• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 5:52am

When wealth is not enough: China’s rich seek luxury experiences to show off their fortunes

Luxury brand retailers tap into the growing demand from mainland consumers to experience the nicer things in life, rather than own them

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 10:57am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 1:36am

For China's consumers, luxury is no longer about "having" but "being".

Amid the mainland's clampdown on visible luxury, consumers are shifting away from merely owning things to seeking experiences that will help them acquire a modicum of savoir faire.

Luxury companies ranging from jewellery maker Van Cleef & Arpels, auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's and fine wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd are responding by ramping up their educational initiatives, which cater to mainlanders' yearning for bespoke experiences and their desire to become world-class connoisseurs.

The … appetite for learning in Hong Kong and [the] mainland is incredible to see

Earlier this month, Van Cleef & Arpels chief executive Nicolas Bos was in town to announce the L'Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels Hong Kong edition, which will offer two weeks of courses on jewellery making at PMQ in Aberdeen Street from October 16 to November 1. It is only the second time it has travelled outside Paris.

Limited to 12 per class, students pay up to HK$6,200 to learn from experts how to sketch designs, identify gemstones, polish gold or set a stone, receiving a certificate at the end of the course.

"You go away with your design - good or bad. There is an element of entertainment. It is very educational, but we wanted it to be pleasurable as well," Bos said. Imparting its long history of fine jewellery making could set Van Cleef & Arpels apart from the many luxury brands that have bombarded the mainland market in the past decade, he said.

"There is a premium now for brands and houses that come with real authenticity, real history, not just about opportunistic marketing strategy but to come and show who they are and be genuine with their customers."

In a similar vein, two weeks ago, Berry Bros & Rudd, Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant, made a winemaking experience in Bordeaux available to its Chinese clients through a partnership with Viniv, a French winery.

Wine enthusiasts head to Chateau Lynch-Bages to make their own vintages and can try out every step of vinification, from grape-picking to bottling, including designing a customised logo and bottle label.

BBR has already signed up 12 wine lovers. Depending on the grapes and the barrel wood one chooses, the experience costs between £6,900 (HK$90,800) and £12,500 for a barrel, not including the cost of travelling to France.

The package taps into a desire for something completely unique, which is the ultimate luxury, Berry Bros & Rudd sales director Adam Bilbey said.

"They like the exclusivity of it. Half of our clients because they really want to learn more and the other half because they can have their own bottle of wine," Bilbey said. "[Wine consumption] was very much price-led, but we're seeing more and more that people are willing [to search for] exclusivity and getting their hands on things that are impossible to get a hold of this year … [to say] 'No one has this wine.'"

A report from Boston Consulting Group in February said experiential luxury - such as travel, gourmet dining and art auctions - now accounts for 55 per cent of global luxury spending. Annual growth of sales of luxury experiences grew 14 per cent compared with 11 per cent for luxury goods.

Wealthy mainlanders often have a stronger interest in learning about luxury than their European or American peers.

"[Demand for these experiences] has been stronger than in the UK; the euro zone has this history of drinking wine," Bilbey said. "The passion and appetite for learning in Hong Kong and mainland China is incredible to see. We have clients who started buying wine a year ago who now have a deep understanding and knowledge of fine wine."

Education becomes even more paramount within fine art circles. Collecting art is not simply owning a piece by Tracy Emin or Zhang Xiaogang but also being able to engage in intelligent discourse about it.

In October, Sotheby's Institute of Art, which has campuses in New York, Los Angeles, and London, will pair up with Beijing's Tsinghua University to launch its first Chinese campus.

Offerings include a six-week programme in which participants do intensive week-long residencies over the course of one year in major art centres around the world.

Rival auction house Christie's has education initiatives of its own for Putonghua speakers. It is bringing back a programme launched last year with China Europe International Business School. The five-week, 248,000 yuan (HK$352,500) module gives participants a foundation in the international art market.

Students are treated to "auction previews, tours of galleries and extensive handling sessions where they can look at art up close under UV light," said Elaine Kwok, director of Christie's Education Asia.

"They've heard of the big names like Picasso or Monet, but they don't know how to contextualise this in the development of Western art and why this person is meaningful," she said. "Being able to offer that, to give them a narrative, has led to quite a lot of 'aha!' moments."

For the companies, better-educated buyers translate into better buyers overall.

"Some hadn't bought a single piece of art before joining and bought something during their first year of study, which is really exciting," Kwok said.


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Education in civilization might be a good one as well. They might be the oldest civilization (more then 5,000 years) but apparently they thought that they were civilized enough after day 1 and stopped their evolution of civilization and are still stuck at day 1 ;-)
That's over reaching. Learn to walk before you run. Hire some foreigners to open classes to teach social etiquette and behaviors that are up to par. With all the money in the world you can't buy class.
People that made their money through work are not the target of these programs, rather it is the people and their sons and daughters that made their money through access to power.
All these commercial entities have one objective in organizing training classes in their respective area in China – to capture wealthy Chinese customers that otherwise who would spend their money elsewhere.
These big name entities are well verse in what they do. Van Cleef & Arpels in diamond and gems and jewelries and the art auction houses in art. A greater expertise lies in the assessment value capability of their products. While it is invaluable to those who are in investing it is not equal to a genuine course for a genuine artistic quality appreciation. It is not a substitute to taking art appreciation course or a painting course.
The knowledge obtained from these commercial entities would help investment but it is entirely has nothing to do with why one loves a piece of work besides of its monetary value.
All Chinese schools and colleges like in the US should have good art program to inspire students to appreciate art as art – Chinese and Western.
The lack in architecture appreciation courses in Hong Kong and China only see buildings in monetary value for investment. And Hong Kong has plenty of ugly buildings to show for the deficiency that blinded by a market for buildings. A strange and devastating ‘being’ in life.
The real being in art almost should be excluding its commercial value. The writer of this article should stand to be corrected.
A suit can perhaps make the man but it can not make the human being.
That's already being done. There are plenty of Emily Post-esque "finishing" schools in China to help put lipstick on the pigs...
The only relations that the rest of the World should be having with the cruel CCP is trying to bring to trial the thousands of Communist Party members who have been and are still committing millions of human rights atrocities.The brutal Chinese Communist Party has murdered over fifty million of its own people since 1949, since 1999 it has been attempting the blood-thirsty genocide of the tens of millions of innocent Falun Gong who live in Mainland China. To this end, the heinous CCP is using torture,slavery, organ harvesting and murder. Because of corporate greed, these atrocities and millions of others have been kept from the Western people by the Western media. The weak United Nations even appointed the brutal CCP a seat on its Human Rights Council this year. Shameful. Thank you for your concern.
Institut Villa Pierrefeu is an excellent idea.


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