THIS PAST NOVEMBER, A DIAMOND NECKLACE anchored by a flawless 163-carat white diamond was sold for approximately S$45 million at a Christie’s sale in Geneva, Switzerland. The stone was the largest of its kind to be auctioned, and the price of the piece – designed by de Grisogono and named Creation 1 – exceeded pre-sale estimates of S$40 million.
The Swiss jeweller had set out to collaborate with Christie’s to sell the extraordinary piece of jewellery, rather than do it through its own boutiques. Taking 1,700 hours to create, the uniqueness of the necklace did not escape the notice of specialists at the auction house.
Such occurrences though, are the exception rather than the norm. In fact, on a day-to-day basis, auction houses have to work hard to curate a collection for their jewellery auctions.
“Our team of specialists collectively have a vast network of collectors across the world. Throughout the year, they can be found business-getting from Hong Kong to Taiwan, New York, Geneva and beyond,” says Terry Chu, Head of Jewellery Asia, Philips.
Bonhams has sales rooms in London, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Additionally, it has offices and regional representatives in 22 countries worldwide. “We have good exposure to connect with people globally,” explains Graeme Thompson, Director of Jewellery, Bonhams Asia. “They include a variety of private clients, collectors and members of the trade from around the world.”
There are a whole variety of reasons for sellers to part with their jewellery. On the occasion that they are reluctant to do so, a fair amount of persuasion might be necessary – something Chu knows all about. “Our team at Phillips will [try to gain] an understanding of an individual’s collecting journey, and insight into what their collection includes.
“We are therefore best placed to advise on the market, or when we sense that they are ready for a change in direction. If their collection includes rare finds that are in high demand, we can begin discussions with them about the possible next steps.”
An eye is also kept on adhering to trends and tastes of collectors. Chu points at the increasing popularity of period and vintage jewellery, the sources of which are found in North America and Europe.
“We have made a concerted effort to seek new material to be sold in our Hong Kong sales. Cultivating new relationships is a core part of what a specialist does, and it can certainly be one of the most interesting aspects of the role,” she says.
Sometimes, as with de Grisogono, the auction houses are approached to sell a piece of jewellery. At Bonhams, it offers valuations for free and they are confidential without obligation.
“Today, it is very easy to contact a Bonhams jewellery specialist to seek an opinion on an item online, no matter where you are based in the world, so the pieces often find us,” points out Thompson.
However, not every piece passes muster. In addition to quality and condition, there are many different factors that have to be considered before a jewel is allowed on the auction block.
Chu cites an example of signed jewellery, that is becoming increasingly sought after: “We consider issues such as whether the piece is representative of the era from which it was created, if the item has the hallmarks of its maker, the aesthetic and design value beyond the intrinsic value of the metal and stones, and if the item has a particularly interesting provenance.”
When a piece does well under the hammer, and the specialist knows he or she has made the right decision, the feeling is unparalleled.
Thompson remembers an Art Deco diamond necklace by Bulgari, circa 1935, sold in June 2016 for about S$1 million beating the pre-sale low estimate of S$428,000. It was consigned by a private individual in Asia, with the design, age and use of 19thcentury diamonds in the jewel making it a rare find.
Recalls Thompson, “We were delighted it achieved such a strong result and the [seller] was extremely pleased because it sold for considerably more than they paid for it.”