LOOKING TO BUY FINE JEWELLERY AT AUCTION? Y-JEAN MUN DELSALLE ASKS THE WORLD’S LEADING AUCTION HOUSES FOR ADVICE
Four years ago, at the Christie’s Hong Kong November 2010 sale, a rectangular-cut fancy intense pink diamond (14.23 carats, VVS2, Type IIA) sold for US$23.2 million. Then, at its most recent spring auction, a 28.88ct cushion-shaped Colombian emerald fetched US$4.15M and a rectangularshaped fancy orangey pink diamond of 12.93ct by Harry Winston went for US$3.64M. The Sotheby’s Hong Kong spring sale in April this year offered the Hutton-mdivani necklace with Qing-era jadeite beads reputedly from the Imperial Court—the greatest jadeite bead necklace in the world. It was acquired for US$27.4M, more than double the estimate, thereby achieving a world auction record for any jadeite jewellery and for a Cartier jewel. In April 2013, Bonhams London sold a unique Bulgari 5.30ct fancy deep blue diamond Trombino ring for US$9.47M — a world record price per carat for a blue diamond at auction (US$1.8M per carat) and the highest price it has ever achieved for a piece of jewellery at auction.
Vickie Sek, deputy chairman of Christie’s Asia and director and head of the Jewellery & Jadeite department, explains the buoyancy of the current market: “The outlook of the jewellery market is positive. Prices for one-ofa-kind jewels, special contemporary creations and jewels of exceptional provenance have risen dramatically in recent years. In fact, an important jewellery piece will always fetch market price.”
The director of jewellery for Bonhams in Asia, Graeme Thompson, says, “At the top end of the market, jewellery is a trophy asset for the passion investor. The boom is due to simple economics, which ultimately comes down to supply and demand.”
Currently, the profile of fine jewellery buyers of Bonhams Hong Kong consists of clients from around Asia, with a strong online following from Europe and the US. These are generally private male clients aged 35 years and up, although financially-independent women are a very important category. The collectors at Sotheby’s Hong Kong jewellery sales are generally aged from 30 to 70 years old, with a 65 per cent female to 35 per cent male ratio, and are mainly Asian with good international participation. The Christie’s Hong Kong auction last spring saw 20 per cent of new buyers, who had come to Hong Kong for its Chinese paintings, Asian contemporary and Chinese works of art sales. While there, they crossed over to
jewellery. The auction house’s regular buyers come from China, France, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, South America, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Diamonds, coloured diamonds and coloured gemstones are the most sought-after by collectors of jewellery at auction, with demand growing rapidly. Thompson says, “You can appreciate the actual value of diamonds; they make good investment pieces. Let’s not forget a five-carat D colour, internally flawless diamond has increased in value by 165 per cent over the past 10 years. This is a very impressive return considering the pleasure one can get from wearing such an impressive gem.” Jadeite has been highly prized in recent years because of growing Mainland Chinese interest, while the market for natural pearls has been strong lately. Bonhams, which sells more jewellery than any other auction house in the world, discloses that investors are increasingly snapping up natural pearls because of their increasing rarity—overfishing and pollution mean supply is diminishing— and the influence of celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.
Because of limited supply, collectability, craftsmanship and innovation, signed historic fine jewellery from the world’s most coveted brands make great investment pieces, too. Works of art in their own right, they are becoming increasingly harder to find as time goes by, and the makers’ heritage and hallmark add to their incredible desirability. Quek Chin Yeow, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s in Asia and chairman of International Jewellery for Asia, says,
QUEK’S SUGGESTIONS FOR BRANDS WORTH SPENDING ON INCLUDE JAR, STEFAN AND CHRISTIAN HEMMERLE, VIREN BHAGAT, CINDY CHAO, WALLACE CHAN AND EDMOND CHIN
“Vintage signed pieces from the Belle Époque era, Cartier art deco pieces from the 1920s to ’30s, and iconic Van Cleef & Arpels pieces from the 1950s are all highly sought after at auction.”
Sek explains, “Signed vintage jewels have always had a strong following and more so today, as examples from this period have become more and more difficult to find. These pieces from master jewellers such as Boucheron, Bulgari, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels -and Harry Winston are always very popular as they offer a desirable combination of rarity, quality and exclusivity. In considering different stones, it is good to be aware of the volume of their production. For example, top-quality rubies are in scarce supply because of the situation in Myanmar. The Mogok Stone Tract where they come from is also pretty well worked out. Other areas are also being worked, but the stones are of inferior quality.”
Bonhams Hong Kong is also actively promoting signed and unsigned antique and period jewellery because it feels this is an area that is currently undervalued. It believes certain gemstones like sapphires and rubies are undervalued as well and therefore have the greatest investment potential. “You don’t need to spend lots of money to buy something worth investing in,” Thompson says. “HK$80,000 or above is a good starting point at our sales, but you can spend millions of dollars if that is what you are looking to do.”
Quek’s suggestions for brands worth spending on include: JAR, recognised as the greatest jeweller working today; contemporary designers Stefan and Christian Hemmerle of Munich; Viren Bhagat of Mumbai; Cindy Chao of Taipei; and two celebrated Hong Kongbased designers, Wallace Chan and Edmond Chin. Top-quality diamonds, preferably of three to five carats and up, also make for great investment vehicles as diamond prices have been steadily growing for decades, determined by the standard criteria of cut, colour, carat and clarity.
Sek gives advice for prospective clientele: “Collectors should always buy what they are passionate about and what they can best
afford. Also, rarity, quality and provenance to the market are the key qualities that collectors look for in nearly every object sold at auction, including all sorts of jewels. Design can add to the value significantly. Collectors are willing to pay top dollar for unique and rare, one-of-a-kind pieces, combined with exclusivity. Historic jewels and jewels with significant provenance can command high prices and are likely to hold or increase in value as well.”
So how should first-time buyers spot and bid for great jewellery at auction? Start by learning about jewellery and familiarising yourself with retail and auction price. Study the catalogues, go to auction previews, attend the auctions themselves and talk to the specialists, who are on hand at all times to help explain any particular jewel to a client and, where possible, will give comparisons of similar jewels sold at auction or on the market.
Sotheby’s Hong Kong will hold its Magnificent Jewels & Jadeite auction on October 7, starring an important stone estimated at HK$100M. Christie’s Hong Kong’s next Magnificent Jewels sale will be held in November and will showcase an array of diamonds, jadeite jewels, Burmese rubies and sapphires, Colombian emeralds and signed pieces. Bonhams Hong Kong’s next Fine Jewellery and Jadeite sale will take place on November 24 and will feature approximately 180 lots.
Alternatively, visit jewellery fairs including Miami in January, Basel in March, Masterpiece London in June, and the Paris Biennale and Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair in September. Visit jewellery shops and engage the sales staff about their stock—this is where you will probably find the most fascinating gems and jewels.
MAJOR PLAYER jewellery auction
Bonhams CEO Matthew Girling at a recent
STRIKING STONES Consider rarity, quality and provenance of pieces before purchase