In 1997, a small bag with Fendi’s double ‘F’ logo coined the ‘Baguette’ started the it-bag craze of the 90s. In order to be blessed with ownership, fans had to place themselves on a waiting list, as if ordering a new limited-edition Ferrari. Then, in succession, revered fashion houses designed their own new lustworthy styles and relaunched classics. We swooned and we got in line. We had to – there were waiting lists for the waiting lists, but we just had to get our hands on these pieces.
Louis Vuitton’s Speedy, the Hermès Birkin, the Chanel 2.55 – some of the most luxurious bags in the world, simultaneously commanded awe and hefty price tags to match. Then, in 2011 another landmark was set. Christie’s conducted a historic sale – the estate of beloved Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor. It took 15 days to auction off the numerous lots of her enviable possessions, one of which made an astounding sale: a collection of 18 Fendi Baguettes fetched an impressive US$77,000 (around MOP617,000).
Fast forward five years, and more records were smashed in June 2014. A ‘Barbie’-pink Porosus Crocodile Diamond Birkin 35 bag with 18-carat white gold and diamond hardware by Hermès became the most expensive bag ever sold, to an anonymous Asian phone-bidder in Hong Kong for HK$1,720,000 (around MOP1,720,000) at auction.
The message, if you hadn’t got it yet, was clear: these are not just conveyances for worldly goods and teacup poodles; these are serious investment vehicles too.
Consider this: in the past 10 years, the value of the most sought-after handbags has risen by an average of eight per cent each year – matching the annualised returns of the FTSE All-Share Index.
‘Handbags are exciting, new collector’s items,’ says Matt Rubinger, senior vice-president, international director of handbags and accessories, Asia & EMERI at Christie’s Hong Kong. ‘Like watches 30 years ago, and jewellery 100 years ago, handbags are increasing in popularity, value, and tradability. Increasingly, some of the most important and iconic handbags are making it to auction.’ He continues: ‘My advice would be to focus on quality and rarity. While the big three names are Hermès, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton, other brands, such as Gucci and Bottega Veneta, are gaining traction as well. The best pieces are the ones that are made of the best materials, produced in limited quantities and are in top condition.’
And then, as Rubinger says, there’s the glitz and glamour of jewellery and watches. Both have a longer history in the collectible game than bags, but they’re certainly not on the wane. Hong Kong is a sparkling auction hub for these goods, with fine jewellery and watch fairs held throughout the year. According to euromonitor.com, ‘Chinese consumers consider real jewellery as an investment tool to maintain their wealth under the more challenging conditions of economic downturn’.
There’s been a rapid growth in sale volume and connoisseurship when it comes to buying jewellery, and it’s a trend that has put Hong Kong into one of the top three auction centres after New York and Geneva. ‘Mainland Chinese clients have become increasingly knowledgeable about jewellery and gem stones over the past decade, in particular jadeite, which is an essentially Asian gemstone,’ says Flora Wong, senior jewellery specialist at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. ‘Top-quality diamonds, large and rare gemstones have shown a more substantial increase in value for clients who had bought at fair market prices or at auction more than 10 years ago.’ Read our story on some of the world’s largest diamonds.
Writer Maria Doulton launched online luxury magazine thejewelleryeditor.com in 2010 having worked at The Financial Times and the International New York Times for more than 15 years. The digital magazine and social media hub in 2010 now shares her wealth of knowledge to 2.8 million jewellery lovers. ‘With the continued rise in price of traditional precious gemstones, expect jewellers both big and small, from Cartier and Graff to one-man bands, to explore the rich palette of lesser-known gemstones,’ she suggests.
Doulton also believes it’s important not to lose sight of the purpose of jewellery in the first place, even you’re tempted by its investment potential. ‘I would always say buy jewellery for pleasure, as it’s one of the few investments you can wear and enjoy,’ adds Doulton. ‘Buy a piece that’s very much of its time as opposed to classical styles – jewellery has a unique ability to capture a moment.’
One of the strong trends for 2016, Doulton says, is the use of diamonds with light metalwork ‘so that the jewels sit on the skin like tattoos,’ she says. ‘It’s a more informal, fun way to wear diamonds. Mismatched, asymmetric and organic shapes are still big, with earrings being sold separately – or mismatched. This ties in with the trend for stacking, be it rings, bracelets or even earrings as personalisation becomes ever more important.’
So, choose the pieces you love, take care of them, and with any luck, you’ll have a successful investment on your hands for years to come.