Why These Collecting Categories are on the Rise

Vintage Patek Philippe watch A Patek Philippe wristwatch.

The auction world is fluid and ever-changing, offering new sales each season that can alter the global art market with the drop of a gavel. With more than 5,000 auction houses on its marketplace, Invaluable’s sales data — derived directly from auction rooms — offers vivid insight into what collecting categories have seen the greatest year-over-year growth, including fine art, collectibles, jewelry, antiques and more. We present it to you here in an easy-to-access Auction Market Trends Report for 2019.

Competition for Quality

Established auction houses, both in the United States and in Europe, say the factors driving online growth for auction sales this year are the same that propel upswings in the larger market: relative prosperity among collectors and a heightened urgency to find and win a rare, unique and high-quality object.

Collecting categories with the most notable growth in the first half of 2019 include Ephemera, Cards & Documents with 60% year-over-year lift, Watches (both women’s and men’s), Necklaces & Pendants (with more than 40% growth), Indian & South Asian Art with 34% growth, Sculpture, and Dolls at 28% growth year-over-year.

“People are generally in pretty good shape, so there’s not a lot of pressure to sell at the moment. There is not a glut of property on the market,” said Karl Green, Marketing Director at Koller Auctions in Zurich, Switzerland. “As a result, there are fewer things to sell across the market and the categories. When something does come up that is of top quality, people really fight for it. In some of these categories, it could be due to some exceptional pieces that came on the market,” he added.

A Diamond and Gold Necklace

A diamond and gold necklace, sold for $15,000 via Phillips (June 2019).

What’s Driving Online Growth?

Invaluable’s inaugural Auction Market Trends Report also demonstrates another growing trend: increased comfort with online buying at auctions, particularly in the categories of luxury items like jewelry. Gene Shapiro, owner of Shapiro Auctions on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, said increased online auction participation and more collector-friendly online bidding technology are also driving some of the successes documented in the Trends Report – especially in the market for luxury goods. “I think you’re seeing that people are getting much more comfortable buying used luxury items online,” said Shapiro. “It’s getting more popular in our culture on the whole; it’s just much more accessible now and you’re seeing that at auction.”

Central Indian Torso of a Celestial Being, c. 10th Century

Central Indian Torso of a Celestial Being, c. 10th Century. Sold for $20,800 via Freeman’s (March 2019).

“I can see the increase in Ephemera and understand that – it’s not expensive, it’s easy to ship, making online bidding easy. The sales of watches, necklaces and pendants and the importance of Asian art and antiques, Chinese and emerging market buying, those match what I’m seeing, too.” Green said he agreed with Shapiro on the watches category.

Always a staple at Koller, Green added that the watches category has been noticeably trending upwards for the last five or six years. “It’s a market that’s logical, easily collectible and something that appeals across a broad range of buyers. People just like watches,” said Green.

A french bisque doll wearing a hat and lace dress

20″ French Bru Jne Doll, sold for $12,000 via The CObbs (May 2019).

Shapiro said even for veteran auctioneers, some causes of market movements are impossible to pinpoint. “With sculpture, I don’t know why that category is performing that way this year. It can be that some exceptional pieces came to market. With dolls,” he added with a laugh, “I don’t have a clue.”

The Future of Online Sales

Regardless of categories, Shapiro said, the auction world is changing dramatically due to the digital revolution. “Someday soon, it’s going to be rare to have a live auction in some of these categories – like ephemera. Why would you go through that, with an auctioneer and all that goes into it, when it really sells well online?” he added.

But some universal truths remain, even as the market evolves online. “People are really looking for top quality, that’s what drives the art market,” said Green.

Click the button below to view the full Auction Market Trends Report for 2019.