you’re the one to take it home?
ALWAYS BE PREPARED
Auction catalogues detailing forthcoming lots are published well in advance of sales and are available to view online. But it’s also worth doing extra research. Besides personal taste, the value of a piece depends on a number of factors, including rarity, beauty, condition, historical importance, freshness to market, provenance and fashion.
“Do your homework,” advises Nicolas Chow, chairman for Asia at Sotheby’s. “Request a condition report to gain a better understanding of the work, read the literature on the artist or period and, if possible, go and study similar pieces in museums.”
Francis Belin, president for Asia Pacific at Christie’s, agrees, advocating that bidders for art works consider the artist and their auction track record and interest from museums, which are telling indicators of their success and price. The condition of a piece is paramount, too, and can affect price in some categories more than others. Check whether the item is fresh to market or has been seen before at auction, and what its provenance is. Often it’s not just about the work of art, but also its history. “Good provenance increases an object’s authenticity, collectibility and market value,” says Belin.
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