A senior source inside Christie's has revealed to the Antiques Trade Gazette details of an ambitious five-year plan which they say will see the company's St. James's headquarters transformed into a luxury hotel and retail complex. Auctions at King Street will be restricted to a few “premium and prestige” sales of fine paintings and furniture, they add.
The plan, revealed to senior directors last autumn, reflects French billionaire owner François Pinault's desire to maximise the commercial potential of the Christie's brand.
Pinault paid £721m to become owner of Christie's International in May 1998.
The price, representing some £190m more than Christie's market value at the time, struck a number of City analysts as at odds with Pinault's vaunted reputation for profitable brand-building.
However, it now emerges that Christie's auctioneering activities will form only a part of a wider strategy for the company. Christie's own the freehold for the entire block bounded by Ryder, St. James and King Streets and Pinault intends to make the most of the SW1 site's retail potential. Whether this will mean more art and antiques galleries, or the type of high-rent luxury fashion stores that now dominate Bond Street remains uncertain, but significantly the five-year plan plan has earmarked Spink's galleries at 5 King Street, acquired by Christie's in 1993 for £16.3m, for redevelopment as a luxury hotel.
Further scaling down of King Street's fine art operations is understood to include the relocation of key specialist departments. Continental pictures and European furniture will transfer to Christie's new French HQ on Avenue Matignon, Paris, while other specialist areas, such as Oriental ceramics, will move to Christie's South Kensington, where watches have already relocated. New premises will be found for Christie's Education, whose 63 Old Brompton Road offices will be used to house further King Street experts.
These measures are intended to leave Christie's St. James's rooms with a pared-down calender of high value art and furniture sales. An initial lower limit of £15,000 per lot is envisaged, rising upwards as the more selective “premium and prestige” format becomes firmly established and the overall number of sales reduced.
The impact of these plans could be even more considerable if, as has been widely rumoured, Sotheby's are considering a move out of their historic Bond Street premises. Soaring W1 rents and the popularity of Sotheby's newly-expanded York Avenue premises in New York have made a move increasingly attractive. Paddington has been widely mooted as a possible site for the London HQ.
All such developments were firmly denied by Christie's and Sotheby's press offices. When asked about the Pinault 'Five Year Plan', a Christie's spokesman commented: “We're always reviewing best business practice, but there are no plans to move anything from King Street in the immediate future. As far as I am aware it's business as usual.”
Christie's 'plan a King Street hotel'
UK: CHRISTIE'S, the world's highest-grossing auction house, have drawn up plans for a radical shake-up of its UK operations which could change the face of the London art and antiques trade.