Cars vs whisky vs art – what the world’s richest people are buying right now

Knight Frank has published its Global Wealth report for 2020, outlining how the luxury items that the world’s richest people are choosing to invest in.

The environmental debate and potential legal changes led to uncertainty among buyers, although collectors with an asset allocation towards the sector continued to acquire high-quality examples.

Stand-out sales included Niki Lauda’s 1975 World Championship Ferrari 312T, which sold at Pebble Beach in August, the McLaren F1 sold at Monterey and the 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B sold at Artcurial, Paris.

What was also notable, though, was the large number of cars that remained unsold, the researchers said.


The fine wine market registered growth of just 1% in 2019, as political unrest and economic uncertainty combined to create a perfect storm.

“The top of the Burgundy market reached new peaks early in the year before falling away,” Knight Frank said.

“But at the level below the most sought-after Burgundies, the best wines enjoyed relatively strong demand and champagne and northern Italian wines were up 6%–8%.”

The bigger picture is positive, too: despite a lacklustre 2019, The Knight Frank Fine Wine Icons Index has risen by 120% in the last decade.


2019 was the fourth consecutive year that overall individual artist records fell, while record sums were paid for works by living artists – such as Jeff Koons’ stainless steel Rabbit, which sold for $91 million in May.

With a rise of around 5% this year, the art market continues to adapt to a slowing supply of works by Impressionists and Modern masters, Knight Frank said.

Other winners in contemporary sales were urban artists Invader, who broke the $1 million mark at auction for the first time with the tile mosaic TK_119, and Banksy, whose painting Devolved Parliament sold for around five times the artist’s previous record in 2008.


Significant over-supply and a softening in values for the market leader, The Macallan, made for a challenging start to the year, reflected in a half-year fall of 2.67% in the Knight Frank Whisky Index.

As supply eased, the second half of 2019 fared much better, and the index finished the year up 5%, the group said.

“Significant trends included the emergence of challenger brands in the secondary market, and growing interest in sherried Scotch.

“Collectors continued to seek out the oldest, rarest examples from iconic distilleries such as Dalmore, Springbank, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Bowmore and Brora, and casks remained in huge demand.”

But, just as in 2018, the headlines belong to The Macallan, with a bottle of the distillery’s 1926 Fine & Rare fetching £1.2 million at Sotheby’s in October.

Coloured diamonds 

Bucking the trend of the past two years, yellow diamonds performed well as declining prices made them more accessible to the end client.

“While high-end pink and blue diamonds performed very well on the retail side, auction prices appeared low, reflecting the inferior quality of many of the coloured diamonds that find their way to auction,” Knight Frank said.

“The real action here is at retail level, behind closed doors, where the goods sold tend to be of better quality and so fetch higher prices. Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see what happens to Argyle diamonds, with the mine set to close in 2020.”

Read: How much money you need to earn to be in the top 1% in South Africa

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Cars vs whisky vs art – what the world’s richest people are buying right now