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The purchase phenomenon

In the week following Prince Harry’s book launch on Jan. 10, the press was heavy with Harry headlines: reviews, scandalous tidbits, and speculation about the royal family.

Reality star Kim K didn’t miss a beat. On Jan. 18, she purchased the Atallah Cross necklace at Sotheby's auction house, a 1920s Amethyst pendant famously worn by one person only: Princess Diana.

A representative for Kardashian successfully outbid others vying for the iconic cross for $197,453 — more than double its pre-auction estimate.

This is the latest in a series of expensive historical fashion acquisitions made by Kardashian — including when she borrowed Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday” dress from Ripley’s Museum for the 2022 Met Gala, Janet Jackson’s custom outfit from the “If” music video (price tag: $25,000), Michael Jackson’s hat and jacket from the the "Smooth Criminal" music video ($65,625), and Jackie Kennedy’s watch ($379,000).

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Collecting and investing

The ultra-wealthy Kardashian may have more money to play with, but the nature of her recent purchases have regular-people precedent.

If the popularity of the TV show “Antiques Roadshow” has taught us anything, it’s that a nondescript item can have massive value for the right person.

That’s because there are a lot of emotional incentives to purchase collectibles, including sentiment, historical significance and the sport of securing a sought-after item. Since these motives often apply to multiple people, collectibles have inevitable resale value.

Something purchased at an affordable price today could be worth considerably more in the future because of popularity and rarity.

To Kardashian, the right collectible is worth two kinds of currency: money and attention.

Read more: Here's how much the average American 60-year-old holds in retirement savings — how does your nest egg compare?

Keeping up with the Kardashians

Psychotherapist and writer MJ Corey (her pen name) has been running the Instagram account @kardashioankolloquium since 2018, where she applies media theory and postmodern philosophy to analyze the cultural impact of the Kardashian family.

Corey’s research is complemented by the Kardashian Data Koalition — a group of eight data experts analyzing Google trends data and social media engagement.

“I suspect that Kim is consciously inserting herself into viral media cycles about [trending] icons by making purchases like these,” she says.

Notoriety and scandal generate headlines, which is why legacy icons are particularly valuable for this purpose — like Princess Di, Marilyn, Liz Taylor and Michael Jackson.

And there’s a reason they have to be “legacy” stars. As the Harvard Business Review points out, branding in the age of social media is a vexing challenge: “once audiences could opt out of ads, it became harder for brands to buy fame.” Now corporate and celebrity brands have to compete directly with real entertainment.

Legacy icons, however, continue to have a “mono-culture effect.”

“When Kardashian makes these purchases, she's sharing headlines and hashtags with Marilyn's name, Princess Di's, people whose iconic histories kind of allow them to cheat today's otherwise challenging algorithms,” says Corey.

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All kinds of value

Corey’s data coalition found that when Kardashian is actively generating content, Google searches for her shapewear brand SKIMs typically trend upwards.

After the media personality purchased the Attalah cross necklace, Google searches for “Diana necklace” and “Kim Kardashian Skims” simultaneously peaked in the U.S. The term “Prince Harry Kim Kardashian” also jumped in popularity.

Kardashian has intertwined her public image with images of the royals, resulting in any controversy surrounding the purchase ultimately drawing visibility to her brand.

If she chooses, the celebrity businesswoman could eventually sell her purchase for additional profit.

While the necklace boasts a handful of qualities that are likely to increase its value, including its rarity, historical significance, what’s likely to drive up its price tag even more is what researchers call “celebrity contagion” — the desire to pay money for an object that’s been touched by a celebrity.

Which means that for a collector, the Attalah cross necklace may now be worth more simply because Kardashian has interacted with it.

Alexis Novak, owner of rare designer archive “Tab Vintage,” told Nylon magazine, that when Kardashian wore the Marilyn Monroe dress, she doubled its historical value.

Whether or not the public wish to see it, the Kardashian scion seems committed to her strategy — using her purchasing power to raise her position on the celebrity throne, alongside royalty from Windsor and Hollywood alike.

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Emma Johnston-Wheeler is Staff Writer for Moneywise. She is a 2021 graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University, holding a Bachelor of Journalism.

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