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Decorative art sales amounted to $ 825 million at auction last month. What is driving the boom?

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By now, you’ve probably heard enough about how well-known art sales last month. stacked up to pre-pandemic totals. But you might not know that there is an even faster growing segment of the auction market: decorative art and design.

Decorative art sales generated a total of $ 825 million at auction last month, up to about 26 percent of the equivalent total in May 2019. (By way of comparison, sales of works of art Shrunk 1.8% over the same two-year period.)

Sotheby’s Design sales in May in New York and Paris eclipsed their high estimates, and now Christie’s double, launch a common pop-up in the hamptons with tony design dealer Carpenters workshop gallery. And yesterday again, a Phillips London design auction generated $ 16.2 million, the highest total for a design auction in the company’s history.

Maybe there really is has been something to all that talks about wealthy people paying more attention to their home after being stuck inside for over a year…. Read on to find out more about what exactly is driving the trend.

© Artnet and Artnet Analytics 2021 price database.

So what is happening in the decorative arts market?

First, let’s clarify what we mean by “decorative arts”. The category is an umbrella term for a number of related but distinct markets, including fine jewelry, watches, design, ceramics, handbags, books and manuscripts, and even snuffboxes.

Snuffboxes! Ok I understood. Why should I care what is going on in this umbrella market?

The decorative art auction market is historically much smaller than that of fine art. In 2019 — last year things were pretty much normal (remember that?) –the first was worth $ 4.9 billion, according to the Artnet price database. By comparing, the fine arts market generated $ 13.2 billion that same year. So here’s why you should care: the the decorative arts market is exploding at a breakneck pace.

How fast are we talking?

To put it in context, the decorative art market had stalled for years. The 2019 total of $ 4.9 billion was up slightly from the previous year, but still below highs reached in 2014 and 2015. Things started to turn around as the world emerged from lockdown , however, and now, the sector is on track for a record year.

In the first five months of 2021, decorative art auctions generated a total of $ 1.8 billion, 27 percent more than in the equivalent period in 2019. In May 2020, the biggest month of the year for decorative art sales to date, the average price of a lot in the sector sold jumped 49 percent from May 2019.

Wow! What is driving this growth?

Sales in all price brackets have increased so far this year compared to the equivalent period in 2019, but, like in the art market, growth is particularly concentrated at the top.

Sale of objects priced at over $ 10 million rose a gargantuan 122 percent in the first five months of this year, largely due to strong jewelry sales. In May, a pink diamond ring known as the Sakura diamond sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for $ 28.7 million.

So there are more rich people willing to pay for diamonds?

In a way, yes, it is that simple. The pandemic has concentrated wealth at the top again, with increasingly wealthy people who would otherwise have spent money on luxury vacations funneling that extra money into jewelry and designer items. (Demand for diamonds in general has also increased: Signet Jewelers Ltd., for example, reported a jump of 7.8% of vacation sales in North America, by Bloomberg.)

Is it some kind of honeymoon period with decorative art?

It is too early to tell. The trajectory continues to rise, although spending patterns may change as more people return to their usual rhythms. Diamonds are forever, but diamond auction bargains might not be.

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