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As global financial markets display great volatility, investors are looking to diversify their portfolios and hedge them against inflation. Could luxury handbags and watches deliver greater annual returns than the stock market?
If collecting luxury items such as cars, watches or designer handbags is nothing new, interest in such luxury collectibles has surged during the pandemic as consumers were piling up cash while being stuck at home. As demand spiked, luxury brands managed to carefully maintain scarcity, also bolstered by global supply chain issues. Chanel has increased its prices no less than three times in 2021 and recently introduced quotas to reduce the number of handbags customers could buy per year. This strategy is not dissimilar to Hermès, where waiting time to be offered a bag sometimes reaches years. Scoring a coveted Birkin or Kelly could return the lucky buyer over 100% of the investment straight out of the store. Depending on the specifications of the bags, it is not unusual to see them sold for prices over £15k on the secondary market.
When it comes to watches, a similar craze has been observed around the rarest models such as the discontinued Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 or the Rolex Daytona. The Sundial 50 Index which tracks the value of the 50 most traded watches is up 27% in the past 12 months. In comparison, the S&P 500 is down 12% over the same period.
But does that make luxury collectives good investments? Let’s recall that an investment is an asset acquired with the goal of generating income or appreciation in value over time. According to a recent study published by Deloitte and Credit Suisse, handbags and watches fall into that category and can be classified as store of value assets with “low risk, low volatility and mid-single-digit returns”. Rolex watches have delivered an annual return of 33% in 2021, while Chanel handbags rose by 25%. The study also highlights a low correlation between luxury handbags, watches, and traditional asset classes such as bonds and equity, suggesting a good diversification strategy. Finally, the paper states that “the best inflation protection is offered by Chanel handbags, while Rolex watches appear to be the ideal inflation all-weather stores of value.”
As a result, more consumers are turning to the pre-owned market to sell and acquire these investment pieces, increasing the liquidity and price transparency of the secondary market. Covid-19 and its positive impact on e-commerce penetration has also favored the entrance of a younger consumer base on the luxury collectibles market, better informed on investment value of the assets and able to ‘flip’ items in a matter of days.
If acquiring some of the rarest and most valuable assets directly from the brands remains the privilege of a few of high net worth individuals, some platforms aim to generalize access to collectibles as a mere form of investment. For instance, the crowdfunding platform Konvi allows its users to buy fractional shares of fine wines portfolio or limited-edition watches - for some of them valued over $250,000.
However, the Sundial 50 Index indicates a market softening for pre-owned luxury watches with a decline in value of 5%. According to a recent article from Bloomberg, “the bubble in secondhand timepieces was fueled by a combination of crypto and stock-market gains, stimulus cash and speculation”. While we observe a natural correction on the secondhand market, it is worth noting that demand on the primary market, i.e. directly from the store, remains unchanged.
Nonetheless, for most of the collectors, investing in timepieces and luxury handbags goes beyond mere financial returns. Value lies also within appreciating the object itself, its uniqueness, history and the savoir faire behind them. Passion and transmission, combined to an uncertain economic outlook make a strong investment case for luxury collectibles.
Note: this article only engages the opinion of its author and does not constitute financial advice.