How does the tiny Geneva auction house, Hôtel des Ventes, do so well having built up sales from 1m Swiss Francs in 2004 to 22m Swiss Francs in 2012? The International Herald Tribune asked the not-so-new owner, Bernard Piquet:
“Compared to many arts merchants, I have no conflict of interest because I never buy anything myself,” he said. “You have to be very strict about what you do.”
He cited, for example, a Chinese sculpted rhinoceros horn that he had spotted while visiting a Geneva apartment. The owner, whom Mr. Piguet would not identify, believed the horn could be useful as an ashtray. “If I had just given her 500 Swiss francs that day for it, she would have been more than delighted,” Mr. Piguet said. Instead, he persuaded the owner to put the horn up for auction, and it sold for 300,000 Swiss francs in March 2011.
That sale led to a series of referrals, which Mr. Piguet views as crucial to the business. “It’s also about building up relationships that help your profitability in the long term,” he said.
Central to that profitability is the 20 percent commission that the Hôtel des Ventes charges, and its high selling rate — it has sold about 90 percent of what it has auctioned in recent years, at an average of more than 1.5 times estimates. “We’ve deliberately remained very conservative in our estimates,” he said.
The Hôtel des Ventes offers no guarantees as to the accuracy of its sales catalog
Small Geneva Auction House Makes a Comeback (International Herald Tribune)