Christie’s New York wants you to know they’re not your mother’s auction house. The venerable institution probably best known in this (quickly fading) decade for the 2011 sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s over-the-top jewelry is currently celebrating Luxury Week leading up to next week’s live and online auctions (through December 13). On Friday morning, I got a chance to get up close and personal with December Design items, Magnificent Jewels, Important Watches, as well as the relatively new category known as Handbags X Hype featuring a collection of Supreme Skateboards and accessories presented alongside limited-edition Hermes, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton.
First stop, after dodging gawking tourists at the Rock Center Xmas tree, was the design exhibit featuring highlights such as four museum-quality Frank Lloyd Wright chairs (estimated at $200,000 – $300,000 a pair); a Christopher Dresser rare and valuable teapot, circa 1879 ($80,000-$120,000); a Paavo Tynell Monumental (they’re not kidding — this thing is massive!) chandelier ($150,000 – $200,000); and a pair of Judy Kensley McKie whimsical patinated “Jaguar” Benches (1992).
Then it was on to the “best jewelry sale in at least 5 years,” according to Daphne Lingon, the 26-year Christie’s veteran jewelry expert. This sale includes what is known as the “triumvirate” of jewels — an exceptional ruby, emerald, and sapphire. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts had provided The du Pont Ruby –11.20 carats of rare untreated (not oiled to diminish flaws) Burmese ruby in a brooch surrounded by emeralds, diamonds, and pearls, as well as the du Pont Emerald, a Belle Époque Columbian emerald and diamond ring of 9.11 carats made by Tiffany & Co. ($500,000 to $700,000) both from the collection of Mrs. Alfred I. DuPont.
The Belle Époque Kashmir sapphire and diamond ring ($3,500-$5,500) is a large (30.14 carats) rare cabochon of superior quality passed down through the ages of a “Distinguished New York Estate.” Also, there are pieces belonging to the Rothschild family as well as 28 signed art-nouveau pieces and an Art-Deco diamond sautoir by Van Cleef and Arpels ($500,000 to $700,000) from the collection of Judith-Ann Corrente, CEO and President of the Metropolitan Opera Board of Directors.
We passed a hallway chock full of every imaginable artist collaboration of signed Supreme skateboards – for example, a set of three 2006 Jeff Koons Monkey Train skateboards ($3-5 k); a 2001 collection of five Ryan Guinness Pantone skateboards ($10-15k); a 2002 quintuplet of Last Supper iconography skateboards ($10-15k). Here too, are the “Cease and Desist” boards bearing the Louis Vuitton LV trademark. Vuitton sued resulting in Supreme being told to destroy every one of these. In 2000 (about 30 years later), Supreme was asked to collaborate with Vuitton bringing it full circle.
Christie’s handbag department was founded six and a half years ago. As we entered the room I’m reminded of a slightly more spacious version of a “Kardashian Kloset” video (surely you’ve seen those omnipresent and obnoxious shows of ostentation where the cost of each handbag could feed a family of 6 for a year, the entire collection could put a serious dent in ending world hunger).
Many rare Hermès Kelly and Birkin “unicorns” are displayed here, such as the Holy Grail of Hermès collectors – the Himalaya bag. This 2017 rare, matte white Himalaya Niloticus crocodile Birkin 30 with palladium hardware is estimated to set you back a mere (Kardashian chump change) $40-60k. We got a brief history of the Kelly bag (originally known as the Sac à dépêches bag) favored by Princess Grace as a pregnancy disguiser.
The Birkin was, of course, named for actress Jane Birkin who, legend has it, helped sketch and design the “handbag with pockets” on an air sickness bag mid-flight while seated next to Hermès heir Jean-Louis Dumas. Fun fact – you can quickly tell the difference between a Kelly and a Birkin by the handle. A Kelly has only one, whereas a Birkin has two.
Our group was introduced to the self-described “Hype-Girl” Caitlin Donovan – (official title: Head of Sale for Handbags & Accessories) who gave us a tour of what she termed a “Supreme collection of Supreme accessories.” I half expected to see a Supreme kitchen sink –everything from a basketball ($10k) to a Louis Vuitton X Supreme, 2017 trunk ($50-$60k) to a Stern pinball machine ($30-50k) to a Coleman CT200U mini bike and helmet ($3-5k).
“This is the first time we’re offering Supreme at auction,” Donovan said, informing us that everything is from a single collector (consignor Ibrahim Itani, founder of Plus, the Canadian streetwear superstore) and collated by expert Byron Hawes. “Sixty or 100 years ago, the modern collector might have bought an impressionist or modern painting. Now people are collecting differently. The traditional auction buyer is not collecting anymore.” (Or maybe even alive, I noted wryly).
Donovan pointed out that Supreme mimic Hermès in that one must go to the secondary market to buy both, due to the limited amount of supply versus demand. “Yes, there’s eBay or The RealReal, but we cover the secondary market in a very Christie’s way. A few years ago, I thought it was absurd to sell handbags here, now its skateboards.” Apparently, there’s no standard client for Hermes or Supreme. “We get calls from the 14 -year-old baseball collector (for the $1-2k baseball group of a mitt, a bat, baseball and a catcher’s helmet). I get people asking, ‘do I have to buy tickets for Christie’s?’ No, just walk in — no ticket required. It’s the best rotating museum in New York.”
Who is this “new collector base” that Christie’s is coveting with the sale of Supreme — a company that once appealed to “badass skateboarders” that while growing up, a young Caitlin was told to “stay away from.” “Here I am now at Christie’s selling Supreme,” she said with a grin, adding that she has “many ideas” for new collectibles and that the team at Christie’s has been very supportive.
Call me a cynic; however, I can’t help but wonder about the future of the collecting Millennials. How are they actually able to afford a true collector’s habit? According to Federal Reserve statistics, in 1989 when Boomers were 35 they owned 21% of all US wealth while Gen-Xers owned only 8%. The average Millennial turns 35 in 2023 – right now they own only 3%. Christie’s may need to adjust expectations accordingly before skating into the red – and I’m not just referring to the color of Supreme’s logo.
Prefer to collect iconic fashion photos? Check them out along with the rest of the Luxury Week auctions here.