Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

Earthquake at Auction

Private collectors drive Sotheby’s Hong Kong jewelry sale to new records.

By Ettagale Blauer
Did you just feel the earth tremble? It’s not the San Andreas Fault, but rather, the surge of collectors all rushing to the auction market in Hong Kong to vie for great treasures. From all points of the globe, wherever there are billionaires to be found, they poured into this glittering city to bid, to buy and to bring home rare goods. In the process, auction records, which seem to exist only to be broken, were shattered and new records were set. The Sotheby’s sale of Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite on October 6 topped out at $54.2 million, exceeding the auction house’s previous Hong Kong record of $52.4 million, set only six months earlier, in April. In both auctions, the success rate was similar, with about three-quarters of the lots offered finding buyers. 

Color Led the Way

Four of the top ten lots were fancy color diamonds, including the top lot, a fancy vivid pink diamond, VS2, fashioned in a modified brilliant cut, weighing 6.43 carats. It was set in a ring by Van Cleef & Arpels. The lot was sold for $7,694,872*, above the estimate of $6 million to $7 million. Private buyers duked it out for this lot, as well as for an elaborate pair of fancy vivid yellow diamond pendant earrings, set with white diamonds. The spectacularly matched emerald cuts, which weighed 21.17 carats and 20.77 carats, were set within frames of white diamonds. They sold well above the presale estimate of $3 million to $3.8 million, fetching $4,966,667.

 Another yellow diamond, this one graded fancy vivid yellow and weighing 5.14 carats, brought in the second-highest price per carat ever paid for a fancy vivid yellow stone, $1,048,718, just under the high presale estimate. The brilliant-cut stone was set in a ring with white diamonds on the shank. A light yellow diamond certified to be a Royal Asscher cut, weighing 15.23 carats, sold well over its high estimate, bringing $234,527. 

Top Ten

According to Quek Chin Yeow, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and head of its jewelry department, “There were multiple bidders for many of the top lots; competition came from all major Asian countries, as well as internationally,” with private collectors picking up nine of the ten top lots. Half the total value of the sale was secured by just those ten lots. At times, bidders could see their competitors within the room but they also had to contend with phone bidders. The psychology of bidding reaches its height during these epic battles to secure unique jewels.

The only item of the top ten bought by the trade was a fancy intense purplish pink stone weighing 4.10 carats, set in a ring. It was sold just above the low estimate for $2,597,436. The emerald-cut stone was described in the catalog as “bubble gum pink,” an apt, if somewhat casual, description for such a remarkably beautiful diamond.  

Sotheby’s highly competitive jewelry sale in Hong Kong was part of a week of sales of fine art, ceramics and wine, and jewelry customers are also customers for those objects. “There is a very strong crossover between categories for us, that is to say that our jewelry buyers also buy in other categories in our auctions,” said Quek. 

The jewelry sale was certainly helped by being part of a weeklong extravaganza of sales; overall, 2,800 lots in all categories were sold, for a total of $400 million. By the time the jewelry sale took place on October 6, bidders had already set records for wine and paintings at the same venue. 

“While Mainland Chinese buying continued to be extremely strong,” Kevin Ching, Sotheby’s chief executive officer (CEO) in Asia, observed, “the driver of our remarkable results this week was the fierce competition of the international collecting community to acquire objects of exceptional beauty with distinguished provenance. Along with Asia’s growing wealth is a hunger for collecting and owning great art that is broader and deeper than ever before.”


On the White Diamond Front

Another record set at this sale was in price per carat for any round white diamond, and it was established when Sotheby’s sold a pair of perfectly matched D flawless stones, each weighing 10.88 carats, for a total of $4,823,077. The per-carat price was $221,649. In addition to their obvious beauty, the symmetry of their weights, including the number “8” repeated four times, made this lot particularly attractive to Asian buyers. Another pair of unmounted brilliant-cut diamonds, almost perfectly matched at 5.47 carats and 5.50 carats, caught the attention of many bidders, who pushed the price far above the presale estimate, achieving $1,951,282. 

 Jadeite, always treasured by Asian customers, was paired with diamonds in two important lots. Distinguished by translucent emerald green jade cabochons, a very sophisticated pair of jadeite, ruby and diamond pendant earrings was sold just under the high estimate for $1,017,948. Another lot, a jadeite and diamond pendant long chain necklace, was a remarkable blend of cultures and periods. It featured a jadeite plaque set at an angle within a diamond frame suspended from a triple-chain diamond necklace. The piece soared over the presale estimate, selling for $1,156,410. 

Something for Everyone

The sale was remarkably well rounded in its offerings of important diamonds — both white and colored — colored gemstones, jadeite and period jewelry. The latter category proved the appetite for works from the great periods of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels is as global as that for diamonds. A Van Cleef & Arpels amazing “zip” necklace, circa 1956, sold for $154,636, well over the high estimate. The necklace actually employs the locking-teeth mechanism of a zipper but is made entirely in gold, embellished along its two long sides with round diamonds. It converts to a bracelet and represents the essence of period style and technique. 

An exuberant, multicolor bib necklace by Cartier, London, circa 1937, set with more than 100 carats of various shapes of emeralds, rubies, sapphires and yellow and white diamonds, sold for $853,086, over the high estimate. The necklace was accompanied by matching ear clips.   

 Fine colored gemstones, among them a pair of ruby and diamond ear clips, attracted strong attention from bidders. The pair was set with oval rubies weighing 4.04 carats and 4.39 carats, surrounded by marquise-shaped diamonds. The rubies were certified by Gübelin to be of Burmese origin with no indication of heating. The pair sold over the high estimate for $389,144. An exquisite Kashmir sapphire, weighing 7.54 carats, set in a ring by Van Cleef & Arpels, circa 1938, with a lengthy provenance, was sold over the high estimate for $590,178. Oddly, the auction catalog included an extra flap appended to the description of the lot, and showed both a sketch and photograph of the actual sapphire and diamond bracelet, also made by the jeweler, that was known as the “marriage contract” bracelet, ordered by the Duke of Windsor for Wallis Simpson. The bracelet, however, was not part of this auction.

In all, the sale continues the stunning growth of Hong Kong as a market for fine jewelry of all types, and proves the interest of Hong Kong buyers in the rare and beautiful, as well as their appreciation for the workmanship of the finest jewelers of the past and present.

*All prices include buyer’s premium.



Article from the Rapaport Magazine - November 2010. To subscribe click here.

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