There is no escaping the London traffic no matter how rich you are. But for the occupants of the chauffeur-driven Bentleys crawling up Knightsbridge yesterday amid a snarl of buses, taxis and white vans, the journey towards London's premier real estate enclave was at least one that could be completed in gilded comfort.
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News that one super-rich customer had spent £100m for an unfurnished duplex in a new hotel cum apartment block directly opposite Nick and Christian Candy's £1.2bn One Hyde Park has elevated the notoriously choked intersection with Brompton Road and Sloane Street into perhaps the most valuable plot of land in the capital, if not the world.
While much has been made of the popularity or otherwise of the four Lord Rogers-designed pavilions on the north side of the street, attention is now focusing on the new kid on the luxury block currently glowering at its rival from the south side behind branded hoardings and scaffolding.
Due to open in spring 2012, the Bulgari Hotel and Residences boasts just eight apartments. So far seven have been sold with the most expensive reportedly commanding £7,000 per sq ft and a final penthouse still up for grabs for a reported £69m.
It has yet to rival the £136m said to have been paid by Ukranian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov to secure Britain's most expensive flat in the Candy brothers' development opposite but it left those that must make their living beneath their edifices perplexed as to the attraction.
"There's no way I'd live here," said Wayne Leedham, a London cabbie familiar with the half-hour wait to pass Knightsbridge's luxury residences – the Champagne bottleneck, as it could rightly become known. "It's been like this for ten years but people keep coming."
Of course one attraction is the availability of luxury shopping (you'd be hard pushed to essentials but residents are not the types to frequent corner shops in search of milk). Europe's largest Rolex shop is situated on the ground floor of One Hyde Park while Burberry, Harvey Nichols and Harrods are all just a short stroll away. Bulgari already has its flagship store on Sloane Street.
Even if the cabbies don't like it the area has long been synonymous with flamboyant wealth and aristocrats have queued up to build their mansions overlooking the park since the reign of George III.
Liverpool shipping magnate Frederick Leyland commissioned the artist James McNeill Whistler to create the Peacock Room at his home on nearby Princes Gate. The entire room was eventually shipped to the United States to grace the home of an American tycoon.
A more modern and considerably more controversial architectural interjection came in 1970 with the completion of Sir Basil Spence's modernist Hyde Park Barracks which houses the Household Cavalry and helps lend the area the aroma of horse manure. The barracks was completed a decade after the unloved office block Bowater House which was demolished to make way for One Hyde Park. In fact the entire area was nearly subsumed by a giant roundabout and subterranean pedestrian plaza in the early 1960s under a London County Council plan to improve the traffic flow. Luckily, perhaps, the 18th century street plan survived and since the 1990s the new money has flowed in from oil-rich Middle East nations and Russia as well as, more recently still, China and the Far East.
The Bulgari hotel is the third of its kind to be operated by the Italian family jeweller which was bought this year by Paris-based luxury goods group LVMH. The company has revealed little in the way of detail about what purchasers can expect and spokesman Giles Hannah of Christies International Real Estate which is handling the sale on behalf of developers Prime Development Ltd, declined to comment yesterday.
However Mr Hannah had earlier told Bloomberg that the limited number of permanent dwellings in the project created a premium opportunity. "Having the Bulgari brand adds about a thousand pounds a square foot," he said. "You look at the number of apartments at the other developments in London compared with the one I'm looking after, it's not possible to hand make everything in a larger development. Nothing here has been mass-produced," he added.
Prime central-London prices have soared by nearly 40 percent since the slump and luxury home prices are expected to outperform the rest of the economy rising five per cent next year as investors seek a safe bolt hole
But such talk was of little consequence to those negotiating the noise and fumes below. "I prefer the old London," said Herman Depeinder, a Dutch tourist who has visited London three times in the past 15 years. "The city has changed in that time. Everything has become so expensive. Parts of the city are only for those who have money." Construction workers on the Bulgari site – who know its charms as well as any – are less than impressed by their surroundings. "I wouldn't want to live here, with the noise and the traffic," said one. "I wouldn't mind having the money to spend £100 million on a flat though."