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MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Europe's largest antiques association catered for the Russian elite on their home turf for the first time this week, banking on the growing sophistication of the country's super-rich to rapidly increase demand.
The London-based LAPADA, which unites top British and several international antiques dealers, presented 12 pieces to Moscow's champagne-quaffing crowd in the British ambassador's lavish embankment residence.
"Russia has been an important market for antiques for the last 10 years. The main reason we came now is the strong market," said LAPADA chief executive Sarah Percy-Davis, as she surveyed the goods, which included billiard tables and a model aeroplane made of copper.
The most expensive piece to go on display was a mirrored 19th century cabinet, which was decorated with facades of European cathedrals, and had a price tag of $1.2 million.
Walking around the wood-panelled halls of the ambassador's historic house, LAPADA's Russia representative Natalia Legotina sighed in relief. "It took me five years of persuading them to come," she said.
Presently, fake items make up to 80 percent of the antiques sold in Moscow, Legotina said, as customs laws mean a heavy tax is put on imported antiques.
"Now, with the trusted LAPADA brand in Russia, with direct communication among Russian buyers and international dealers, investment in antiques will be easier," she told Reuters.
"Given how much the Russian antiques market is undervalued, this number may double in the next three to five years," she added.
Russia has 400 antique houses, while London alone hosts more than 2,000. Moscow's largest auctioneer Gelos holds about 120 auctions a month, selling around 4,000 items, Legotina said.
Russian banks have started to offer art consulting services, reflecting the elite's demand for pricey treasures.
Experts are also hoping upcoming high-profile events in Russia, such as the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, will promote all things Russia, including its antiques, abroad.
"The share of Russian antiques in the total global turnover is about 2- 3 percent. It has a great potential to grow, because people are fascinated by all periods in Russian art, because the quality of Russian paintings has been exceptional," art investment expert and director of Art Market Research London, Robin Duthy, told Reuters.
Editing by Amie Ferris-Rotman