Passion Investing, The Smart Way

Classic cars are becoming more important to collectors.

Classic cars are becoming more important to collectors.

Investing in art and collectibles is both deeply personal and generational. That’s why the hot collecting categories shift by decades, according to experts who spoke at a Private Asset Management Magazine panel held at the Lambs Club in New York City in May.

Advice for collectors: start by getting the planning right, said Chris Schumacher, director and client relationship manager at Geller & Company, a wealth advisory firm based in New York City. Talk to estate attorneys, and decide what insurance is needed for assets. Plan out cash needs for the next year, two years, and five years, to avoid being forced to sell off assets for liquidity. For art, think about which museums might wish to acquire or be the recipient of your artworks.

It might be worth looking at hiring a family CFO, or an outsourced service such as Geller provides, to manage the household’s human resources as well as your collections, Schumacher said.

Acquiring art takes considerable due diligence, especially to avoid fraud, said Ronni Davidowitz, head of New York’s trusts and estates practice at the law firm Katten, Muchin, Rosenman LLP. She recommends independent appraisals of all artwork.

Keeping track of your art and other collections is key if you want your heirs to understand what they are inheriting. They’ll have to pay taxes 9 months after your death, making it important to plan for those payments in advance. On an ongoing basis, they will also need to pay for the collection’s upkeep and insurance, which requires them to have the same level of passion for the art that you have, Davidowitz said. She suggests thinking carefully about how to divide your collections among your children and heirs, to minimize a “legacy of disharmony.”

Where some investors run into difficulty is in lending their collections to museums and galleries to increase its provenance. The works’ value likely will rise after a show at a major institution, but transporting artwork carries risk, as does storing or repairing it, said Diane Giles, Northeast business development executive at insurer Marsh Private Client Services. The biggest losses to art collections are not theft or fire — both of which represent 13% of losses — but rather damage due to transit, at 53%. Improper installation — hanging a valuable work over a smoky fireplace, failing to bolt an outdoor sculpture to the ground — is also a major cause of loss, she said. Giles recommends using reputable fine-art shipping companies to move art, and making sure to store art correctly: away from flood zones, in temperature-controlled settings.

The new generation of collectors, Giles says, are moving away from Old Master paintings, brown-wood furniture, and silver, and into vintage 60’s muscle cars, watches, and wine — especially in China, where wine has become a major asset class. The highest-flying sectors of collectibles have outperformed the S&P 500 over the last five years, she says, driven higher by a limited supply as collectors gravitate toward flashy items.

Because of the booming market for art of all kinds — today there are 268 art fairs around the world, compared to 69 several years ago, said Michelle Impey, assistant vice president and fine art director at ACE Private Risk Services — it’s possible to acquire a focused, well-thought-out collection in nearly anything. But be sure you know what it’s worth, she cautioned: one out of four investors with $5 million or more of investable assets has never updated the insured value of their collections.

That’s a problem when assets appreciate rapidly. Fancy colored diamonds, for instance, rose 155% in value between 2006 and 2014, compared to 62% for white diamonds.

Heirs don’t always know what they are inheriting, and they may not realize how valuable it is. Impey noted the example of a Calder necklace bought by chance at a flea market for $15 that was later sold at auction for $260,000.

They also may not know how to take care of the collections they now own. Installation hardware has a lifespan, and copper wire can become brittle and break, causing framed works to fall right off the wall.

And wherever the work is hung, Impey said, make sure to know who has access to the collection. About half of art thefts are in private residences — and the FBI says 80% of those are inside jobs, Impey said.

Art the Way You Want It: Q&A with Bespoke Artists

Art by Ruth Cisse

Art by Ruth Cisse

If art represents how the artist feels about a subject, the most personal and meaningful art is art you create yourself. If you’re not an artist, bespoke art can achieve the same goal. This goes beyond decor and into the realm of art made with your message.

Max Luxe spoke with two New York City-based artists, Lisa Waltuch and Ruth Cisse, who specialize in working with clients to design custom pieces.

Ruth Cisse

– How long have you been making custom art?

While completing my BFA in Drawing and Painting at the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design in 2001, I became fascinated by the connection between art and wellness. I also delved deeply into the study of the Hebrew alphabet and its symbolic meaning as part of understanding my own heritage. I researched cross-cultural symbols and visual traditions to understand the role of the artist in society and to find how I could create art in a meaningful way.

I came across the art of the ancient mandala, which psychologist Carl Jung used as a tool for repairing fragments of the psyche. A mandala is a radial, symmetrical, circular design used cross-culturally for meditation and representation of sacred themes. As the daughter of a father who was an ER doctor turned psychiatrist and a mother who was a physical therapist turned holistic counselor and Kabbalah teacher, I knew that the intricate connection between the mind, body, and spirit was something that I wanted to explore.

I began interviewing people in my community to make Custom Fine Art, often with a focus on mandalas. Like a portrait that sees into the multi-faceted world beneath and beyond the surface of the skin, I asked people to share with me their goals for health and wellness in all aspects of their life, along with colors, symbols, scenes from nature, flowers, trees, traditions, design aesthetics, and anything else that brought meaning to their lives. By giving them a work of art with a personal intention, it could help them to focus on what they wanted to create in their lives. I began writing notes to each client, explaining the symbolism and how it applies to accompany each custom piece. I am very much inspired by people’s stories and strive to reflect back to them their best selves, the innate beauty of their human experience with each shadow and light representing the bigger “picture,” or painting of their lives.

Over the past year, I have also begun to incorporate custom jewelry created from a detail of a client’s painting along with gemstone beads and charms. This allows them to wear it close to their body as a comforting reminder of their special goals and dreams.

– What sort of art do you do as custom pieces?

In addition to interviewing individual clients, I really love collaborative custom art. I recently worked on a custom piece with a local Girl Scout troop, where they helped me tear and collage handmade paper around a painting of a sunflower that they had planted on the roof of their school. Much of the cafeteria food is planted, grown, and harvested by the kids. The finished piece is hanging in Chop’t Creative Salad Company in Upper East Side Manhattan to show the connection between community building and delicious food.

I also loved working with a local family when they moved into a beautiful new Upper East Side apartment. After seeing my work as chair of children’s art with their school’s annual auction, they asked me to create a handmade paper collage with their children. Choosing greys and teals to reflect their color scheme, with other accenting shades of handmade paper, they wanted it to feel calming yet energizing, while strengthening their family’s bond. We had a blast working with their 2 year-old and 7 year-old, tearing and collaging the paper on a large canvas. I pulled it together visually at the end, and we put each family member’s handprint with their name and the date on the back.

I wound up creating a second oil-based colored pencil drawing of a banyan tree with the many twists and layers of branches and roots symbolizing the strength and beauty of their family tree. We are currently working on a 3rd Mark Rothko-inspired oil-painting to bring a vivid pop of color to their grey walls.

Another special piece was commissioned by a client for the 70th Birthday celebration of her aunt who had lost her twin sister (the client’s mother) 20 years ago. In addition to celebrating her milestone, it also was to commemorate and honor her sister’s life and passing. My client wrote a beautiful poem about her mother as her butterfly that we incorporated into the note explaining the symbolism. When she spoke of her mother, a butterfly often landed on her, so the painting was filled with beautiful butterflies in flight. Her aunt was deeply touched by the love and connection the painting held as a reflection of her family’s story.

– What’s the most unusual request you’ve had from a client?

One time, my neighbor, who was a grad student, wanted to give a special gift to her professor upon the completion of their research on Greek and Roman History. She asked me to draw a paused scene from a black and white film where a woman was pleading with a Roman emperor who was about to throw her to the serpents. A portrait of the student and her professor watching this scene was to be inserted in the background architecture. This was quite a bizarre request, and I would’ve loved to have seen the professor’s reaction!

– What do you charge?
A custom painting starts at $450 for a 12×12 canvas. Prices are determined based on a personal interview where size, special requests, and materials are discussed. I require half down at the start of the piece and half upon completion. A mid-session review can be scheduled to make sure the client is happy with the direction of the piece. My medium is mixed media and can combine any of the below mediums or could use just a single medium: oil-based colored pencil, black and white pencil drawing, acrylic or oil paint, tree-free Japanese handmade paper, and Swarovski crystals. Custom jewelry based on a detail of a painting with gemstones can be created for an additional charge, starting at $75.

– Why do clients want custom art?

Clients want art that they can deeply connect to on a personal level, that holds the heart and soul of their family traditions, that makes them feel peaceful after a long day at work because it has their chosen colors or symbols, and that gives vibrancy, life, and energy to their goals and dreams.

I see beauty in each person’s story and all that they have overcome to be the person they are today. I see beauty in the flaws, the struggles, the losses, and the pain as well as in the strengths, the victories, and the joys. To be able to support someone on their journey through life by enriching their visual space with a painting that holds special meaning is truly my privilege and pleasure.

A family crest created by Lisa Waltuch.

A family crest created by Lisa Waltuch.

Lisa Waltuch

– What’s your background?

I have a background in graphic design and creative direction, a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. I have worked with interesting clients including technology CEOs, Ivy League professors, and even a Sudanese refugee who was the subject of a bestselling book. I have done work all over the US and in Europe and most recently exhibited in Miami during Art Basel.
– What sort of art do you do?

My custom pieces are inspired by the people who commission them and can take any form including a sculpture, a book, a film, an installation, a performance, a garden, a piece of furniture, or a more traditional two-dimensional piece of art that can be hung on a wall.

My exploratory process with my clients guides the choice of medium. Typically I work through a few directions with my clients until we settle on a medium and a concept. Once the idea is finalized, I find the right artisans to collaborate with to execute the piece.

– What’s the most unusual request you’ve had from a client?

One of my clients asked me to create a visual and aesthetic representation of a decade’s worth of genealogy research. He and his father had spent years researching six generations of their family history, contacting relatives, working with a genealogist, visiting graveyards, and searching for documents. At the end of this personal odyssey, they came to me to commemorate their efforts. We re-designed their family crest, made two family fonts, a family tree and a hand-made, hand-bound book that chronicles every person in their family tree.

– What do you charge?

Since the projects are so customized the charges depend on the scope, collaborators and materials for the project and can be in the range of $10,000 to $100,000.
– Why do clients want custom art?

My clients aren’t looking for custom art per se; they are looking for a piece or experience that tells a personal story. The focus on the personal always produces powerful emotions in my clients. This is art that goes beyond the aesthetic and investment value and to something that becomes a revered and meaningful keepsake.

The Motorcycle Diamonds: Q&A With Private Jeweler Greg Jezarian

Jeweler Greg Jezerian and the engagement ring he ferried by motorcycle across Route 66, at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Tx.

Jeweler Greg Jezarian and the engagement ring he ferried by motorcycle across Route 66, at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Tx.

Anyone can walk into a jewelry shop and pick out a necklace. Only some can have jewelry created for them. That’s what Greg Jezarian, a concierge jeweler in New York City’s diamond district, does for clients around the world — when he’s not riding motorcycles or racing cars competitively. Max Luxe spoke to Jezarian about pieces he’s designed, engagement rings he’s delivered cross-country by motorcycle, and what luxury clients are buying in the jewelry market.

What’s your typical work day like?

Since I was a kid, I knew I would own my own business, and as I watched other business owners I knew I didn’t want my business to own me. I see private clients by appointment only, one on one. It’s not uncommon to have a engagement ring client in my office on a Monday, a diamond stud sale at my home office on a Tuesday and then fly to a client for a Friday wherever I’m needed. I’ve always been more of a quality over quantity person and I think that reflects in my pieces and certainly in the people who are drawn to my firm.

What is one interesting piece you’ve helped create for clients?

The prestidigitation ring, which we nicknamed the PrestoRing! At some point, a professional magician was referred to me and wanted a special engagement ring for his love. Naturally, there needed to be some sleight of hand. I hashed out some ideas and met him after a show in Boston. He chose a magnificent long and thin emerald cut diamond and gave me full control over the mounting. What I created was a ring within a ring. First it looked like a simple, hand-carved platinum band until the abracadabra moment; a slight twist of the ring revealed a hidden, flawless diamond which was concealed.

Interesting corollary to the story…I assumed someone with magical powers would be able to nail the one piece of homework I’d given and find out: I asked him to find out her finger size. It was crucial to get it perfect for an intricate ring like this. Not a chance; that was the hardest part of the job! Ultimately he ended up asking a close friend of hers for guidance.

What’s the most unusual request you’ve received from a client?

Historically, the jewelry industry in NY closes for July, so, naturally, I had a client in San Diego call with an engagement-ring build that needed to be in hand July 14. I explained how I was closing in July to cross a bucket-list item off and ride the entire length of US Route 66 on motorcycle. We brainstormed a bit and he came up with a great idea: I was to deliver the ring to him in San Diego via motorbike. This was a challenge I agreed to immediately.

I left New York City on July 1st with his ring in my motorcycle jacket pocket. His one request was that I stop at every silly roadside attraction on Route 66 and take a photo with the ring. His goal was to have hundreds of random photos of this random guy holding a ring box all over the country and he was going to show his girlfriend these photos on July 14. The last photo, of course, was he and I shaking hands, and a sign reading, “Will you marry me?”

What trends are you seeing right now in high-end jewelry?

Especially in the last few years, I’m noticing the wealthy are buying $100,000-plus investment-grade diamonds. These types of stones are known to appreciate over time, yet can be worn and enjoyed while they work for you. As I recall, one client lamented, “I wish my Bentley would do that.”

But not all of these diamonds look the part to the untrained eye. I have one client whose ear studs weigh a mere 4.00 carats total weight. What nobody knows is that each ear is holding a perfect 2.00 carat round brilliant certified D-Flawless diamond, approximately $50,000 each. Her rationale: she can be anywhere in the world and have these valuable and liquid commodities with her at all times. If there’s an emergency, she can live quite comfortably from each ear until things get sorted. Try that with a credit card.

Walking Into Inspiration: Q&A With Photographer Alexandra Huddleston

A marker along the pilgrimage route in Shikoku.

A marker along the pilgrimage route in Shikoku. (Alexandra Huddleston)

Setting off on a walking pilgrimage — a form of religious devotion common to many ancient faiths, and still practiced today — is a way to bring the spiritual and the everyday together. Photographer Alexandra Huddleston explores this dichotomy in her new book of art photographs, East or West: A Walking Journey Along Shikoku’s 88 Temple Pilgrimage. The book contains images from the famous Japanese pilgrims’ route, an 800-mile circumnavigation of the island of Shikoku.

Now based in the American Southwest, Huddleston lived around the world as a child before returning to the U.S. and graduating from Stanford, then Columbia Journalism School. Her last book, published in 2013, looked at the longstanding Islamic scholarly tradition of Timbuktu, in Mali.  Huddleston spoke with Max Luxe about her art, her influences, and her travels.

– How did you become interested in pilgrimages as a subject? 

In his best-selling book, Immortelle randonnée : Compostelle malgré moi, Jean-Christophe Rufin describes the urge to go on a pilgrimage as a viral illness that often has a long and invisible incubation period before the full range of symptoms erupt. There is some truth in this description!

I caught the pilgrimage virus in 1996 when I visited the Pyrenees as a tourist and innocently hiked some mountain trails that I learned were part of the Camino de Santiago. When I realized that I could continue for 500 miles on the same trail before eventually reaching Santiago de Compostela, I was very tempted to do just that. Instead, I continued with my vacation and went on to college. But an unspoken pact was made between myself and the trail that day: that I would return to walk that route, and I eventually did so in 2009.

My experience walking the Camino in Spain made me realize just how rich pilgrimage is as a subject: photographically, historically, culturally…

– What’s special about Japan, Shikoku, and this pilgrimage in particular? 

One of the reasons I decided to walk the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan after I had already walked the Camino was precisely to see what was the same and what changed in a long walking pilgrimage when you changed the country, religion, and culture (but kept the walking).

In the Japanese tradition spiritual journeys are circular. This is true whether the itinerary is very individual like Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North or very structured like the Shikoku pilgrimage. The Shikoku pilgrimage traces the circumference of the island of Shikoku and you end where you began. There is no terminusspiritual or physical–that dominates the journey. This removal of a final goal tends to allow pilgrims to focus more on the present and the actual.

Of course, there is also the delicious seafood of Shikoku, the beauty of walking next to the coast for most of the journey, and the colorful seasonal festivals of rural Japan.

– When you take narrative photos like the ones in “East or West,” what do you look for? What else can you tell us about your practice as a photographer and photojournalist? 

When I’m photographing a project I will have an ever-growing list of themes in mind, and as I photograph I look for moments that evokes these ideas. In the case of East or West the theme that dominated my mind was quite abstract. I wanted to somehow describe the bipolar daily experience of pilgrimage that throws the pilgrim between moments of mundane physical worries and moments of sublime exaltation. In the end, no one photograph could capture this idea. Only the book as a whole could do the work: by combining a very carefully edited sequence of images and text.

As my work has evolved in the last few years–and has, in fact, moved away from traditional photojournalism–my aim has become more to show the inner truth and experience of a situation, rather than just the outer appearance. I definitely think that my experience as a pilgrim myself (and not just as someone who photographs pilgrimages) played a big part in this transformation.

Now, my approach is closer to that of an ethnographer than that of a journalist.

– Your last major project was a look at Islamic scholarly culture in Timbuktu (333 Saints). How are these books related? What do they tell us about your interests? 

In both the Timbuktu work and the pilgrimage work I am looking at ancient, mystical, religious cultures and how their traditions have survived and evolved in the 21st century. I am interested in religion in general, but I’m particularly interested in how reconnecting with traditional cultures might be able to renew and re-enchant a modern world that is too often arid, one-dimensional, and flattened by the monopoly of the material over our consciousness.

That said, I hope to photograph these subjects without falling into the common traps of naiveté, delusion, or hypocrisy!

– You’ve lived all over the world. Where would you move tomorrow if you had the chance? 

Well, although I have travelled quite a bit, much of it has been in Europe and Africa. Other than Japan and Sri Lanka, I have not worked all that much in Asia, and I would like to do so! That said, I have this habit of returning again and again to places that I’ve already been. So, if I could move tomorrow, it might just be to go back to Japan!

– What’s your next project? 

Last summer (2014) I walked a third pilgrimage: 500 miles along the Camino de Santiago again, but this time I walked one of the main French trails called the Via Podiensis. So, the first step is to start getting these new photographs in order.

The next project is in the works, but it’s still a secret…

Street Art: Stephen Powers Paints the Walls

Harajuku — the chic Tokyo neighborhood that spawned a worldwide obsession with cute Japanese clothes and accessories — has been graffitied. A long wall in the hip shopping district now bears the painted legend “NOW IS FOREVER,” in massive block letters.

Celebrated Brooklyn artist Stephen Powers, who started in the 1980s as the graffiti artist ESPO and has been painting walls and canvases ever since, flew to Tokyo in April on a commission from Marc Jacobs. The international fashion powerhouse brought in Powers to sign his new book, “A Love Letter to the City,” at Bookmarc, its high-end bookstore.

Powers took out his spray paints and paint brushes and started transforming the walls nearby. As he worked, sometimes wearing a gas mask to ward off paint fumes, residents and bystanders stared or posed for pictures, holding up peace signs.

It’s a routine he’s followed in other cities, where he and his crew turn swaths of urban landscape into dramatic murals. The words used depend on the location. In Charleroi, Belgium, Powers recently inscribed “Bisous m’chou” (“Kisses, darling”) across the facade of the Charleroi Expo, echoing the endearment that local grandmothers whisper to their grandchildren, he wrote on his blog. In Baltimore this spring, Powers painted  “FOREVER TOGETHER” and “I AM HERE BECAUSE IT’S HOME” on a block of vacant houses scheduled to be demolished.

Street art has gained a following among serious collectors, spawning a movement from cinderblock walls into galleries. Artists like the anonymous British graffiti impresario Banksy now command hefty price tags when their works go up for sale. At the intersection of gentrification and urban grittiness, the street-art-chic trend has plenty of runway.

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