What's the secret behind the billion dollar boom in the collectibles markets?

£53.1m for a Chinese vase hidden in an attic; a $42.7m World Record price for a Roy Lichtenstein artwork; and £1bn spent on art in New York over just a fortnight...

These are clearly exciting times for the collectibles markets. With sales like these, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the global recession is something that's happening on another planet.

While these sales are impressive, a more pertinent question arises: what do these sales mean for you as a collector, and for the collectibles markets as a whole?

Two things can be gathered from the above results. Firstly, that the markets for high-end and unique items remain detached from the troubled economy.

Secondly, these artworks are increasingly appealing to, and are being bought by, high net worth individuals from all around the world - including growing regions like China, Russia and the Middle East.

Roy Lichtenstein's Ohhh...Alright... 1964, sold for $42.7m 

Thanks to this globalisation, the art markets are no longer reliant on any single economy. "In one year Christie's Dubai achieved a 117% increase in the sale of Contemporary Middle Eastern art," said Michael Jeha, Managing Director of Christie's in the Middle East.

Christie's has been enjoying regular multi-million art sales in Arab regions after setting up a base there in 2006. At one sale, artworks were consigned from 15 different countries and dispersed among buyers from 18 different countries.

According to market analysts, super-rich collectors from far flung countries are pushing prices upwards - first by buying art native to their own lands, and then branching out into contemporary pieces.

The $42.7m World Record price for Lichtenstein's Ohhh...Alright... 1964 is a case in point. Alongside it was another vital work for the Pop Art canon: Andy Warhol's hand-painted masterpiece, Big Campbell's Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable), 1962.

Big Campbell's Soup Can... sold for $23,882,500 and, like the Lichtenstein, was bought by an anonymous buyer. Thanks to the possibilities of internet and telephone bidding, the country from which that buyer came from is anyone's guess...

The £53.1m Oriental Qianlong vase, sold in a tiny auction house in Ruislip

In fact, the auctioneers were questioning prior to the sale whether or not the Lichtenstein and Warhol would appeal to collectors in the East... It was apparently decided that Ohhh...Alright... wasn't racy enough to alienate Eastern buyers.

The point here is that increasing dialogue between the long-established American and European markets and growing 'alternative investment economies' in countries like China, Russia, the Middle East are determining how the markets will evolve.

And this dialogue isn't one sided. Art collector Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of the royal family of Qatar has reportedly set his sights on Christie's. On the possibility of buying the auction house, he said "If a good [opportunity] presents itself we will not hesitate."

Even more exciting is the prospect that other auction houses - aside from the big names like Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonhams etc - are also getting in the act. Take for instance the £53.1m Chinese vase...

Believed to have originated from the Imperial Kilns of the Qing Dynasty from around 1740, the item was auctioned at a tiny Bainbridge auction house in Ruislip, on the outskirts of London. The lucky buyer was a Chinese collector, who travelled across the world to own the historic piece.

Bainbridge - whose previous most high-profile sale was a piece of Ming enamel worth £100,000 - was undoubtedly surprised by the sale of the £53.1m vase. What's more, it could be the first of many future surprises to great collectors and investors in these growing and expanding markets...


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