Christie’s are broadening their range of activity by launching their first online-only sale, Signature Cellars, an auction of fine and rare wines that will be open for bidding from August 6 to 20.
From July 9, wine collectors can browse the sale's 301 lots online, when the e-catalogue for the sale goes live at www.christies.com/signaturecellars.
The decision to move exclusively online with some sales comes after the success of the online-only component of The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor, which took $9.5m against an estimate of $1m. That sale attracted bidders from 25 different countries for 973 items; in total, more than 57,000 online bids were received during the two-week timed auction.
Another success saw Christie's recent online-only charity auction of couture handbags by Hermès treble expectations, raising $229,000.
Christie's chief executive Steven Murphy said: "In 2011, we saw a 77% increase of visitors to our website, where prospective bidders can browse sales, get condition reports on property, track sale results, and participate in all of our sales online. Almost one in three of the bids we get at Christie's are now via the internet. We've invested in this area during the past decade, and online is now something that is just exploding. In terms of access to Christie's, the doors have completely swung open."
As other auctioneers have already found, certain antiques and collectables naturally lend themselves to cyberspace selling. If you know exactly what you are getting as a result of the catalogue description, there is far less need to inspect lots in person. Meanwhile, you can extend the duration of an auction, attract a truly global audience and, in the long term, reduce the costs of staging the sale.
Such auctions may not enjoy the drama of the brief bouts of intense bidding live in the saleroom, but they allow for even more confidentiality among bidders, remove the potentially intimidating atmosphere of the live saleroom for the uninitiated and give people more time and flexibility to take part.
Coin auctioneers have been in the vanguard of this movement, but wine has also proved easily adaptable to this comparatively new method of selling. As the internet becomes an increasingly standard part of the auction process across all disciplines, it is likely that Christie's and other auctioneers will look to conducting a wider range of sales in this manner, citing watches, prints and multiples, fine art and private collections as their initial targets.