5 Collectors And Their Prized Possessions
The Car’s The Star
Many people are fond of cars but not many can claim to share that interest with their significant other. A classic car-loving couple who can are Sayam Sethaputra, a well-respected vintage car collector and president of the Mercedes-Benz Club (Thailand), and his wife Kristina, who are known for their love of old-school rides that are seldom seen in the country. Coincidentally, both had their first driving lessons in a 1950s Citroen. She was raised by an avid car collector and her knowledge of automobiles is as impressive as any connoisseur’s. Similarly, Sayam’s dad Aksorn was also a collector and it rubbed off on his son who says, “To be honest, I only began to understand the true value of these cars and appreciate them when I was a university student.”
For Kristina the baptism came earlier. While her peers would spend their holidays at shopping malls, she would often be found rootling through some garage with her father or keeping him company at hot rod events and other car shows in the United States. “It was a love-hate relationship with cars growing up,” she laughs. “But I think it is something that naturally sinks in with time and age. One begins to appreciate and understand the value of classic things.”
Currently Sayam has 23 vehicles in his collection. “Some of them aren’t particularly unique but they all hold a precious family memory for me,” he explains. Among the fleet are classics such an ivory 1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL, a Mercedes Benz 280SL from 1970, a 1955 BMW 502 V8 engine (only one in Thailand) and a 1963 Stingray Corvette that Sayam restored himself from scratch. “It was like bringing something back to life,” he smiles. “From rebuilding the superstructure and the suspension to the electrics and interior, I loved it. In fact, I actually see myself more as a car restorer than a collector.”
While some of the precious vehicles in the collection were inherited, others were acquired piecemeal as and when they became available. “Classic cars are like pieces of high art,” says Kristina. “You can’t just walk into a dealership and pick one up. There are cars you may want but you might have to wait years before they come on the market.” Sayam adds, “You never know when or where an opportunity will come. I once received a random phone call from someone whose father had passed away and that person wanted to sell me his dad’s collectable car. On another occasion, I had to wait 20 years to get my hands on one of my favourites, the 1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL. I’m the second owner and it took many years of friendship with the car’s original owner before he trusted me enough to sell it to me.”
Collecting is more than just a fun pastime for the couple, who seek to educate people about the heritage and historical and cultural significance of the cars through exhibitions and events. They have even published a book on classic cars. And the reason they don’t go in for modern glamour cars is because of how fast they depreciate. “It would be great to go out and grab the latest Ferrari but after a year and after only a few hundred kilometres on it, the price will have dropped significantly,” says Kristina. “We would rather spend the money more judiciously on something unique that will both appreciate in value and be appreciated aesthetically.”
Married now for 18 years, both are also active in giving back to the community and organise car-related charity events to raise funds to purchase wheelchairs for handicapped children. So far they have been able to donate 250 wheelchairs. They are also big on the idea of a dedicated vintage car museum in Thailand where enthusiasts young and old can enjoy the mechanical and visual beauty of the classic cars of yesteryear.
On The Vine
Wine writer, consultant and creator of Wine Light Theory and Magic Box, Noppakit Sangsurane’s journey in the world of fine wine didn’t begin until 1991 while working as a flight attendant for Thai Airways. In a half-hearted attempt to learn more about the wine he was serving during flights, he bought a book on the subject. “I surprised myself because I found it fascinating. I’d never thought much about wine before but through the book I began to understand the importance of locality, vintage, fermentation, microclimates, terroir and myriad other wine-related things. I learned about how to taste wine, the difference between grape varieties and Old and New World wines, and the more I learned the more I was drawn in,” he says. What grew out of idle curiosity turned into a bona fide passion when Noppakit got to taste a 1983 Ausone. His face takes on a look of nostalgic whimsy. “I remember it like it was yesterday. The complexity of the aromas, the balance between sweetness and vibrant acidity, the long finish on the palate. It was light years away from the first bottle of plonk I bought in a Paris supermarket,” he laughs.
As a flight attendant Noppakit was lucky to be able to travel the world and enjoy access to prestigious wines sold in prestigious wine shops. “Before I knew it I was buying wines to stock. I had to save up money and to be honest I think 80 per cent of my salary was spent on acquiring the best wines I could afford,” he laughs. Much of his stock is French—his favourite—and over the years he has made frequent trips to France to visit wineries and vineyards, particularly in the famous Burgundy wine-making region. “It is a pleasure to get the insights of individual winemakers—people like rising star Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, the pupil of the renowned Henri Jayer. Once you understand the effort that goes into creating an outstanding wine, you appreciate it much more.”
Over the years the wine buff has accumulated over 2,000 bottles in his collection, most of which are stored in a cellar in Europe. Occasionally the connoisseur hand-carries some back to Thailand to top up his personal supply. “Some collectors like to sit on wines but I’m all for drinking them and enjoying life. You have to be patient though and wait for wines to become ready,” he says. Treasures that he is anticipating enjoying include a 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a Chateau Latour from 1961 and a 1989-1990 Petrus.
A good friend of Visooth Lohitnavy, the owner of Thailand’s GranMonte winery, Noppakit likes to take the occasional trip to Khao Yai where he can appreciate local wines. “I think the wine scene in Thailand is in good shape and far more sophisticated than it used to be. Thai wineries have been turning out better wines year-on-year, which is remarkable when you consider the climate isn’t ideal. Local producers have invested heavily in wine-making knowledge, technology and techniques and they are seeing the rewards.”
For the time being Noppakit is content to organise small private wine-tasting events with friends and acquaintances to pass on his knowledge but you can be sure that as soon as it is safe to fly again, he’ll be jetting off for the vineyards of his beloved Burgundy.
In The Picture
Though a law professor by training, Dr Disaphol Chansiri is known globally as a leading art collector. He is also often referred to as an art consultant but prefers to identify himself as an art interior designer and decorator. Given his expertise and connections in the field, he has been asked to consult on and curate several upscale corporate art projects for the likes of Park Hyatt Bangkok, Capella Hotel and Four Seasons Private Residences Bangkok through his firm, DCA Art Consultant. He also keeps busy on the board of several local and international art-centric organisations, including the Smithsonian Institute’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, and runs DC Art gallery in Chiang Mai.
Drawn to the world of art from a young age, Disaphol would skim through history and travel books admiring beautiful pictures of ancient paintings of nobles, castles, cathedrals and monuments. This early romantic fascination perhaps explains why his tastes aren’t confined to any specific artists, movement, period or region. In fact, his own collection—ranging from paintings to photography and sculpture—features work from all around the world. And what a collection it is, boasting pieces by some of the planet’s most famous contemporary artists including Andy Warhol, Dana Schutz and Yoshitomo Nara and respected Thai artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, Thawan Duchanee and Chatchai Puipia. The list is extensive and the works are spread over several home locations and his gallery. Others have been borrowed in Thailand and loaned abroad for exhibitions.
That the styles of art in the collection are diverse is also down to Disaphol’s preference changes with age. “Throughout life we are influenced by changing factors,” he says. “For instance, there was a time while living abroad that I felt more interested in American and European contemporary art. Moving back to Thailand shifted my focus to Asian artists. I see art as a journal of the world. If you study it, you will see that a lot of the work is a reflection of world events and their impact on people’s lives. It is one of the things I love about art. Hence, in a way my collection is sort of a diary of my life.”
Disaphol began acquiring art in his early 20s and like most students he could only buy what he could afford. But then purchasing art isn’t always about the money, as this member of the Thai Union Group family business points out. “I think if you see art as an investment, then your approach to it as a whole is already very different. I buy purely because I love something about a piece, be it the story behind it or the talent of the artist. But I have to admit after over 20 years of collecting the acquisition process is not as fun as it used to be.”
These days Disaphol is more focused on how he can contribute to increasing opportunities for young local artists. He says, “The art scene in Thailand has grown so much and it’s great to see more and more young people visiting galleries and becoming interested art, but there’s still much to be done. I’m keen to promote young unknown artists because they really do need support, more so than emerging artists who have already earned some attention. Many collectors think cheaper means not great but that is simply not true, which is why I not only seek out unknown artists who need support but also work to help them secure exhibitions at home and abroad.”
One of Thailand’s most formidable businesswomen, Chanya Sawangchitr is the CEO of P Overseas Steel and Phoenix Gold Golf and Country Club in Pattaya. If you spot her in town, chances are she will be sporting eye-catching glamorous jewellery.
As is the case for many young girls, Chanya grew up bedazzled by precious stones and was most likely influenced by her mother who was also fond of gems and jewellery. “She would give me and my older sister her sparklies to try on when we were young,” Chanya says. “I think she really inculcated in us an appreciation for everything from rubies and diamonds to emeralds and sapphires and a multitude of semi-precious stones.”
As one of the wealthy entrepreneurs in the country, the executive can be indulgent when it comes to her jewellery collection and whether it is an astonishing collectible or an “everyday” piece of high jewellery, her passion certainly gets her noticed. Although she buys from many international jewellers, her favourite is Van Cleef & Arpels and currently she owns 10 absolutely unique pieces by the maison, each the only one of its kind in the world. The most she has spent in one go was 120 million baht which she paid for VC&A’s Berunda bracelet and Andaakar necklace. Boasting a cushion-cut ruby of 3.23 carats and a 3.99 carat cushion-cut diamond, the Berunda bracelet has been borrowed for exhibit in a French museum. “I only buy pieces that are one-offs,” Chanya explains. “There is something gratifying about owning a beautiful object that no one else has.”
The cheapest piece she ever bought from VC&A cost around 10 million baht. That said, the one constant for Chanya is that whatever jewellery she wears, it has to show. “If you are going to spend millions of baht, people have to be able to see it,” she laughs. The maison’s exceptional savoir faire has kept it at the top of the game for generations and this is what Chanya loves about the brand, and in addition to its quintessential designs is the fact that it is able to maintain extremely high quality throughout the different price ranges. “Van Cleef & Arpels is amazing at what it does and regardless of the cost it never foregoes quality. I admire that a lot,” she says. She also points out that much of what she buys is a sound business investment. “These are pieces that, because of their quality and uniqueness, will only appreciate in value over time. It is the same with the Birkin bags that I collect—I have almost the entire colour palette now. Something of quality will always hold its value.”
A fan of VC&A for decades now, Chanya is treated like a queen by the brand, which often invites her on exclusive viewing trips to France, Italy and Japan via a private jet. The 65-year-old understands that to some this might all seem rather excessive but her mantra is if you’re going to spend that much, you have to work twice as hard to earn it. “I only dare to buy these things because I do work so hard—I have to because I have responsibilities to many stakeholders and employees. The buying trips and the jewellery purchases themselves are my reward to myself.”
See also: Suits You Two: Fashionistas Who Like Pairing Up
- Photography Rak Sangsurane