Record auction prices at Christie s coming to an end?

by Charles Metcalfe

I think we may have seen the best of the recent run of high prices, confided David Elswood at lunch after a sale of Finest & Rarest Wines on

5 October in London, held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Christie s Wine Department. Why? The market is dominated by about ten people - more collectors and drinkers than investors. Maybe they ve run out of space, or money, whatever. Prices have increased over the last six to nine months, culminating in two records for 1945 Mouton at the Christie s inaugural LA evening sale on 28 September. Maybe bidders feel prices have gone high enough. $345,000 is a lot of money for a 12-bottle case of wine, even if it is 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild.

Elswood talked frankly about the current state of the wine auction market. Globally, we re way ahead of our competitors, he said. We re only twice the size of Sotheby s in London, but about three or four times their size in Europe. Since Sotheby s pulled out of the US, our main competitor there is Zachy s, our ex-partner. But we re neck and neck with them this year. He also underlined the increasing confidence of international buyers and collectors, explaining how Christie s discontinued their Hong Kong auctions in 2001 because the Far East bidders were happy to buy anywhere. We re seeing new bidders in the market from the UK and Europe, who have realised the wine market s fun and interesting, he added. The prices aren t too frightening, as they can be for Old Masters and rare jewellery.
The sale featured vintages of Lafite-Rothschild back to 1865, Yquem to 1811 and Pétrus to 1947, there was a lunch for long-serving Christie s staff, clients and journalists. It was very much a family occasion, with current auctioneers as well as, from previous eras, Michael Broadbent MW and Alan Taylor-Restell.

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