After Bringing in a Record $1.2 Billion in Global Sales This Year, Phillips Plans a Major New Location in Hong Kong

The company plans to move into a space overlooking Victoria Harbour.

Rendering of Phillips’ new Asia headquarters in the WKCDA Tower in West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong. Courtesy of Phillips.

Phillips, looking back on a record 2021 in which it sold $1.2 billion worth of luxury goods worldwide—up 32 percent from 2019, and hitting the billion-dollar mark for the first time ever—is now eyeing a major expansion in Hong Kong.

Phillips said global auction sales have gone up by 35 percent to $993.3 million compared to 2019’s $736 million. Private sales, meanwhile, accounted for $208.2 million, up 21 percent from 2019’s $171.8 million. The company also said it had a 91 percent sell-through rate across all sales, with half of its buyers being new to the auction house.

The Asia expansion is a logical next step, said CEO Stephen Brooks.

“For us to go to the next stage, we need our own premises,” he told Artnet News. “We need to be able to hold auctions throughout the year, not relying on having spaces at hotels. It’s a bit of a game-changer for us. We will now be able to expand our offerings, bring sales out throughout the course of the year, [and have an] exhibition program all year round.”

Phillips is also looking into bringing more sales categories to Hong Kong, including editions, design, and photography.

Asia was the auction house’s biggest region of growth. Phillips recorded over $270 million in auction sales in Hong Kong in 2021. In addition, nearly 60 percent of buyers at recent 20th-century and contemporary art and design sales in Hong Kong were under 49 years old.

What’s more, buyers in Asia contributed 36 percent of the global spend in Phillips’s auction sales, and five of the top 10 global lots sold to collectors in Asia, including Georgia O’Keeffe’s Crab’s Claw Ginger Hawaii, which sold to Shanghai’s Long Museum in New York in November for more than $7.7 million.

Georgia O'Keeffe, <i>Crab’s Claw Ginger Hawaii</i>, sold to Shanghai’s Long Museum. Courtesy of Phillips.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Crab’s Claw Ginger Hawaii, sold to Shanghai’s Long Museum. Courtesy of Phillips.

The new Asia headquarters will be in the WKCDA Tower in the West Kowloon Cultural District, making the auction house a neighbor of the newly opened M+ museum and the Hong Kong Palace Museum, which is scheduled to open in mid-2022.

The new office, with a view over Victoria Harbour, will be over 48,000 square feet spanning six floors, including three lower retail floors, two upper floors for exhibitions, and one floor of office space. The auction house will be in the same building designed by Herzog & de Meuron that houses the head office of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

Phillips expects to have the new space “up and running” in 2023.

Phillips auctioneer Jonathan Crokett selling Gerhard Richter's Kerzenschein (Candle-light) at the Phillips and Poly Auction evening sale in Hong Kong in November 2021. Courtesy of Phillips.

Phillips auctioneer Jonathan Crokett selling Gerhard Richter’s Kerzenschein (Candle-light) at the Phillips and Poly Auction evening sale in Hong Kong in November 2021. Courtesy of Phillips.

But whether Phillips’s partnership with Poly Auction Hong Kong (a sister company of Beijing Poly International Auction, China’s biggest state-owned auction house), will continue is not certain.

“I see some real prospect of further growth in that partnership,” Brooks said. “But like any partnership, I will want to review it and make sure it’s working as we envisaged it.”

The auction business had a thriving 2021. Sotheby’s reported a record year with $7.3 billion in sales and its owner, Patrick Drahi, is reportedly considering taking the auction house public again, according to Bloomberg.

Phillips, which is owned by Mercury Group, the largest luxury retail company in Russia, has no plans to go public at this time, its CEO said.

Phillips is the second major auction house expanding its Asian operations following Christie’s, which is planning to move to a new Hong Kong home in 2024.

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