Linking the past and the future
Good order, beauty and aesthetic joy: that could be the motto of Christie's auction house. Perfectly orchestrated auctions, endless variations of timeless beauty and the collector's aesthetic joy on bidding successfully for a sought-after piece. And, of course, all of this takes place against a backdrop of absolute security.
Christophe Wailliez has been responsible for security in the auction house for the last eight years. He guides us through the discreet and elegant premises of Christie's Geneva, inviting us to discover this world where luxury items are auctioned – a world that is something of a mystery to most mere mortals. Let's start with a few figures: Christie's was founded in London on 5 December 1766; in 2018, its turnover was USD 7 billion; also in 2018, the auction of the Rockefeller Collection fetched the sum of USD 835 million – a world record; and in 2017, the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci changed hands in New York for USD 450 million, making it the most expensive artwork ever to be sold at auction.
Christie's auction house covers all segments of the art market, and it operates in three geographical zones: the USA, Asia-Pacific, and the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa). Over 2,000 employees work for Christie's across the globe. In Switzerland, where the auction house celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, auctions in Geneva focus mainly on jewellery, watches and wine; Swiss artworks come under the hammer in Zurich. New York is the centre for sales of contemporary art – the goldmine for the auction house. Christie's has also conducted online auctions since 2011. This area of operations is setting new requirements for security on account of the fraud risk.
As a general rule, the security aspect always presents a major challenge in auctions. "This is a very special marketplace – somewhere between a museum and a sale of luxury goods," Christophe Wailliez points out. Artworks of great value such as watches and items of jewellery are on display, and they can be viewed and touched without barriers. So, of course, the security concept has to take this situation into account. This is why Christophe Wailliez opted for Protectas as a trusted partner.
"We need a globally recognised service provider with a sound structure, especially for our insurances. On the other hand, we need also good dialogue and a partner who analyses and understands our requirements," the head of security at Christie's explains. In his view, these two aspects – global reach and customer focus – also provide the basis for day-to-day collaboration with the on-site member of the Protectas security staff. As well as approving solutions to problems, this employee plays an active part in analysing and anticipating risks, and suggests what actions should be taken.
Security is complicated by the fact that the auctions are accessible to the public and they also take place at public venues. As auctions are transparent by definition, specific measures must be put in place for the viewing rooms. Given that turnover in Geneva has virtually doubled in eight years – especially from gemstones auctioned for investment – it is easy to understand that the service provider's security arrangements need constant adaptation and great flexibility.
Ensuring the security of visitors, staff, valuable objects and buildings is a real challenge. The highly "intimate" contact between artworks and their owners adds to the scope and complexity of the task: on-site meetings, initial assessment, organisation of transport, storage, expert appraisals, shipping from the storage location to the viewing room, exhibition of the objects and, finally, their sale. Each phase demands perfect coordination between the Christie's representatives and the security firm.
Christie's has over two and a half centuries of experience in the art world. The auction house acts as a bridge between the past and the future, so to speak: between previous and future owners of the valuable items at auction, between works created in the past and the business methods of yesterday and tomorrow. A universe where integrating security is, in itself, a work of fine art.