MONEY can’t buy love. But it can buy luxury. The rich know this. Last year they spent $1.8 trillion on extravagances and indulgences. That’s the equivalent of the wealth controlled by the world’s richest 85 individuals. It’s also more than the combined wealth of the 3.5 billion people who comprise the poorest half of the world’s population, according to Oxfam.
While that’s sobering to contemplate, so too is the wealth reported in the Forbes 2013 rich list. Carlos Slim Helu ($73 billion) was the richest person on the planet last year. He was followed by Bill Gates ($67bn), Amancio Ortega ($57bn), Warren Buffet ($53.5bn), and Larry Ellison ($43bn).
Slim Helu likes expensive Cuban cigars. He also likes Rodins; which is why he has 380 of them. Gates is better known for philanthropy than spending, but he’s not averse to luxury. He has an underwater music system in the swimming pool of his 66,000 sq ft lakeside home. Ortega (co-founder of Zara) and Buffet are low-key. The former eats lunch with his employees. The latter lives in the house he bought in 1958.
Ellison is of a different ilk. He paid $500m for a Hawaiian island; then bought the airline that flies into it. His vast collection of aircraft includes a Marchetti jet. He collects trophy homes. One of those is designed to resemble a Japanese village. Yes, a village. It’s valued at $110 million — a sum that could finance the building of very many authentic villages for some of Japan’s 25,000 homeless.
There’s a market for bling. The GoldVish Le Million costs — you’ve guessed it — $1m. The fact that it’s studded with 1,800 diamonds and is the most expensive phone in the world goes some way towards compensating for the garishness of its appearance and the pretentiousness of its name.
Those who desire a device like that would probably covet a $250,000 bottle of Azature’s Black Diamond nail polish, or a $215,000 bottle of Clive Christian No 1 perfume. While it’s hard to see the attraction, it’s easier to understand those who might purchase a $1.7m DeepFlight Super Falcon submarine. How else can they be expected to explore the depths of the water beneath their yachts?
Spending on cars is equally reasonable. After all, who wouldn’t want a $4.5m Lamborghini Veneno Roadster, or a $2.5m Bugatti Veyron, especially now that Simon Cowell has stopped driving his? And who could begrudge Larry Ellison his McLaren F1, Acura NSX, or indeed his entire fleet of cars?
Some billionaires have so much money, they throw it away: Pavel Durov, 27, the owner of a Russian social networking site, made paper planes from 5,000 rouble (€106) notes in his St Petersburg office; then threw them out the window to the crowds waiting below.
Others invest astutely: The daughter of Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev, Ekaterina, recently bought an $88m apartment in New York and a $100m Greek island.
Last year, hedge fund billionaire, Steve Cohen bought Picasso’s ‘Le Rêve’ for $155m from Casino magnate and fellow billionaire Steve Wynn. That was $16m more than he promised the same seller for the masterpiece seven years earlier. That sale fell through when Wynn accidentally put his elbow through the canvas.
Businesses are battling to attract the highest end of the hotel market. More than a million dollars’ worth of Martin Katz jewels is displayed throughout the recently opened New York Palace’s Jewel Suite. It costs $25,000 per night.
If that sounds flashy, it pales compared with the supreme act of showiness carried out by an Indian man who bought fame by purchasing and wearing a $250,000 solid gold shirt. Almost equally as attention-seeking was the NBA star who went public about installing an ATM machine in his kitchen.
Whether it’s spent on philanthropy and the arts or on kitsch and bling, wealth comes at a price. Liliane Bettencourt, the 90-year-old L’Oreal heiress and the ninth richest person in the world is living proof of that. Her lawyer once publicly announced that she was ready for ‘nuclear war’ with the daughter who subsequently had her declared mentally unfit to manage her $30bn fortune.
Like the rest of us, the super-rich can’t take their money with them when they depart this life. Maybe that’s why so many of them go to great extremes to survive as long as possible. Some build hospital-style emergency rooms in their homes and invest in underground survival shelters.
Others buy homes at One Hyde Park in London, not just because they’re known to be the most expensive flats in the world, but because their attractions include panic rooms, access to underground escape passages, and bullet-proof windows.