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Auction Houses Smash Records in 2021

The auction market soared to new heights in 2021, with a total of $12.6 billion in sales brought in worldwide by Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips. This surpasses the prior high water mark, set in 2018, by 2.3% and eclipses figures from 2020, the first year of the pandemic, by 70.2%.

Sotheby’s Leads Again

Sotheby’s auctions accounted for nearly 50% of that total. At the end of December, their 277th year, Sotheby’s reported that 2021 was the strongest in company history, with auctions surpassing $6 billion and private sales totaling $1.3 billion.

Sotheby’s Year in Review Video

Sotheby’s commented on the consolidation and strength of their luxury categories:

Sotheby’s luxury auctions reached new heights in 2021, with global totals reaching over $1 billion for the first time, a new record for any auction house – driven by a record number of bidders. The total for Sotheby’s luxury division is up 78% on the full year total for 2020

Of note:

  • 63% of lots sold for prices in excess of their high estimates, a 40% increase on 2020.
  • The average value of items sold is up 66% on 2020.
  • The number of luxury items sold for more than $1 million more than tripled on 2020.
  • More people participating in Sotheby’s luxury sales, than ever before, with 39% more bidders in 2021 than 2020.
  • Watches, Wine & Spirits, Design, Books, and the Luxury Accessories and Collectibles categories all achieved all-time record annual auction totals.
  • Collectors acquired more than 40% of the value of all global Watches sales and 52% of the value of all jewelry sales, including the sale of the second largest pear-shaped diamond to appear on the market, which sold for $12.3 million – the highest price for any jewelry or gemstone purchased with cryptocurrency.

Read the full report from Sotheby’s.

Our unparalleled expertise and innovation mindset led to extraordinary results across categories and regions and set new benchmarks for selling art and luxury. – Charles F. Stewart, Sotheby’s CEO

Charles F. Stewart
Charles F. Stewart

Christie’s Share Increases

Christie’s also surged, increasing their market share of global auctions from 40.9% in 2020 to 42.6% in 2021. New York’s Christie’s location accounted for half of those sales, while Christie’s Hong Kong replaced London as the second most important market. All told, Christie’s New York, Hong Kong and London locations brought in approximately $2.5 billion in sales, combined.

Christie’s Year in Review Video

Christie’s also rivaled competitor Sotheby’s in luxury, reaching almost $1 billion in 2021:

Luxury at auction and through private sales reached almost USD $1B in 2021, marking a strong rebound compared to previous years. Sales at auction totaled USD $736.1M, marking a 73% increase over 2020. Private sales have had a standout year, doubling sales made in 2019.

Of note: 

  • The average lot value for Luxury sales online more than tripled in 2021 vs 2019 (£4,500 to £14,200).
  • Jewelry sales were led by the Sakura diamond in Hong Kong, 15cts, the largest purple pink diamond ever offered at auction which achieved a record-breaking USD $29m.
  • The historic Geneva sale of Marie-Antoinette’s diamond bracelets achieved CHF 7,46M / $8.20M, tripling the low estimate.
  • Online demand for jewelry soared—with a 101% increase in the number of jewels lots sold online between 2019 and this year.
  • It was a record year for watches at Christie’s with $205.1 M, a 157% increase versus 2020, including the most expensive watch sold online in the Dubai for USD $1,590,000.
  • Christie’s sale in November in Geneva was 100% sold, highlighted by the first Rolex Deep Sea Special No. 1 for 1.89 M CHF.
  • Also in November at Christie’s, more than 800 bidders and viewers participated in Geneva’s ONLY WATCH, the prestigious charity auction, achieving CHF 30 M for 53 lots, with a Patek Philippe table clock selling for CHF 9.5 M.
  • Handbags: a Hermès Himalaya Diamond Kelly 28 became the most valuable handbag ever sold at auction for HK$4M / USD $515,416.
  • Wine: sales achieved a very solid 93.6% sold by lot, led by multiple 100% sold sales and saw the largest wine auction ever held at Christie’s King Street in December.
  • Michael Jordan’s Game-worn & signed Air Jordan Nike Sneakers sold for USD $375,000 and a SUPREME Branded Pin Ball Machine sold for $52,000.

Read the full report from Christies.

We are pleased with our 2021 achievements. Beyond our auction and private sales results -which are exceptional, Christie’s has also made a breakthrough in new sales formats and categories, NFTS in particular. They have allowed us to showcase works by new emerging and under-represented artists, and to reach out to a new audience of younger clients. We have also made great progress in other priorities, with important investments in Asia and with our commitments to becoming carbon net zero by 2030, and to building and sustaining a more equitable and diverse profile for our company. Growth, innovation and responsibility remain at the forefront of our objectives for 2022. – Guillaume Cerutti, Christie’s CEO

Guillaume Cerutti
Guillaume Cerutti

Virtual Excitement

Online sales continued to explode as auction houses adapted to the global pandemic. Online-only sales amounted to US$1.35 billion, up 28.2% from 2020 and accounting for 10.7% of total auction sales. Online-only sales were at a mere US$168.2 million in 2019.

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