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October 25, 2006

London Rocks


Mary and I went to London to see the London Rocks exhibition daughter Kate was instrumental in putting together for Sotheby’s and to visit son-in-law Hugh in the medical research lab where he works (future post).  Posh showings of expensive items are nothing new to Sotheby’s New Bond Street London headquarters; but London Rocks was different and possibly strategic for the venerable auction house.

For one thing, it wasn’t an auction although the exhibiting jewelers (“jewellers” in the UK) did sell some of their pieces over the counter and took orders for custom pieces. For another thing, the jewelry on exhibit was contemporary.  Up until now, Sotheby’s has concentrated on items which have passed some sort of test of time.

Sotheby’s, like any long-term successful business, must worry about who its next customers will be.  A  new generation doesn’t necessarily shop where the parents did; almost compulsively, a new generation won’t buy what their parents did – especially fashion.

For Sotheby’s customers are not only the buyers but also the sellers.  Both pay commissions and both need to be courted and attracted.  Because Sotheby’s, like eBay, is a marketplace, it can’t succeed unless it attracts sellers for the goods buyers want and buyers for the goods sellers have.  Moving into contemporary jewelry means attracting BOTH buyers and sellers of contemporary jewelry.  New stuff, obviously, is not very likely to show up in the estate sales which are a large part of Sotheby’s business.

So Kate and her boss Joanna Hardy, Sotheby’s director of jewellery, sought out the most exciting contemporary jewelers in London and invited them to the show – good opportunity for the jewelers to expand their own market under Sotheby’s umbrella.  Invitations to attend went both to people on the mailing lists of the individual jewelers and on the Sotheby’s list.  Part of the proceeds were earmarked for charity Breast Cancer Haven.  The website was a key part of the marketing campaign – this is a younger set of customers than usual. The jewelers also promoted the event and their participation in it on their websites.

Jewelers were eager to be invited; they came.  The opening night party which featured a special exhibition, refreshments, and a few celebrities was packed.  Traffic was brisk on the days we were there.

We were proud to see a prominent article in the Financial Times.  FT cites the show as proof that contemporary jewelry is “collectable” – eg, has investment value.

For proof, look no further than Sotheby's. Until October 24, it is using its Bond Street space in London, located close to some of the most prestigious jewellery boutiques, to launch its London Rocks event, which exhibits the work of top British artist-jewellers. The artists themselves will be present throughout, as well as experts and gemologists to give advice. Prices range from £500 to £10,000.”

Good example of a company thinking ahead to its next market.  They used what they already have – reputation, elegant and secure exhibit halls, great fashion photographers, show designers, secure transaction capability, catering expertise.  They were willing to launch with things that had not been important before like strong web presence and a non-auction format.  They realized that this new product required both new buyers and new sellers.

They helped the artists reposition themselves from creators of beautiful baubles to the source of collectible art (an area where the Sotheby’s brand works magic).  These guys are the auction names of the future,” says Joanna Hardy. “At the moment there are lots of artists in Britain expressing themselves through jewellery. It would give me pleasure to see people enjoy contemporary jewellery in the same way they enjoy contemporary art.”

And, of course, Kate did a great job.


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