Fea­ture

Esquire (Singapore) - - Port­fo­lio -

Of high-priced streetwear, de Mat­teis re­marks: “It’s ex­pen­sive. But where is the qual­ity? Our cus­tomers, who don’t want the brand la­bel on the out­side, who don’t want ev­ery­one to know they’re wear­ing a Ki­ton suit—they would never buy that sort of prod­uct. They would never wear it. It’s like in the 1980s, re­mem­ber when ev­ery­one was crazy about those plas­tic watches, and they were buy­ing and sell­ing them all over the world for thou­sands of dol­lars? The price came en­tirely from the rar­ity of some of those watches and from there the surge in de­mand. But now, there’s no de­mand. And be­cause the value was not grounded in qual­ity, those watches are vir­tu­ally worth­less.”

It’s not just plas­tic time­keep­ing trin­kets that are at the mercy of fluc­tu­a­tions in sup­ply and de­mand. Things with sup­pos­edly in­trin­sic value can also suf­fer. Take the ex­am­ple of pearls. These rare nat­u­ral mar­vels were once more prized and, in many cases, more valu­able than gem­stones. The un­for­tu­nate story of Mor­ton Plank il­lus­trates how quickly that changed. In 1917, this wealthy New York fi­nancier swapped his vast Fifth Av­enue man­sion for a mil­lion-dol­lar Cartier pearl neck­lace, a gift for his young wife. Be­fore long though, Miki­moto’s in­ven­tion of cul­tured pearls saw sup­ply rise and prices plum­met. Fol­low­ing Mrs Plank’s death in 1956, the neck­lace was sold for just 15 per­cent of its orig­i­nal price, while the for­mer Plank man­sion, which re­mains Cartier’s New York flag­ship, is to­day worth hun­dreds of millions. (Proof pos­i­tive of prop­erty’s peren­nial value as the ul­ti­mate rare com­mod­ity. “Buy land,” as Mark Twain’s apho­rism goes. “They’re not mak­ing it any more.”)

The pearl’s fate could soon be­fall di­a­monds. Of­ten cited as the prime ex­am­ple of ar­ti­fi­cial scarcity, di­a­monds aren’t nearly as rare as gem mar­ke­teers would have us be­lieve. Di­a­mond prices were first in­flated by the De Beers com­pany, which cor­nered the mar­ket in the 1880s, hoarded huge stock­piles of the shiny rocks and re­leased them in suf­fi­ciently stingy quan­ti­ties to as­sure the world of their scarcity— while si­mul­ta­ne­ously em­bark­ing on an ag­gres­sive mar­ket­ing cam­paign that con­vinced men they needed to buy their fi­ancée a ring cost­ing two months’ salary.

Spend­ing that sum on a Birkin would prob­a­bly be a bet­ter in­vest­ment, as a di­a­mond’s re­sale price drops by more than a third the mo­ment it leaves the store. The stones’ dwin­dling value may be com­pounded by the in­creas­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion and ac­cep­tance of lab­o­ra­tory-grown di­a­monds. These can be cre­ated in un­lim­ited quan­ti­ties us­ing sci­en­tific pro­cesses mim­ick­ing the high­pres­sure con­di­tions ‘real’ di­a­monds de­velop un­der. They’re vir­tu­ally in­dis­tin­guish­able from nat­u­rally formed gems, and they’re free of the eth­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns that plague their mined twins.

Prom­i­nent gal­lerist Pearl Lam likens art val­u­a­tions to those of di­a­monds— it’s a mat­ter of per­cep­tion and mar­ket ac­cep­tance. “We give the value to a paint­ing ( just as) we give the value to a di­a­mond. What makes a di­a­mond, each carat, worth that price? Some­one set that price, but we sup­port it by agree­ing to that price, by pay­ing that price… A di­a­mond is just a rock. If no one buys it, it’s worth noth­ing. But if every­body is buy­ing, then the price con­sumers will pay, that’s its value,” she sug­gests.

“With a paint­ing, it’s the same thing. The paint­ing is a per­cep­tion. We sum­mon the per­cep­tion of the value of the paint­ing and peo­ple sup­port that by buy­ing it,” Lam says. If she prices a work in her gallery at a cer­tain amount and a col­lec­tor agrees to that sum, the dol­lar ap­praisal is le­git­imised. “For art, and for many other things, we give the value by be­liev­ing in the value. What is im­por­tant to­day in art? If you have the cu­ra­tors, the mu­se­ums, the big col­lec­tors en­dors­ing it, then the art­work, the artist, be­comes the next big thing. You know, it’s all about mar­ket­ing. It’s like ev­ery­thing and any­thing. You sell the per­cep­tion of suc­cess.”

Us­ing suc­cess­ful sports­men as am­bas­sadors, sneak­ers used to be sold by giv­ing con­sumers the per­cep­tion—or per­haps, the vague hope—that the shoes would im­prove their ath­leti­cism. While many of the most col­lectible sneak­ers

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