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Uneven footing


Despite some star pieces and heavy promotion, Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction proved unpredictable as buyers exercised restraint.

By Anthony DeMarco
It was no surprise that the Ai Diamond received a great deal of adoration from buyers at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite sale in Hong Kong. The 5-carat, fancy-vivid-blue diamond, mounted in an 18-karat white gold ring and bearing a name that signifies romantic love in the Mandarin language, fetched an impressive $13.8 million, making it the top lot at the October 3 auction.

However, it was one of the few bright spots in an uneven and unpredictable sale that brought in $40.2 million and saw approximately 40% of the 248 lots go unsold.

Discerning taste

Yvonne Chu, acting head of the jewelry department for Sotheby’s Asia, said buyers were becoming more selective.

“Leading the sale are colored diamonds, with high demand for blue diamonds across all price points. Private collectors are particularly keen on large-size colorless diamonds in a varied color range,” she said.

A similar response came from Philippe Atamian of the Faerber Collection. “We feel that the private [collectors], but also the dealers, are pickier in their choices of buying,” said Atamian, who serves as director of the Geneva-based estate dealer’s Hong Kong office. “It is a fact worldwide, but maybe more relevant in this part of the world.”

That sentiment is particularly true of the market for emeralds, rubies and sapphires, it seems. “The ‘Big Three’ gemstone market is more polarized, with buyers either going for top-quality or very wearable pieces,” Chu said.

Added Atamian: “There is an obvious lack of goods, especially in fine gemstones, such as rubies, old-mine emeralds and fine sapphires. Maybe it’s the reason why the market is switching and looking for some nice stones like the padparadscha [sapphire] of 16 carats” that went for $903,125 at the Hong Kong sale. Customers are “more knowledgeable” in their choices, he continued. “Some of them have decided to collect very fine items as a new, safe investment, but not only that, they also really fall in love with the pieces and want to keep them for the next generation.”

Hits and misses

The highlights of the auction included a number of rings that surpassed the million-dollar mark or came close. One containing a pear-shaped, 3.47-carat, fancy-intense-blue diamond in 18-karat white gold fetched just over $3 million, cementing the dominance of blue diamonds at international auctions.

There was also a ring with a step-cut, 18.45-carat diamond set in platinum, which sold for $2.3 million — above its high estimate — and another with a brilliant-cut, 4.31-carat, fancy-intense-purplish-pink diamond that went for more than $1 million. A brilliant-cut, 10.05-carat diamond in an 18-karat white gold ring achieved $933,739.

Jadeite gems and jewels fared poorly overall. However, one exception was a pair of earrings that sold for $505,100.

Then there were the unsold lots. Among the most anticipated pieces that failed to move were a necklace by Chaumet with 51 jadeite beads and a diamond clasp, and a pair of sapphire, pearl and diamond pendant earrings with a high estimate of over $2.1 million.

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Mixed signatures

Signed jewels have been one of the fastest-growing categories on the international auction market, but for this sale, they were inconsistent. Much-touted pieces from well-known contemporary jewelers went unsold, while items from established luxury brands saw mixed results.

The highest seller in the signed-jewels category was a pink gold ring by Harry Winston with a 1.42-carat, fancy-intense-blue diamond, which netted $750,000. Overall, Harry Winston jewels performed nicely: 14 of the brand’s 17 offerings sold.

The results from Bulgari may best reflect the uneven nature of the auction. Although the Italian high jeweler had one of the better-performing lots of the sale — an emerald and diamond fringe necklace went for $474,500 — it also had one of the bigger disappointments: a ring featuring an oval, 31.40-carat ruby, which had a high estimate of $2.5 million but was unable to find a buyer. That said, 13 of the 17 Bulgari jewels on offer sold.

Famed French jewelers Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels are among the most sought-after at auction, and both had relatively strong showings in Hong Kong. Of the 30 Cartier lots, 22 sold, led by a bombé-style ring with a cushion-shaped, 16.51-carat sapphire that went for nearly $444,000. Van Cleef & Arpels had 27 lots in the sale, of which 23 sold. The most successful of those was a pendant necklace with nine pear-shaped emeralds weighing a total of 22.91 carats, embellished with diamonds and mounted in platinum and 18-karat yellow gold; it sold for $413,300. 

However, there were some disappointments in the contemporary-jewelry category. Only one of four Wallace Chan pieces found a buyer — again, despite promotion by the auction house — while a pair of star-shaped diamond and pearl earrings by Bhagat with a high estimate of $229,600 remained unclaimed.

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

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