Rapaport Magazine

New Highs

Jade played a starring role at Sotheby’s Hong Kong spring auction, which scored its highest total ever.

By Mary Kavanagh

Hutton-Mdivani jade necklace with ruby and diamond clasp by Cartier sold for $27.44 million, setting a world record. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

A spectacular jadeite bead necklace with a ruby and diamond clasp by Cartier stole the show at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite spring sale, setting a new world record for jadeite jewelry with its $27.44 million* sale price. The spring auction also set a new record for the highest total for the sale of jewelry in Asia, bringing in $106,615,865. The 321-lot sale was 82.2 percent sold by lot and 80.6 percent sold by value. This compares to Sotheby’s Hong Kong sales in October 2013, which brought in a total of $95,473,557, and April 2013, which achieved $61,444,776.
   “We expected good interest, but the response was overwhelming,” says Quek Chin Yeow, Sotheby’s deputy chairman and head of jewelry, Asia, following the Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite sale held April 7. In a statement, the auction house referred to the Hutton-Mdivani necklace as “the greatest jadeite bead necklace in the world,” and, according to Quek, “the jadeite necklace offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to buy a historic item of jewelry.” He described its sale as “one of the most thrilling salesroom competitions ever.”
   Bidding started at slightly above $11.3 million — 88 million in Hong Kong dollars — and was initially so “fast and furious” it quickly climbed to almost $20 million. Ten bidders, both on the telephone and in the room, competed intensely in a 20-minute war that elicited applause, gasps and oohs and aahs from auction participants intermittently before the hammer fell to cheers at $27.44 million. That final price was more than twice the estimated price and a new world record for any jadeite jewelry and a Cartier jewel. The necklace was bought by The Cartier Collection.

Outstanding Provenance
   Jadeite has long been a symbol of supreme status and extreme wealth and has historically been very popular in Asia. The Hutton-Mdivani necklace is believed to have been a wedding gift to American socialite and heiress Barbara Hutton from her father in 1933. It is roughly 530 millimeters (mm) long and comprises 27 large Qing-dynasty jadeite emerald green beads ranging in size from 15.40 mm to 19.20 mm, reputedly from the imperial court. The clasp by Cartier is set with caliber-cut rubies and baguette diamonds, mounted in platinum and 18-karat yellow gold.

Barbara Hutton and Alexis Mdivani at The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 1933.
Photo courtesy of Stefano Papi and Alexandra Rhodes, authors of 20th Century Jewelry & The Icons of Style.
   The necklace made its debut on the auction market in Geneva in 1988, when it was offered as part of the collection of Princess Nina Mdivani, Hutton’s sister-in-law and childhood friend, to whom she gave the necklace as a gift. It fetched $2 million, which was the highest price ever paid for a piece of jadeite jewelry at that time. Six years later, in 1994, it was sold at auction in Hong Kong for $4.2 million, more than double its initial hammer price, setting a new world record for jadeite jewelry. And now, 20 years later, it has made history again.

Record-Breaking Rubies
   Greens, blues, reds, pinks, yellows — the colors of fancy diamonds, jadeite, emeralds, sapphires and rubies dominated this auction. “A lot more colored stones made the top ten than usual, because we had more top-quality colored stones and jade in this auction than we normally do,” Quek said. “That’s just how the sale shaped up.”
   Rubies ruled the top lots. A 29.62-carat cushion-shaped oval Burmese Mogok ruby and diamond ring by Cartier set another new auction record for a ruby when it sold to a private buyer for $7.34 million. The exceptionally large and rare crimson red ruby with excellent clarity is accentuated by its simple and elegant platinum mount by Cartier and brilliant-cut diamonds weighing approximately 2.50 carats.
   Another highlight was a magnificent Burmese ruby and diamond necklace dubbed The Red Emperor. Set with 60 Gemological Institute of America (GIA)-certified pigeon’s-blood rubies weighing a total of 104.51 carats, it was designed by celebrated jewelry designer James W. Currens for Fai Dee. Cutting and polishing the rubies that range in size from .72 carats to 5.04 carats took eight years. The rubies are spaced with brilliant-cut, pear-shaped and oval diamonds weighing around 59.05 carats.
   Alongside jade and ruby jewelry, sapphires also featured strongly in the top ten lots. A “Royal Blue” 102.61-carat cushion-shaped sapphire and diamond necklace was sold to a private buyer for $4,179,487, exceeding the presale high estimate of $3.8 million. The 20.04-carat cushion-shaped Kashmir sapphire and diamond ring that complements the necklace beautifully and came from the same private collection also made the top ten and sold to a buyer from the Hong Kong trade for $2.6 million.

Buoyant Auction Market
   The auction room was packed to capacity and the number of people standing at the back swelled before the Hutton-Mdivani necklace went under the hammer. “There were a lot of onlookers crowding the room,” Quek said. “I am sure the whole jadeite world in Hong Kong came to see the sale of the necklace.” Although some of the crowd departed following its sale, there were still 100 lots to go and serious bidders stayed, ensuring that competition for the remaining individual items stayed strong.
   “Bidding was very intense and competitive throughout,” Quek said. “A lot of people bid for a lot of lots, much more than in the previous season. This indicates the auction market is very healthy.” There were many bidders among the in-room attendees, a mixed crowd of young and old, men and women, the majority of Asian origin. The mood was serious and intense, with the competitive bidding environment calling for a lot of focus.
   “It is such a thrill in my career to sell this wonderful necklace and then the next day I sold the chicken cup,” Quek said, referring to the sale of a Ming Dynasty porcelain cup that sold for $36 million in Hong Kong, setting a new world record for a piece of Chinese art.
* Prices include buyer’s premium.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2014. To subscribe click here.

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