Rapaport Magazine

Diamonds Prevail

Diamonds took back their place as the top lots at the New York auctions.

By Amber Michelle

Platinum-topped gold and diamond necklace, formerly the property of Helen Hay Whitney, sold for $3,189,000 at Sotheby’s.
An early December nor’easter slammed New York City for the two days of Magnificent Jewelry sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, creating weather that was frightful. But both sales had moments that were delightful.

   First up was Sotheby’s. Cascading sheets of rain, accompanied by winds that turned umbrellas inside out, kept many people from coming to the sale in person, but those who did were serious about buying. A small coffee klatch of dealers congregated in the back of the room, bidding vigorously.
   This sale brought in $44,151,251 against a presale estimate of $37 million. The 414-lot sale was sold 75.8 percent by lot and 81.1 percent by value. This compares to the December 2013 sale that achieved $60,550,850 and the April 2014 sale, which scored $44,313,500. The top lot of the day was a platinum-topped gold and diamond necklace gifted to Helen Hay when she married Payne Whitney in 1902 — a headlining society event of its day. The necklace sold to a European dealer who was in the room, but asked not to be identified, for $3,189,000*.
   The sale was filled with pieces with impressive provenance. With jewelry from Hollywood icon Marlene Dietrich and the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia to the baronesses of business Estée Lauder and Evelyn H. Lauder, Matilda Dodge Wilson and Helen Hay Whitney, these jewels had stories to tell. “Jewelry is meant to be worn and it is interesting to know who wore it,” said Lisa Hubbard, chairman, The Americas, International Jewelry Sotheby’s.
   Privates were also strong players. The Vladimir Emeralds, which had once belonged to the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia and later to Princess Gloria von Thurn and Taxis, were acquired by an American private collector with Russian heritage who had braved the weather to bid in person. She paid $1,055,000 for these historic jewels and was thrilled to get them.
   The most highly sought after item of the sale was a Cartier Art Deco Tutti Frutti Bracelet that had belonged to Evelyn H. Lauder. Comprised of carved rubies and emeralds and accented with diamonds and onyx beads, it was an unusual example of this genre due to its more subdued, but very elegant use of color. Seven bidders competed passionately for the bracelet before it sold to an Asian private collector on the phone for $2,165,000, setting a world auction record price for a Tutti Frutti Bracelet by Cartier. An Art Deco Egyptian Revival bracelet by LaCloche Frères, Paris was another highly desired lot of the session and it sold to FD Gallery for $1,049,000. “The artistry of Cartier and LaCloche has stood the test of time. It is like a great Impressionist painting, but at a better price. The supply never satisfies the demand,” noted Hubbard.

A 21.30-carat oval, fancy light pink Golconda diamond sold to an anonymous bidder at Christie’s for $4,253,000, or $200,000 per carat.
   The next day at Christie’s saw a mix of rain and snow, and again it was the serious buyers who braved the weather to attend the sale where dealers, who seemed more active than usual, once again fared well. Explaining dealer participation, Rahul Kadakia, international head of jewelry, Christie’s, said, “There was a combination of factors — rare and important gems, which were mostly consigned by private collectors, proximity to the holiday season and the shortage of fresh merchandise in the market.”
   This sale featured several significant diamonds, including a Golconda Pink and a red diamond from Argyle. The top lot of the day was an 89.23-carat D, VVS1 pear-shaped diamond pendant hanging from a black silk cord. While there was bidding in the room for the jewel, in the end, the rock went to an anonymous buyer on the phone. Estimated at $9 million to $12 million, it contributed $11,085,000 to the sale’s grand total of $66,636,375 against a presale estimate of $55 million. The 319-lot sale was 75 percent sold by lot and 85 percent sold by value. This total compares to the December 2013 sale that pulled in $65,790,125 and the April 2014 auction that tallied up $60,561,125.
   “We find the top end of the selection for jewels and gems performing well and the middle level finding a little resistance,” noted Kadakia.
   During the viewing, there was huge dealer interest in an over-the-top, extravagant suite by Jahan showcasing 593.61 carats of colored diamonds in mostly warm brown tones. “Fancy colored diamonds continue to hike up in price,” said Lawrence Paul of New York–based Essex Global Trading, who purchased the suite for $4,645,000. “ Some items were inexpensive, but beautiful things went for extravagant prices,” he stated.

   Both sales saw a trend toward buying lower-quality white diamonds in the JKL/SI color/clarity range. Some stones even came with certs stating that they were O/P or X/Y color. A few years ago, these diamonds would have gone untouched, but now they are selling briskly, while a number of higher-quality DEF/VVS to VS or even flawless stones failed to find buyers. It is a trend that became noticeable during the spring and is continuing. “Dealers don’t feel confident in white diamonds. The prices are too high and they worry about a correction in the market, so they are holding back from buying,” explained Shailesh Jhalani, president of New York–based Prompt Gem Importers.
   Part of the softening in demand for higher-quality goods has been the dramatic slowdown in buying from Mainland China and Eastern Europe, two markets that wanted the very best. Savvy dealers are reluctant to buy at higher prices and then risk having their money tied up in diamonds that may go down in price. The perception is that better-priced, lower-quality diamonds are less of a risk.
   Kadakia put it in perspective: “There was always a market for cape colored diamonds but we are seeing increasing interest not just from the Middle East and India but also Southeast Asian customers.” Kadakia concluded, “White diamonds are selling well and the slight softness is only a correction against the ever-increasing prices of these rare gems.”
* All prices include buyer’s premium.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - January 2015. To subscribe click here.

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