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Going once, going twice… top 5 tips for auctions

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Going once, going twice… top 5 tips for auctions

Mar 28, 2024

With the help of Amelie Sarrado, Director of Christie’s EMEA, Professional Advisors and Family Offices, we go behind the scenes at one of the world’s leading auctioneers. We ask about some of the most exciting items ever to be sold at auction, how technological innovations have changed the industry, and discover some tips and tricks for auction beginners.

Key Takeaways

  • Auctions can work for both buyers and sellers by establishing a competitive and transparent market value. 
  • Auctions tend to be associated with art and antiques, but items can range from letters by Mozart to meteorites that have fallen to earth.
  • Today’s auctions take place virtually as well as in person. But in order to get a true feel for the experience, experts recommend visiting salerooms wherever possible.
  • Social events offered by auction houses are a less formal way to start to learn more and form relationships with people in the field.
  • There’s no crystal ball when it comes to value appreciation. Instead, experts advise buying items that you’re passionate about and will bring you joy.


Anyone who has attended an auction will know first-hand of the exciting battle between bidders trying to secure a prized item. “An auction is a true marketplace,” says Amelie Sarrado. “The selling price is determined by the bidders – and today that means both online and in the saleroom. The auctioneer can provide a guide or estimated price based on what a similar item has sold for recently, but ultimately, it’s competing bidders that set the price. 

“For sellers, auctions are a way of ensuring they get the best possible price for their lot, and for buyers, the competition ensures they pay a fair market value for the object.” 

Most people may think of renaissance paintings and antiques when thinking about auctions, but the reality of what goes up for bids includes popular culture, heartfelt revelations and even sporting history. 

Christie’s have sold Elton John’s boots, Audrey Hepburn’s ballet flats and Dorothy’s ruby slippers,” says Sarrado. “There’s been Pelé’s football shirt, a meteorite that fell to earth in 1803 and a love letter by Mozart.

Auction houses are moving into the future – and to millions of viewers

Like almost all companies and industries, auction houses have reacted to digital innovations. “We recognised the importance of a digital offering and commenced online trading early on in 2011,” says Sarrado.

“As a result, we were able to scale our digital platform quickly and seamlessly during the pandemic. Our auctions used to convene 800 people in one room but during our sale of the Collection of Paul Allen in New York in 2022 (featuring works by David Hockney, Georgia O'Keeffe and Edward Hopper), there were four million people online watching our livestream. That has really opened up our business to a new global audience.” 

Five steps to get started

What if someone is entirely new to the world of auctions, where should they begin? 

  1. Don’t be nervous about visiting an auction house

Sarrado speaks to the benefits of visiting auction houses in person. “Because of how quickly one sale follows another, they are tremendously dynamic places to learn about a great array of art and objects,” she says.

I always encourage people to come along to experience the theatre and the magic that is so palpable in salerooms. It can be quite addictive.

2. Social media and cultural exposure

“I would encourage those interested to connect with auction houses’ Instagram pages, sign up to weekly newsletters and visit as many museums, galleries and exhibitions as they can,” says Sarrado. “Once you begin to train your eye, you will begin to develop your own taste and therefore get a sense of what you are interested in.” 

3. Socialise!

Sarrado explains that lots of auction houses host social events. “We, for example, have open house evenings at Christie’s in London called ‘Christie’s Lates’. They are informal, often themed events with drinks, food, entertainment and art. 

I’d also advise people to get to know auction house employees and develop trusted relationships with them. Ask them questions, visit as often as you can, take advantage of all of the resources about the art they sell, and enjoy!

4. Start the sale or buying process online

“Most auction houses offer a dedicated place on their websites where potential sellers can submit images and a short description for quick first valuations,” says Sarrado.

“But ultimately, we are all social creatures and interacting with clients is such a pleasure, so I always say to people never to hesitate to go into galleries in person or reach out by email to one of our specialists. Ask us lots of questions and we will always give you a response that meet’s your needs and interests.”

5. Buy what you love

Sarrado concludes by saying that she is always asked about what items appreciate the most over time. “Sadly, there is no crystal ball. We sell around 80 collecting categories and this year have held auctions for jewelry, antiquities, Old Masters, books and handbags. My best advice is always to buy what you love and if over time it appreciates in monetary terms, so much the better. But it’s also crucial that people value the joy that the items they have purchased bring them.”

At HSBC Global Private Banking, we connect clients with market leaders such as Christie’s in order to provide them with world-renowned expertise in a wide range of fields – and help them incorporate their passions into their portfolios. 

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