LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A rare Spitfire warplane and a Francis Bacon still life painting were star attractions at the Masterpiece fair on Thursday, underscoring a strong appetite for unique luxury goods at a time when many Europeans are struggling with austerity.
Across town, a Rolex boutique had its official launch do at London's costliest real estate complex, with a glitzy champagne reception attended by high net worth individuals and celebrities.
A private preview at the Masterpiece fair in the expansive grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea was packed with uber-wealthy aficionados of fine art, high jewelry, vintage cars and silverware, shopping for items that rarely come to the market. The fair runs to July 5.
A unique prototype Spitfire, the warplane that symbolized victory in the Battle of Britain, stood indoors in a huge marquee, with a price tag of 8 million pounds ($13 million).
A few meters away, the large Francis Bacon painting, "Still Life - Broken Statue and Shadow," available for 9.5 million pounds, triggered a buzz among the crowd. Christie's sold a painting by the Irish-born Bacon for $28.7 million two days ago.
At the stand of Parisian gallery Galerie Boulakia, Impressionist oil paintings by Camille Pissarro were on sale, including a country view, "Pommiers en fleurs, Eragny," dated 1888, for 1.7 million pounds, and an English scene, "Place d'Eau a Kew," for 1.3 million pounds.
"The market is still buoyant for blue-chip artists," said Robert Smith of MacConnal-Mason Gallery in London, which displayed works by L.S. Lowry, celebrated for his scenes of working class England in the mid-20th Century.
"You see criticism that some people are spending huge sums on luxury at a time of economic crisis, but people forget that the luxury industry provides a good living for people who sell in galleries, set up sets at these shows, the taxi drivers who bring people to these events, and so on."
In wealthy Knightsbridge, Rolex's newest and largest boutique in Europe opened officially at One Hyde Park on Wednesday evening, with a champagne reception attended by millionaires and celebrities including Nick Candy, a real estate dynamo who developed London's swankiest address.
A one-bedroom flat here, a short walk from ritzy department store Harrods, can cost five million pounds.
Billionaire Roman Abramovich and Chelsea footballer Frank Lampard had already visited the Rolex boutique which has been operating since April, retail sources said.
A Birmingham construction millionaire had recently spent 33,000 pounds on a showy Rolex at the store.
Footfall was driven by entrepreneurial buyers from around the world, including tourists staying at the Mandarin Oriental hotel next door.
David Coleridge, chairman of DM London Ltd, which manages the Rolex retail space, told Reuters that he had seen a sharp rise in luxury buying of fine watches by newly wealthy mainland Chinese visitors to London over the last couple of years.
(Reporting by David Brough, editing by Paul Casciato)