An expanding art fair market is pulling in designers searching for discerning buyers with deep pockets
A visit from Middle Eastern royalty stunned Taiwanese jewellery designer Anna Hu at her first showing at an art fair, the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris last September. Ms Hu had decided to exhibit her colour-drenched jewels to an art world audience to connect with international collectors she would not meet anywhere else.
“Some had seen magazines with my work in it, others had read my book, but they don't travel to Asia so they came and found me,” she says. Ms Hu sold display pieces, took bespoke orders and, more importantly, she says, gained exposure to a wider clientele.
With this tantalising prospect of finding new collectors who drop millions on objets d'art, it is little wonder more jewellers are showing their work at art fairs, from big brands such as Van Cleef & Arpels to the growing numbers of small independent jewellers.
One is James de Givenchy, founder of Taffin, who debuted his precious stone and ceramic pieces at the European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) in NewYork earlier this month. Taiwanese designer Cindy Chao, who exhibited her work to deep pocketed Asian contemporary art collectors at Shanghai's West Bund Art & Design fair in November, will now test the multinational London market at June's Masterpiece fair. In three to five years she plans to open a show room in the UK capital.
About a quarter of the $63.7mglobal art sales in 2017 were generated at art fairs — notably Frieze, Tefaf and Art Basel. At PAD fairs in London, Paris and now Geneva, the typical spend per buyer is £10,000-£100,000, according to Patrick Perrin, the fairs' cofounder. By comparison, the jewellery fair market is more trade-focused and often linked with watches. Many are regional, such as Bahrain's Jewellery Arabia, which last year produced more than $26.5minsales.
Cartier was associated with the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris until 2016, when it withdrew because of art dealers' complaints about the amount of space given to jewellers, and Hemmerle has been exhibiting at Tefaf since 1997 — but it was not until earlier this decade that the trend of exhibiting at art fairs took off in earnest. The emergence of more eclectic fairs such as PAD and Masterpiece, which include design and decorative arts, led to a rise in the number of jewellers attending. Just two exhibited at PAD London in 2013, for instance, whereas this October it is due to host eight.
Art fairs can play the role of the shop or private atelier. “Our Munich shop wouldn't be on collectors' agenda, but Maastricht would,” says Christian Hemmerle, director of his 125-year-old family jewellery business, which exhibits at Tefaf Maastricht and PAD London. Earlier this year he was appointed to the Tefaf board of trustees.
For HongKong-based art is an jeweller, Wallace Chan, showing in Europe and New York is an opportunity to liaise with existing clients. “It encourages them to continue to collect my work and sometimes they bring friends and family to reinforce that they have done the right thing,” he says.
Mr Hemmerle believes collectors at these art fairs are more open-minded about what they look at. “A collector of an 18th-century painter will walk into a silver dealer and could also walk into my booth,” he says. “At a specialised show with one discipline, [visitors]are more focused.”
The buzzy art fair vibe changes the jewellery-buying experience, says Lorenz Bäumer, who initially exhibited with London contemporary art and design gallery Priveekollektie, before going solo this year across the PAD fairs. “People have the time to come and see you and don't feel cornered like they do in store,” he says.
Jeweller Suzanne Syz has been going to art fairs since 2013. She meets new clients, including mega collectors en route to Art Basel, at Design Miami Basel; and existing clients at Art Monte Carlo. “About 60 per cent of our sales were done at art fairs or following up after the fairs in 2017,” she says.
MrBäumer estimates less than 25 per cent of his annual sales comes from his art fair activity, while Ms Hu sold multimillion-pound and every day pieces on her stand at the Paris Biennale, where 90per cent of her visitors were new.
Breaking into these circles is difficult: “You have to bring something to the fair —either clients or the style you do,” says Mr Bäumer. This selectiveness acts as a sort of quality mark for potential new customers. Yet it can be difficult for exhibitors to quantify exactly what they gain in return. Alisa Moussaieff, managing director of the eponymous jewellery house, estimates that the company spent about $1m at the Paris Biennale on hiring the stand, insurance and other overheads. “You cannot measure this in immediate sales, you can only measure this over along term,” she says.
'You have to bring something to the fair — either clients or the style you do'
As new art fairs continue to emerge, designers will have plenty of opportunity to test their true value.
BY Melanie Abrams