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Sold! The Allure Of The Auction

A diamond ring, an artwork, a vintage Rolex, or a classic car – savvy connoisseurs are crowding into auction rooms to get the trappings of wealth for less, say the experts at Webb’s Auctions.

5 October 2021

There’s been a boom in auctions as more and more Kiwis want to buy the good things in life, while others are trying to cash in valuable items, says the team at Webb’s.

Ben Erren, the youthful Head of Decorative Arts, says the auction house is seeing more young buyers than ever before.

The market’s changing, he says.

“They’re like me and my colleagues. If you can’t afford to spend an enormous amount of money but you like nice things, you can still have them,” he says.

His equally youthful colleague Charles Ninow, Head of Art, agrees. “Auctions are a fantastic way to acquire quite lovely pieces at a reasonable price.”

Ninow is an expert in the sale and valuation of New Zealand art and one of the country’s foremost art auctioneers.

He says in general the valuations that come with items at auction are substantially less than you’d have to pay if you went into a retail store, especially with estate jewellery or vintage watches.

“You can come in and buy a Baume and Mercier watch, a really beautiful vintage Patek Philippe or a Cartier or a Rolex for far, far less than you would have to from a high-street jeweller.

“And the beauty of it is, the longer you wear a watch like that, the more it grows in worth.”

And if you want a diamond ring, you can probably get a bigger diamond than you could afford at retail.

“Why not have one that makes people go ‘Woah’?”

Ninow says the growing demand for auctions has forced the company started by Peter Webb in 1976 to move into larger and larger premises.

As senior people retired, says Ninow, it created a lot of opportunity for younger people to do amazing things.

“I think it’s part of the energy. Webb’s is an amazing New Zealand institution – also the market’s fantastic at the moment.”

Auctions are fun

There are several things driving the popularity of auctions. One is, it’s fun, says Ninow.

“Webb’s uses social media and videos. We have DJs at our openings, oysters, champagne. Because people don’t realise that it is tremendous fun.”

Adds Erren: “When you sell, you meet with somebody like Charles or myself who knows a lot about the product, we really engage with them and we may have a story or narrative to go along with it.”

Another factor was the lockdowns.

Says Ninow: “We all spent so much time at home during lockdown and people looked around and thought, what can I do to make my home space more comfortable for me, somewhere that I actually want to spend time in?”

And the lack of travel has meant Kiwis have more money to spend.

“People aren’t going on overseas holidays. We did an auction recently in Queenstown and it was full, the whole place was full. It was like an auction in Silicon Valley. We did a million-dollar sale there.”

Erren says it’s not just trendy mid-century modern furniture that sells. “There are wonderful pieces of glass art that younger people are engaging with, especially New Zealand design of the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, that have been under-appreciated.

“You can pick up these pieces at reasonably modest prices at auction and have something that’s a really beautiful part of New Zealand history and really relevant to today’s lifestyles.”

Why are there so many sellers?

Says Erren: “With the market so strong a lot of people see it as the right time to sell. You’re going to get nothing in the bank for it.”

Ninow says he believes the pandemic has changed the world’s perception of value, investment, and money. “But there’s something about a painting that’s real. It’s yours. Nobody needs to know you have it if they don’t need to know, and you can hold it and you can move it around.”

He says the sellers that auction houses love most are people who’ve owned artworks that haven’t seen the light of day for a long time.

“I get very excited about those. I answer and return every single phone call because it could be the next amazing thing.

“When it is, it’s like the most amazing feeling. It’s like lightning striking right beside you. It’s the touch of God.”

For more information on buying at selling at auction, visit www.webbs.co.nz

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