What do the Forbes billionaires have in common? They collect...

Forbes yesterday produced their annual 'rich list', ranking the most wealthy men and women in the world.  The news is that a record number of billionaires have been included, with 1,210 people recorded as being worth ten figures or more.

Once again, Mexican telecoms magnate Carlos Slim sits top of the pile, with Microsoft founder Bill Gates runner-up.  They're followed by 'Oracle of Omaha' Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors ever.

The collective wealth of the list increased to a record $4.5tn; 413 of those included hail from the USA, with 332 from Asia - more than Europe for the first time in a decade.  China and Russia have more than 100 billionaires for the first time, with Moscow home to 79 of them - more than any other city in the world.

All of this has interesting implications for the collectibles market.  Carlos Slim is a renowned art collector, owning 66,000 works by artists including Picasso, Da Vinci, Diego Rivera, Renoir and Dali. 

He also owns the second biggest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of France, including iconic pieces such as 'The Kiss' and 'The Thinker'.  Much of his collection will be displayed in the recently completed Soumaya Museum in Mexico City.

Bill Gates is equally keen on collecting.  He famously purchased the Codex Leicester in 1994; he paid $30.8m for the famous scientific writings by Leonardo Da Vinci.  Gates also owns many vintage cars, including a Ferrari 348 and a Porsche 930 Turbo.

His major passion, like Slim, is art.  In 1998, Gates purchased 'Lost on the Grand Banks' by American artist Winslow Homer for $36m, making it the most expensive American painting in history.  In addition, he owns a $28m painting by George Bellows and Child Hassam's 'Room of Flowers'.

Many other billionaires alongside Slim and Gates collect - not only because of their passion for their chosen collection, but because they recognise the value of diversifying wealth.  Alternative investments like art, wine, stamps and so on, can avoid the disastrous loss some investors suffer when traditional financial markets crash - as was the case between 2008 and 2010.

The Forbes list is not only a great demonstration of the appreciation the richest people in the world have for alternative investments, but also shows how much emerging economies are driving the collectibles market.  With many more billionaires in China, Russia and India, sales of vintage wine, art, cigars, whisky and jewellery have shot up.


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