Geneva celebrated the 125th anniversary of its free port in May this year with the opening of a new storage facility known as M-North. It offers over 10,400 square metres of high security climate-controlled warehouse space especially for the storage of art.
The city’s free port facilities have become popular among collectors looking to stash priceless works of art and expensive wines among other things. For as long as goods are stored at free ports, owners pay no import taxes or duties, which can amount to 15 per cent in some countries. If the work is sold at the free port, the owner pays no transaction tax either.
Canton Geneva owns an 86% share of the free port. The Geneva Free Ports and Warehouses company pays the canton for the right to serve as the free port’s landlord. Its most important tenant is Natural Le Coultre, which has become one of the world’s biggest specialists in storage, packing and shipping of works of art and valuable items.
Natural le Coultre also offers a restoration and investigation service for refurbishing paintings and establishing their authenticity. Research carried out in the secure conditions of Geneva’s free port helped to officially establish The Portrait of a Young Fiancée as the last painting by Leonardo de Vinci.
Following Natural le Coultre’s success in Switzerland, director Yves Bouvier has exported his model of secure storage to Singapore, and will be opening a new free port in Luxemburg within the next year.