Christie's, best known for its elite fine art offerings and upper crust estate sales, appears to be expanding into the increasingly lucrative high-end accessories market.
There are always costs associated with growth: In this case, after poaching talent from rival house Heritage Auctions, Christie's was hit with a $60 million lawsuit in damages and lost profits.
Christie's has hired Matthew Rubinger, formerly head of luxury accessories, and two other employees — that's essentially the entire luxury handbag department at Heritage. Rubinger, who reportedly possess an encyclopedic knowledge of high-end handbags, was hired at Heritage right out of college, and has helped the auction house make record sales.
In a fawning profile published on Rubinger last October ("How One Millennial With A Liberal Arts Degree Landed A Six-Figure Job"), Forbes reported that in his first year at Heritage, Rubinger brought in $4 million in handbag sales, and then doubled the figure the following year. Gross sales reached $14.5 million in 2013.
(At auction, Birkin bags typically start at $10,000, but can sell for more than $100,000.)
“While certainly other auction companies, including Christie’s, have held estate sales that might have a Kelly bag in it or had an online auction that sold a modest amount of handbags, we elevated the collection of handbags to a place nobody had done it before,” Gregory Rohan, the president of Heritage Auctions, told The New York Times. “We created a dynamic worldwide market that everyone would like to own.”
Rubinger and his colleagues abruptly quit on Monday, May 19. All three are headed to Christies. In the week prior to their departure, Heritage claims that Rubinger sought access to high-level strategic meetings for one of the associates.
According to the Times, Heritage said in its lawsuit that it had sought to "brand [Rubinger] as a 'star'; provided him with training and introduction to sources in Hong Kong and Japan; and shared all of Heritage’s corporate plans for expansion and branding, even beyond luxury accessories."
A spokesperson for Christies tells the Daily News, “We have reviewed the complaint and find it to be wholly without merit. We are prepared to vigorously defend these claims and Christie’s decision to expand our existing handbag department.”