Rapaport Magazine

Discerning Market

The New York spring auctions proved once again that only the best will sell.

By Amber Michelle
Smaller sales and choosy customers made for somewhat subdued auctions. The finest of the fine found buyers while everything else passed. While that is not headline news in the auction market, buyers were even more discriminating than usual in their purchases. White diamonds were selling but at rock-bottom prices and only those stones with the right estimate and the color and clarity in demand for the current market sold.

   Sotheby’s kicked off with a private luncheon for some of its best customers, showing off highlights of the sale and telling the stories of the Mamdouha and Elmer Holmes Bobst collection and Ganna Walska pieces. The Shirley Temple Blue Diamond was also touted at the event.
   A few days later, the Upper East Side auction house saw a busy sale room with reasonable bidding, a high number of passes and a disappointing finale when the Shirley Temple Blue Diamond did not sell. Estimated at $25 million to $35 million, bidding came to a screeching halt at $22 million, a price that one insider noted was probably right for the 9.54-carat, VVS2 fancy deep blue diamond. He speculated that the stone was in for too high of a price. The Shirley Temple Blue Diamond accounted for about half the value of the sale.
   “It’s a connoisseur stone. It had marvelous provenance and good karma. Fancy deep blue is a rarity, but a vivid is more easily understood. The Shirley Temple Blue will find a home,” states Lisa Hubbard, chairman, North & South America, Sotheby’s International Jewelry Division.
   The final total for the sale was $29,886,875. Of the 317 lots offered, 224 sold and 93 were unsold. The auction was sold 70.7 percent by lot with no percent by value released by Sotheby’s. The December 2015 sale realized $52, 278,750, while the April 2015 sale tallied up $65,086,500, a record for a New York auction.
   The top lot of the sale was a 12.45-carat, VS2, fancy purplish pink diamond ring. It sold for $4,562,000* with a per-carat price of $366,426. The Bobst collection of 25 vintage pieces of signed jewelry, much of it circa 1960, performed well, bringing in $2.4 million against a presale high estimate of $1.6 million.
   “It was a private collection of Donald Claflin for Tiffany & Co., Marianne Ostier and Van Cleef & Arpels and it appealed to everyone. It is confirmation that modern designers are coming into their own as we get further away from the 1960s. When you give people background on the designers they will buy and it’s wearable,” says Hubbard.

   A busy room filled with dealers chattering away also marked the sale at Christie’s. With its midtown proximity to the industry, many from the trade stopped by just to see how the sale was going. The auction brought in $57,029,250 with 253 lots offered and 202 lots sold. The sale was sold 80 percent by lot and 91 percent by value. The December 2015 sale totaled $59,685,125 and the April 2015 sale garnered $41,951,125.
   The top lot of the sale was The Jubilee Ruby, a 15.99-carat oval-shaped Burmese ruby and diamond ring by Verdura that sold for $14,165,000 to a European private on the phone, bringing a per-carat price of $885,000. The bidder wanted the stone so badly that at one point in order to win the prize, his incremental bid was $1 million; it was also the bid that clinched the deal. According to Christie’s, this stone holds the title of the most expensive colored gemstone ever sold at auction in the U.S. The rest of the top ten lots were all diamonds, although one dealer in the room characterized white diamond prices as “catastrophically low.”
   “Only the best sold,” noted Rahul Kadakia, international head of Christie’s Jewelry, who went on to point out that everything has a buyer at the right price.
   This sale also had a selection of fine signed jewelry, which typically sells well at auction. David Webb maintained his appeal with pieces of his jewelry seeing lots of bidding. A Jean Schlumberger diamond bangle bracelet estimated at $30,000 to $50,000 sold for $161,000 proving that this segment of the market remains strong. That being said, just because it was a signed piece didn’t guarantee that it would sell, as it would have a few years ago. Now, a signed piece sells because it is a prime example of a maker’s art.
   “The market is well and healthy for items priced from $15,000 to $15 million. It is an active market with participation from trade and privates,” observes Kadakia.
   Those who buy at auction spend on the rare and the unique that cannot be found anywhere else and that pattern held true at the New York sales. Even with that in mind, this round of sales saw buying hone down to the narrowest definition of the best. It also ushers in a new era that is no longer dominated by jewels from the early twentieth century as buyers look at mid-twentieth century jewelry as collectibles and perhaps as more wearable with current lifestyles.
   * All prices include buyer’s premium.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2016. To subscribe click here.

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