Rich people who shopped too much used to be called collectors. Now they — and those belonging merely to the aspirational class — are all investors.
Rather than elbowing past each other for reservations at the latest restaurants from Marcus Samuelsson and Jean-Georges Vongerichten or getting into bidding wars for apartments at 740 Park Ave., they are one-upping each other in online auctions for jewelry, watches, furniture, sports cards, vintage cars, limited-edition Nikes and crypto art.
A number of retailers were reticent to speak about the trend, stating that they did not wish to be on the record talking about nearly sold-out $90,000 earrings during a time of growing wealth inequality.
John Demsey, executive group president of Estée Lauder Cos., voiced that concern even as he admitted a primary quarantine pastime.
"All I do is go through watch porn," he said. "I'm selling watches. I'm buying watches. It's crazy. I have no reason right now to buy a watch. I'm at home all day at a computer. Time is staring me right in the face. What reason do I have to look at my wrist? But I want a tangible sign of something, so I'm looking at watches." And many other people are, too.
Rolex Day-Dates that sold on the secondary market in 2020 for $30,000 are now going for upward of $50,000 on some resale sites. The Nautilus 5980, a rose gold chronograph sports watch from Patek Philippe that has a retail price of $85,000, can seldom be found on 47th Street for much less than $200,000.
One reason for surging prices, according to Benjamin Clymer, editor of the watch site Hodinkee, is that "Switzerland shut down, so demand was there while the supply was dramatically reduced."
But also, he said, "the wealthy that used to spend money on travel aren't using it, so everything collectible is skyrocketing in value."
A pair of Conoid lounge chairs from famed Japanese woodworker George Nakashima, which in 2019 commanded around $10,000, sold in October 2020 for $23,750 through Chicago auction house Wright. A Mesa coffee table by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, a British architect whose name is barely known outside of the furniture world, brought in $237,500 in December; the overall result of the sale was $2.5 million, roughly double what the house did at the same sale a year before.
The prices for the best vintage sports cards reached Andy Warhol levels. In January, a 1952 Mickey Mantle was sold through PWCC Marketplace for $5.2 million. In March, Goldin Auctions, a sports collectible site, held its annual winter auction. "We grossed $45 million," said Ken Goldin, founder and CEO. "Last year, it was $4.7 million."
Those unprepared to shell out high sums for vintage collectibles are getting in on the action through recently established mutual funds.
Rally, an Android and iPhone app that sells fractional shares in everything from Rolex GMTs to dinosaur remains, had 100,000 users at the start of the pandemic and oversaw $12 million in inventory. Rob Petrozzo, its chief product officer and co-founder, said in an interview that the company now oversees $30 million of merchandise and has more than 200,000 users. According to the company, the average age of a Rally user is 28, and most are male.
The way the app works, investors buy, sell or trade their shares as if they were stocks. New product launches are actually called IPOs.
"The equities space and the cryptocurrency space over the last couple years created really savvy investors who understand the dynamics of the market, so it's a complement to their Coinbase accounts and their Robinhood accounts," Petrozzo said.