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Brilliant bidding


Diamonds and signed pieces steal the show at the New York Magnificent Jewels auctions.

By Anthony DeMarco


The mood among collectors is becoming increasingly positive as the gradual return to normal life sparks more interest in public sales. This pent-up demand has likely contributed to the successful results at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Both of the New York Magnificent Jewels auctions in April achieved strong sell-through rates and high overall sales. Both were still closed to the public in keeping with local Covid-19 rules, but a rise in international participation helped offset the downsides of this arrangement.

Colorless diamonds performed well, making a full return to the top tier of auction results. However, dealers said there was room for growth, noting that collectors were holding on to their most precious gems. Colored gemstones mostly exceeded projections, and fancy-colored diamonds did better at Christie’s than at Sotheby’s.

Overall, there were few surprises in the results, with the exception of signed jewels, which overwhelmingly outperformed expectations.

Christie’s: Fancies in the lead

The Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction on April 13 achieved nearly $35 million in total, selling 97% by lot and 94% by value. It saw global participation, with registered bidders from 40 countries across five continents.

“Also telling was...that the number of lots sold per hour was quite low, which indicates significant bidding activity,” commented Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas.

Leading the sale were three fancy-colored diamonds that sold as separate lots. The top lot was a cut-cornered square modified brilliant-cut, 2.17-carat, fancy-vivid-purplish-pink diamond that achieved $3.5 million, well above its high estimate. The other two were cut-cornered rectangular modified brilliants — one a fancy-vivid-blue of 2.13 carats, and the other a 2.34-carat fancy-vivid-orange — that sold within estimates at $2.7 million and $2.2 million respectively.

Referring to the top lot, Benjamin Goldberg of New York diamond jewelry house William Goldberg called its $1.6 million per-carat price “tremendous.”

The last lot of the sale was an oval mixed-cut, 3.02-carat, fancy-vivid-purplish-pink diamond that fetched approximately $1.4 million, within estimates. The result impressed David Doppelt of New York jewelry house Jonathan Doppelt, which specializes in fancy-colored diamonds.

“Pink diamonds generally tend to be just below blue diamonds in demand, but now it seems like pinks are on equal footing,” he said. “Perhaps it’s because of the closing of the Argyle mine” — the Australia deposit that was the world’s premier source of pink diamonds before it shut down for good in November 2020.

The top-selling colorless diamond was a pear-shaped brilliant-cut, 38.04-carat stone that went for just over $3 million, also within estimates. Indeed, diamonds at this sale largely achieved prices either in line with estimates or slightly higher. However, dealers said larger D-color stones were few and far between.

There were “not many 10-, 15-, 20-carat diamonds with good fancy shapes,” Goldberg remarked. “I don’t think [private collectors] are eager to liquidate their hard assets.”

Doppelt took notice of a 14.50-carat, D, internally flawless diamond that brought in $1.4 million, well above its high estimate. “It was a unique emerald-cut diamond with a bit of character. It was not just a cookie-cutter emerald. It was shallower, appeared much larger and had a unique faceting pattern.”

Among colored-gemstone lots, the leader was a 22-karat gold ring by F.J. Cooper featuring an oval mixed-cut, unheated Burmese ruby that fell within estimates at almost $1.7 million. An oval, 30.40-carat, untreated Ceylon sapphire fetched $237,500, well above its high estimate, while a pigeon’s blood Burmese ruby of 3.28 carats with no clarity enhancement achieved $187,500, nearly four times its high estimate.

It was the signed jewels that really shone at the sale, particularly pieces hailing from high-jewelry houses or boasting important gems. For example, a Cartier ring in yellow gold and platinum, featuring a rectangular-cut Colombian emerald with “moderate clarity enhancement,” bested its high estimate at $225,000.

Jewels by Van Cleef & Arpels were by far the winners, however. All 27 pieces sold, with 25 achieving higher prices than expected. Many of these beat their estimates several times over. One stunner was a pair of coral, chrysoprase and diamond earrings from circa 1970, featuring numerous oval-shaped stones and bringing in $112,000 — four times their high estimate.

The lot’s success was just one example of a growing trend: that buyers are viewing signed jewels in terms of their artistic rather than material value, according to jeweler Greg Kwiat. “It was truly about looking at the earrings as artwork. Increasingly, signed pieces are being valued [as] separate from the materials,” said the CEO of diamond-jewelry brand Kwiat and estate dealer Fred Leighton. “When you look at a painting, you don’t place a value on the canvas and paint.”

There is such demand for high-quality signed jewels that finding the best pieces from the top jewelry houses is difficult, he added. “There are so many more collectors and so many more people looking to acquire these amazing jewels that a lot of things disappear into private collections. People are always hunting for these wonderful pieces, and when the auction gets them, there is a frenzy that builds around them.”

Kwiat was also impressed with a Hemmerle brooch depicting two mushrooms. Consisting of round, orange sapphires in copper and 18-karat rose gold, it fetched $56,250, smashing its high estimate. This was one of three jewels by the contemporary German jewelry house to sell at the New York auction.

One item that surprised many by remaining unsold was an amethyst and diamond cuff by the extremely collectible French jeweler Suzanne Belperron. With a presale estimate of $100,000 to $150,000, it was highly promoted and became the most photographed jewel on Instagram during the preview, but it ultimately failed to reach its reserve price.

“I expected that to sell,” Kwiat said. “I don’t have a good reason why that one didn’t make its price.”

Sotheby’s: Gems, panthers and a big D-flawless

The April 15 Magnificent Jewels sale at Sotheby’s achieved $21 million in total, with 93% of lots selling and 78% of those achieving prices above their high estimates. The event followed the hybrid format the auction house had been using during the pandemic, with advance online bidding culminating in a live sale. Like the Christie’s event, it attracted participants from around the world, and four of the 10 most valuable jewels went to Asian collectors.

“Our stunning 93% sell-through rate was the highest we’ve achieved for a Magnificent Jewels sale in New York in more than 20 years,” reported Gary Schuler, worldwide chairman of jewelry at Sotheby’s. “That’s incredibly significant, especially during times of Covid-19, and a promising sign of where the market currently is and where we are headed. We’re starting to see a renewed interest and confidence in the white-diamond market, particularly in the 3- to 20-carat range, and not just at the D/IF level, where there’s much more competition. However, some buyers are still being super selective in purchasing those perfect stones.”

Jewels from the collection of Miami-based philanthropist Patricia Wallace all found buyers, totaling $2.3 million; 96% of them surpassed their high estimates. This included three panther-inspired jewels by David Webb and Cartier, which together raised $221,760 for the benefit of wild-cat conservation organization Panthera.

The auction’s top lot was a round, 41.50-carat, D-flawless, type IIa diamond that achieved approximately $4.9 million. “We haven’t seen a white diamond as the top lot of our Magnificent Jewels sales in New York since December 2016, which makes this result all the more significant,” Schuler said.

Other colorless diamonds that performed well included an emerald-cut, 10.01-carat, D, internally flawless stone that fell within estimates at $685,500, and an emerald-cut, 22.11-carat, G, SI1 stone on a ring by Bulgari, which sold for well above its high estimate at $806,500.

Colored gems also played a significant role. The leading lot in this group was a ring by Tiffany & Co. featuring an emerald-cut, 10.20-carat Colombian emerald, which netted nearly $1.4 million — almost double its high estimate.

“Those rare Colombian emeralds continue to be the crown jewel in every big sale,” Doppelt said. Indeed, another lot that brought in twice its high estimate was a bracelet with diamonds and six emerald-cut Colombian emeralds weighing a total of 37.81 carats; it sold for $327,600.

A Harry Winston necklace and ear-clip set featuring rubies and diamonds in a cluster design also netted $327,600, besting the lot’s high estimate. And a necklace with an oval-shaped, 82.54-carat Madagascar sapphire pendant, which had no reserve price, sold within estimates at $277,200. Other standouts included a gold and alexandrite brooch that nearly doubled its high estimate at $100,800, and a ring featuring a cabochon star ruby and diamonds that went for more than twice its estimate at $107,100.

Fancy-colored diamonds, however, made a poor showing. The few high-profile examples on offer failed to sell, as did several of the auction’s featured lots.

The unsold pieces included a 28.01-carat, unheated Kashmir sapphire on a Tiffany ring with an estimate of $2.5 million to $3.5 million; a Cartier ring featuring a round, 21.82-carat, D, internally flawless diamond with excellent cut, polish and symmetry, valued at $2 million to $3 million; a pair of fancy-yellow diamond stud earrings weighing 5.53 and 5.07 carats, estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million; and a 3.63-carat Burmese ruby and diamond ring with an estimate of $250,000 to $300,000.

One impressive result was an archaeological-revival pendant and earrings in gold and enamel by 19th-century goldsmith Eugène Fontenay. The lot fetched $44,100, shattering its $9,000 high estimate.

Four jewels with Egyptian revival themes ended the sale: three by Cartier and one by 19th-century metalsmith Jules Wièse. They all sold for solid figures. Kwiat’s favorite of these was a large and intricate Cartier necklace in gold, coral, turquoise and lapis lazuli, which fell toward the higher end of its estimate at $176,000. The only one that exceeded estimates was the gold and hardstone longchain necklace by Wièse, which brought in $60,480 — a sum that left Kwiat surprised.

“It was a lovely piece of jewelry,” he remarked, “but wow, what a price.”

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