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Interview: Susan Abeles


Bidding hello

Meet the woman in charge of Philips’s recently launched New York jewelry division.

By Sonia Esther Soltani


Former US director of jewelry at Bonhams Susan Abeles was appointed head of jewelry for the Americas, senior international specialist, and senior vice president at Phillips auction house in February. She and her team of four — including Eva Violante, who joined as senior specialist and vice president from Heritage Auctions in May — are working on Phillips’s first New York jewelry auction, scheduled for the fall. Details will be unveiled in the summer.

In the meantime, Phillips’s March 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London realized $135.2 million, which was the highest auction total in company history. Here, Abeles discusses some of the auction house’s key strategies.

What does the new department in New York mean for Phillips?

We’ll have sales out of New York, and it’s a big transformation. Some of the team has been there for a long time, and it’s been joined by an integrated team of jewelry specialists.

We took a step back and looked at the market. What is our identity at Phillips that we can bring to the auction world? Phillips covers 20th-century American art, which includes Latin American artists, design, photography, edition and jewelry. We really focus on 20th-century art, and that extends to jewelry. Whether it’s a 1928 Cartier cigarette case with a Persian design, or a more modern JAR, we are interested in promoting to our clients.

How do you work with designers?

Unlike our competitors, established and new designers have a place here. We had a selling exhibition of Lauren Adriana in April. It was a very minimal, artistic presentation of her jewels of museum quality. Lauren is a 32-year-old London-based designer, and her workmanship is phenomenal. She’s interested in space and movement, and her jewels are wearable sculptures. We feel we have a responsibility to present the young voices to our patrons, to educate them.

How would you define your community?

Our clients are privates, some dealers, more than anything people really interested in art, and art expands into all the disciplines we offer. One of my clients who happens to be in the trade came to see me here. I told him I didn’t have jewelry yet to see, but he saw the selling exhibition that was on preview that day. He only buys very specific pieces of signed jewelry. He told the photography department he didn’t know much but would start within a certain price range and then might go for the same amount he spends on jewelry — $50 million. It was a very interesting exercise to see how his jewelry purchase translated into photography. It shows how Phillips and our clients understand that the crossover is possible.

What are the key market trends?

The colored-stone market for exceptional color has been strong, with the price per carat eclipsing the price per carat of colorless diamonds. Colored diamonds are another category. It is such a hot market, the prices have come up significantly, especially for vivid colors, with modifiers such as purple-pink and orangey-yellows. We are starting to see these stones garner a lot of attention.

When the Asian market started [in Hong Kong], it was mainly single stones. Now we are seeing a move to having more estate pieces sold; the finest quality is important to our Asian clients. Signature and quality have increased in value and will continue to grow.

Image: Lauren Adriana, photographed by Richard Valencia

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2018. To subscribe click here.

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