A luxury marketer once told me that wealthy consumers will never buy anything online – sight unseen – for more than $10,000.
We may have to change that price to $50,000.
Christie’s sold $819,715 worth of wine during an online-only auction. Among the big sellers was a case of 1982 Château Lafite-Rothschild, which sold to an Asian collector for $42,350.
Christie's and other auction houses have long used the Internet to sell some products and to market for live auctions. But during the two-week timed wine auction, all browsing and bidding was done completely online. Its success could mean that online-only auctions are the wave of the future. (Read more: The 'Fairy Tales' of Art, Wine and Jewels)
Christie's tested its online-only model with The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor late last year and a Spring charity auction of Hermes handbags.
With the wine sale, the company says it will expand the program. Steven P. Murphy, CEO of Christie’s, said that more than 25 percent of the registered buyers for the sale were new to Christie's.
“E-commerce is a key part of our growth strategy as a company, and we look forward to expanding this exciting new model even further this fall, as we add more collecting categories to our online-only auction calendar.”
The question is how far online-only auctions can go. Will people buy $120 million Munch paintings online? If online auctions go the way of the stock exchange, will the glamorous evening entertainments we're used to, featuring staggering amounts of spending, become boring bytes on a screen?
Neither is likely. Live auctions will no doubt continue to be the preferred mode of selling blue-chip art or major works priced above $1 million. It will also likely remain the primary way of selling super high-end wine, jewelery and other collectibles. (Read more: Diamonds Are the New Stocks)
But for some lesser priced items and objects that don't need to be perused much in person, online bidding provides the wealthy a welcome convenience.
It may not be long before people can sit at home in their bathrobes and click to buy a Picasso – or at least, a Picasso drawing.
-By CNBC's Robert Frank
Follow Robert Frank on Twitter: @robtfrank