Everything you need to know about investing in antiquities

Laetitia Delaloye is an antiquities specialist at Christie’s London; she explains the delights of the market

Definition

An antiquity is a work of art that was made by an ancient civilisation. While there is no official start date, we offer pieces dating from 5,000BC (Neolithic) to the early days of the Middles Ages, around AD500 in Europe and AD1300 in the Near East before the decline of the Byzantine Empire. The Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Mesopotamian and Sasanian civilisations are the main focus.

Unique appeal

Fine sculpture, from Greece and Rome, and Egyptian art – which have always had a very strong appeal as they are part of our Western heritage and have a familiar feel – continue to be highly sought-after. The fact that you can own a part of history is very powerful to collectors and their beauty is of course also a big factor, as antiquities are inherently very decorative. The antiquities market has always been quite conservative and consequently shows stable growth. Nevertheless, at the top end of the market, the best pieces with the best provenance have previously seen their values rocket.

The antiquities market has always been conservative and consequently shows a stable growth in its results. Nevertheless, the top end of the market has seen its results rocketing

Investment advice

Authenticity, provenance and condition are the three key aspects to be aware of when buying antiquities. Buy from auction houses and reputable dealers to have some guarantee of the authenticity of the piece. Provenance must accompany the piece, with as much detail about the previous owners as possible, and condition is paramount when assessing its value, too. In 2013 at Christie’s South Kensington we sold a magnificent Egyptian granite falcon, which highlighted the importance of these key aspects. It was a unique piece, visually powerful and of a very liveable size, with prestigious provenance – it had been in the hands of the same French aristocratic family since the 1940s. Estimated at £100,000 to £150,000, it sold for over £1m.

Sale highlights

Every sale is exciting – you don’t know what you’ll have until the end as there are always last-minute surprises. Our sale in 2014 included a wonderful Roman marble sculpture depicting Hercules as a young boy, wearing the Nemean lion skin, from the property of a French collector. In 2013 at Christie’s King Street we sold an over-life-sized Roman marble torso of an athlete, dating back to the 1st or 2nd century AD, which was housed in Yves Saint Laurent’s Parisian home for more than 30 years.

Personal favourite

A recent favourite lot was a beautiful large Egyptian limestone sarcophagus mask. The eyes, the ears and the mouth are depicted with such delicate lines. And the enigmatic smile on this Egyptian sculpture from the Ptolemaic (Greek) period, circa 330BC, is a delight. It sold for £66,000 – sadly, a tad beyond my means.

For info christies.com