Year in review: Luxury investments

Well-heeled buying big in some categories

Indonesian artist Hendra Gunawan's Pandawa Dadu - the dice game scene from the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata - fetched HK$26.48 million, the highest price for a South-east Asian artwork sold at Sotheby's auction in April.
Indonesian artist Hendra Gunawan's Pandawa Dadu - the dice game scene from the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata - fetched HK$26.48 million, the highest price for a South-east Asian artwork sold at Sotheby's auction in April.PHOTO: SOTHEBY'S

Coloured diamonds and gems, South-east Asian art and selected Japanese artists shine

Luxury investments have been through a rough year but the wealthy are still making hefty purchases in certain categories.

Diamonds with fancy colours and coloured gemstones did well this year, as did South-east Asian art and selected Japanese artists.

Ms Sharon Chan, Sotheby's head of watches in Asia, says that "the growth of the luxury watch market has slightly stabilised this year", like the rest of the luxury goods market.

However, there has been a drop in demand for polished and rough diamonds, notes consultancy Bain & Co.

And the yields on wine investments have also been average this year, says auction house Bonhams Asia, owing to the continuing soft demand for first-growth Bordeaux wines, known to be among the world's finest and most expensive drops.

The global personal luxury goods market - a traditional reference for the diamond jewellery market, for instance - grew by 4 per cent in 2014, said Bain & Co earlier this month. The firm is expecting growth of about 2 per cent this year.

JEWELLERY

Jewellery has been quite a stunner, with a number of record-breaking prices achieved, says Bonhams Asia.

Bonhams in London's New Bond Street sold a 2.97-carat "fancy greyish-blue" diamond ring for about £1.48 million (S$3.09 million), making a new world record on Dec 5.

The Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index showed that jewellery's value grew 5 per cent in the 12 months to September, putting it in between watches, at 4 per cent, and wine, at 7 per cent. Gems have risen in value by 159 per cent over the past decade.

Ms Anastasia Chao, department director of jewellery at Bonhams Asia, notes: "Fancy coloured diamonds, coloured gemstones and natural pearls, in particular, have continued their upward trend due to limited supply and increased demand across the continents."

ART

Experts note that the art market has been extremely volatile this year, with the prices of some artists' works shooting up.

The Knight Frank index found the value of art was up 15 per cent in the year to September, just behind luxury cars at 18 per cent - the top performer in the index.

Mr Hiroshi Kato, the founder of gallery Kato Art Duo in Singapore, which represents Japanese abstract artists, says he has seen how "a handful of popular artists have attained incredible success in the commercial market".

He adds that artist Toshinobu Onosato's work "has also been bullish, its value has been appreciating rapidly throughout the third quarter of this year, and is now worth double its original value".

The South-east Asian art market also performed well, says Sotheby's.

Its Hong Kong auctions of modern and contemporary South-east Asian Art in April and October sold almost 400 works from the region, and achieved a total of HK$349 million (S$63.26 million).

Mr Mok Kim Chuan, Sotheby's head of modern and contemporary South-east Asian art, says: "Blue-chip, fresh and rare works by established modern and contemporary artists are especially sought after by the market."

He adds that quality pieces by blue-chip artists from the region can be bought for a fraction of the price paid for an artwork from more mature and established categories.

Indonesian artist Hendra Gunawan's Pandawa Dadu - the dice game scene from the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata - fetched HK$26.48 million, the highest price for a South-east Asian artwork sold at Sotheby's auction in April.

OTHERS

Top Bordeaux wines may be suffering but Domaine wines - usually associated with Burgundy wineries and can also refer to wines from boutique, family-owned estates - from Burgundy and the Rhone and cult Californian wines are "performing exceedingly well", says Mr Daniel Lam, Bonhams Asia's wine and whisky expert.

The Financial Times reported last month: "Liv-ex 50, a benchmark index of the most traded Bordeaux wines, rose nearly two-thirds in the 16 months to June 2011. Today it is down 40 per cent from that peak."

Wine overall was up 243 per cent in the decade, according to the Knight Frank index.

Mr Lam also notes that whisky is another popular alternative investment in Asia - a record price of US$117,000 (S$164,400) was achieved in August for a bottle of Japanese whisky.

While jewellery and art collectors are easier to categorise - they tend to be ultra-wealthy clients diversifying their portfolio with passion investments - Mr Lam says wine and whisky lovers need not be serious collectors.

"Some just enjoy drinking with friends, while some are real collectors. One client, who has over 5,000 bottles of wine, says that he has been buying vintages of his children's birthdays. He wants these purchases to be their inheritance."

Luxury watches also have had stable growth this year.

Sotheby's Ms Chan says: "As the market stabilises, more people tend to be more cautious and price sensitive when buying watches, and our sales this year have been carefully curated to cater to this need."

She adds that vintage pieces have gained more market share this year. A Patek Philippe vintage world time wristwatch made in 1968 and fresh to the market, was sold for HK$7.28 million in October.

"Vintage pieces are gaining more popularity these days. The well-preserved ones are hard to come by, especially in the Hong Kong market, which has focused predominantly on modern timepieces."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2015, with the headline 'Well-heeled buying big in some categories '. Print Edition | Subscribe