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Auction houses now offer designer goods

Sept 04,2017
A 34-year-old office worker surnamed Yoo recently bought a secondhand wallet from Italian luxury brand Bottega Veneta. She didn’t buy it from an unauthorized website or a shady secondhand shop, but instead purchased it at the kind of luxury auction house that most people associate with expensive artwork.

The wallet cost more than 1 million won ($890) at department stores, but Yoo was able get her hands on it at only 310,000 won minus the commission.

“Although it is a secondhand product, there is hardly a scratch on it. I am very satisfied with it,” Yoo said.

Auction houses, which traditionally handled mainly artwork, are expanding into luxury fashion items, such as bags, watches and jewelry.

Seoul Auction Blue, an online affiliate of Seoul Auction, launched its luxury fashion auction in February and K Auction will follow later this month. Herald Artday has been holding luxury product auctions alongside the artwork since 2014.



Rare items

Buying items at these auction events is not only about discounted prices. Sometimes it enables shoppers to purchase rare items that often have waiting lines of more than a year.

For example, Hermes’ infamous Birkin Bag is a rare product that is pretty much impossible to buy on the high street, even if money is not an issue.

These auction events, however, have not only sold Birkin Bags, but also classic items like the Rolex Oyster Perpetual, the luxury watchmaker’s most recognizable product, and Cartier’s Tank Solo watch.

“Their bidding price is not about how old and used the items are but about how rare they are in real stores,” said an official from Seoul Auction Blue. “The price also depends on the bidders’ preference of color, shape and the size of the product,” she added.

In July, a brand new 2013 Hermes Birkin Bag was sold for 14.2 million won on Seoul Auction Blue’s online auction site. When it was first released three years ago, its price was set at 11 million won.

A recent auction held on Aug. 22 saw an IWC 2017 Portofino watch, which is not overly difficult to find on the high street, being sold at 2.85 million won while its original price is 5.6 million won. Auctions are able to offer luxury items at discounted prices, but some say they may bring upon what’s called democratization of high-end products.



Proper guarantees

Global auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been offering fashion items for a while. It was common to see watches, handbags and jewelry being auctioned at their events.

But the idea has just started to take off in Korea.

Industry watchers say it is partially because luxury items are now more common than ever before in Korea. Purchasing high-end products has become easier, and so reselling them and buying secondhand products has also become a common practice.

Korea’s secondhand luxury market is worth roughly 5 trillion won and is growing at a rapid pace. Although the market is becoming much bigger, trades still mostly take place behind closed doors or on a one-to-one basis. In those instances there is no guarantee that the products being traded are not overpriced or imitations.

Korea’s auction houses spotted these downsides and found a new business opportunity in providing the solution.

“We believe that [the number of] people who want to buy secondhand luxury items through a credible channel will only increase in the future,” an official at Seoul Auction Blue said.

“We have our own team that authenticates the product’s quality,” she said. “Based on their evaluation, we set the price fairly which is what differentiates our services from other secondhand shops often seen in shopping districts,” she added.

Seoul Auction Blue and K-Auction both have in-house authentication teams. In the case of jewelry, they only offer products that have certifications from the Gemological Institute of America or the equivalent Korean authorities.

If the products turn out to be a fake after the bidding, the auction house guarantees a full refund.



A virtuous cycle

Directors at Korea’s auction houses thought there would be common ground between those that desire artwork and high-end fashion items which would eventually lead to a virtuous cycle.

Those who have interests in luxury products are likely to have demand for artworks as well and vice versa, the auction houses thought.

“There are people who have numerous handbags that cost more than 10 million won, but there are not enough people who would buy artwork for the same price,” said Lee Gyu-hyun, head of Enart, an art marketing and PR agency.

“Only a few wealthy people have an interest in artwork, whereas a lot of wealthy people are interested in luxury goods. If the luxury items are handled by the auction houses it may lure more people in for the artwork as well,” she added.

BY LEE DO-EUN [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]