Auction Revolution: Bespoke Bidding Services

The digitalisation of the economy is turning the auction world upside down, forcing this traditionally secretive industry to move online, become more transparent and adopt more innovative business models. One man who has embarked on rewriting the rules is Geneva-based art dealer turned Internet entrepreneur Jean-Baptiste Fabre. His mission? Help clients come into possession of the object of their desire.

The descendant of a long dynasty of well-known experts in 18th century French royal furniture, Jean-Baptiste Fabre is a trained auctioneer who has worked for the industry’s leading players – Christie’s in London, Sotheby’s in New York and Drouot in Paris. Throughout the years he has identified the main challenges that clients and auction houses are confronted to during the auction process and decided to create services that would fill existing gaps or needs. “I have always been convinced that you can’t get good deals in traditional ways: you need to think out of the box and innovate. Today, the Internet can offer a huge amount of information but it gets lost in the hubbub. It is almost impossible for a collector to know and follow each sale happening in the world at the same time.” was created to answer this need. The business offers bespoke bidding services and support to an international clientele of busy but passionate collectors. Acting as an interface between clients and auction houses, it uses a targeted approach to identify the clients’ needs and collect information that is not available online. During the auction process, Thirdman provides live representation on behalf of the client, in their name and for their account. Thirdman offers online auction lots from more than 2,500 auction houses worldwide, covering 90 different specialties, including Design and Decorative Arts, Contemporary and Modern Art, Watches, Photography, Middle Eastern and Asian Art, Jewellery and Vintage etc. “There are additional considerations when buying art online. The authenticity of the items is a crucial question for buyers, especially since they cannot see the item they’d like to acquire on the net and check it for themselves. When they buy online, clients must be wary and pay extra attention. That’s where Thirdman intervenes. The service supports clients through these new challenges,” he says.

Last year, Jean-Baptiste launched a new business:, the world’s first online platform for aftersales. The website was created in response to the staggering fact that nearly a third of the fine art items put up for auction fail to sell. “Auction houses have taken the lead over galleries over the past years by invigorating the art market and bringing new life to the act of purchasing. The auction has become an event. Every part of the process gets media attention: what happens before, during and after the auction. Everything is orchestrated from the top of the rostrum where the auctioneer strikes the hammer like a virtuoso under the spotlight. It is an exhilarating and spectacular show, but behind the headline-grabbing sales records achieved by auction houses recently lies a different reality: ArtPrice says that more than a third (37%) of fine art items fail to sell at auction across the world, leading to US$8 billion in lost revenue for auction houses.”

Rather than seeing aftersales as rejects”Auction Aftersale gives unsold lots – and auction houses – a second chance. “Auction houses communicate very discreetly on aftersales by unconsciously undermining them and entertaining the collective idea that an object that has not sold is unwanted or that there is something wrong with it. However, ‘unsold’ does not mean unloved or unwanted. Sales fail for all sorts of reasons – the buyer could have missed the sale or forgotten to put a bid for it, the item may not have been marketed adequately or offers may not have met the reserve price etc.” Indeed a typical auction sale only lasts a couple of hours, a small window of opportunity that can be easily missed. At Auction After Sale, items are on offer for 10 days. “We are trying to change people’s perceptions, by presenting this dormant market as a fantastic source of opportunities,” he says.

All the items on offer on Auction Aftersale have been appraised by experts and come with their original authentication. “The secret is to spread your nets really wide. You have to be persistent. Eventually you’ll get lucky and will fish out a real gem like a ‘sleeper’,” Jean-Baptiste recommends. In auction jargon a ‘sleeper’ is an object whose real value has been under-estimated. Trust the expert: once, he got the chance to make an offer after sale on a beautiful but unsigned drawing that he says “had been totally ignored by everyone else”. “After three years of consulting experts, it appeared that I had bought an early work by one of the most famous artists of the early Twentieth Century: Picasso himself .”

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