We often read or hear about why some luxury item or other – rare books, high-quality gemstones, one-off pens, vintage timepieces – can hold great value, both emotionally and financially. Here, though, we look at the merits of investing in an accessory that ensures the security of all those other precious collectibles: a safe. It might make it the smartest investment of all.
Old-school safes were weighed down by their bulk and break-in potential. In modern times, however, safes have the advantage of technology, which helps both in terms of upgraded opening and closing mechanisms (as opposed to a simple lock and key, or numbered knob wheel), and the means to treat materials to make them more resilient. There are many elements from which a safe can shield your prized possessions, such as natural disasters – fires and, to an extent, floods – as well as attempted break-ins and thefts. A competent vault can also be built to uphold the condition of your treasures, by controlling the temperature and humidity levels, which stops or at least slows down age-related dereliction.
According to Paolo Agresti, security products have to adhere to a series of set parameters, against theft, fire and other threats, and buyers must double-check the authenticity and reputation of brands and the institutes that certify them. For instance, Italy-based Agresti has obtained its certification from the eminent Istituto Giordano; this qualifies its safes against both attacks and breaking. “To protect the safe and its contents from fire, we use high-level steel with several layers of chrome carbides for straightening, and our products also have electronic humidors to control moisture levels,” says Agresti, the company’s owner.
Austria’s Buben & Zörweg, which has a branch in Dubai, constructs its safes from Relastan, a patented composite material that increases load-bearing capacity and protects against extreme heat, while Stockinger, from Germany, uses a high-temperature fire sealant with a melting point of more than 1,000°C, and its safes come with VdS certification, a standard issued directly by German insurance companies.
Locking mechanisms, too, have progressed to include several foolproof options. From safes that can be controlled with phone apps, and biometric readers that authorise opening by one “master” and up to 99 other individuals, to systems that recognise unique facial features and fingerprints, modern-day safes are almost uncompromisable. Christian Zörweg, chief executive of Buben & Zörweg, cites the example of the company’s X-007 luxury vault: “At first glance, nobody would even know that it’s a safe, nor can they see how it might possibly open. Then, it lifts up and you have more storage on the sides, which you wouldn’t expect at first. Another example is the Titan. If you press a secret button, our Time Mover watch-winding element impressively glides forward and turns 180 degrees, displaying 18 other watch winders. If someone is robbing you, they would never know there are more watches hidden on the other side.”
Agresti adds that many safes also come with an inbuilt coercive silent alarm, which sounds a warning to the authorities, along with recorded video footage in case of attempted attacks. The company’s safes range in price from Dh25,000 to Dh768,000.
What you want to store within should be the primary determinant of the kind of safe you invest in. According to Micah Dougherty, creative director of California-based Brown Safe Manufacturing: “What you intend to safe-keep will determine the size of safe needed, the protection level required, the added features to keep those valuables in top condition and, ultimately, whether a particular safe truly meets your individual needs. Some of our most popular features include automatic watch winders for collectors of fine timepieces, fabric-lined drawer inserts in customised shapes and sizes for individual jewellery sets, tarnish-resisting fabrics for silverware, and hand-built racks for everything from necklaces and sunglasses to car keys and even weapons.”
Functionality aside, sleek and sophisticated safes also add value to your decor.
Francesca La Ferla, a sales manager for Underwood London, says: “A safe can be covered inside and outside with precious materials such as crocodile, ostrich or lizard leathers, or precious wood, like briarwood. Alternatively, a safe can be plated in precious resins or 24K gold. Once you start to look, the choice of luxury materials is almost limitless, and customisation is key.”
Often, the piece itself is treated as a work of art, taking pride of place among its owner’s living room furniture or on a bedroom wall. Take the Millionaire safe from Portuguese company Boca do Lobo, for example. The 320-kilogram structure draws its inspiration from the California Gold Rush, with detailed maritime motifs such as a silver-plated ship’s wheel, visible from the outside, with polished brass sheets, a gold coat finish and a set of individually lockable drawers crafted from solid mahogany.
Walnut burl, Macassar ebony and Grigio oak are other woods to consider, while hand-stitched leather, mother-of-pearl veneers, varnish with diamond chips, high-quality carbon fibre, two-way mirror spy glass and gold-leaf finishing will all ensconce your valuables within a suitably luxurious setting. “One can also request personal engravings and any automotive colour – depending on the decor – in a high gloss, matte or silk matte finish,” Matthias Fitzthum, CEO of Stockinger, says. “Safes are like pieces of art, for your home, office, on board your superyacht or any other place where you keep special items.”
Companies are constantly on the hunt for materials that tick all the boxes in terms of safety and style. “We recently acquired an exceptional lot of Macassar ebony, for which we had to compete with the owners of a line of private A380 jets, who wanted to decorate their flying residence with this gem of rare wood,” Zörweg reveals. “The pattern of the ebony, which gained popularity in the art deco era, will now live on in our Objects of Time design for wrist watches.”
While watches and jewellery top the list, the choice is limitless when it comes to what you can store in these stylish and tech-savvy safes. At Buben & Zörweg, for example, client requests have ranged from a vault for violins to an armoire for antique cameras. “Before you select a safe, calculate the total value of your collections, be that money or gold or watches,” Fitzthum says. "Ask yourself what security level the insurance company of these items asks for. What is the maximum weight that can be handled by the architecture of your property – our safes can weigh up to two tonnes. Consider how you want to present your collections; the bespoke design of the exterior and interior are undeniably important. And finally, remember, collections tend to grow, so always go at least one size bigger than you had planned. Order the most exclusive and finest bespoke safe you can afford at the time, it is, after all, an investment for generations.”