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Crown jewels


Sapphires, tiaras and an array of impressive diamonds made their mark in Geneva, where many pieces were of noble pedigree.

By David Brough
Extraordinary diamonds, both white and colored, soared above presale estimates at Sotheby’s and Christie’s Geneva in May, as did some exquisite estate jewelry.

The mood at the two Magnificent Jewels sales was much more upbeat than in 2020. Many more auction house clients visited the Swiss city this time, encouraged by the progress of vaccinations and the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions in a number of countries.

Sotheby’s sharply increased the online component in its sale, reducing the number of lots in the live auction in an effort to combat coronavirus risks. Christie’s allowed up to 50 people into the salesroom, with much of the momentum coming from online and phone bidding.

Sotheby’s: Royal blues

Colorful gems stood out in the top lots at the Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels auction, which totaled CHF 55.5 million ($61.5 million). The May 11 event, which sold 80% by lot and 84% by value, took place in its habitual setting at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Among the notable items was a 1930s Art Deco brooch featuring two unheated Kashmir sapphires — one of which, at 55.19 carats, was the largest gem of its kind to appear at auction. The diamond and sapphire brooch sold for almost double its low estimate at CHF 3.5 million ($3.9 million). Designed as a stylized ribbon, the piece was from the collection of Maureen Constance Guinness, marchioness of Dufferin and Ava.

Another remarkable blue sapphire outperformed expectations, taking the top slot at CHF 4.3 million ($4.7 million) after intensive bidding.

“An exceptional 111.73-carat, cushion-shaped Ceylon sapphire set in a Harry Winston diamond necklace was without any doubt the most beautiful and exquisite stone of that origin to appear on the market in a very long time,” Geneva-based Sotheby’s auctioneer and senior specialist Olivier Wagner told Rapaport Magazine. “Thanks to its size, extraordinary royal-blue color and exceptional purity, it tripled its presale low estimate and was the most expensive lot sold in the auction.”

Two Paraiba tourmalines — by Van Cleef & Arpels and Louis Vuitton, respectively — sold for well beyond their high estimates, demonstrating strong demand for rare gemstones and signed pieces, according to Wagner.

In the noble category, a magnificent tiara passed down through generations of Italy’s royal family, featuring natural pearls and diamonds, exceeded its high estimate at CHF 1.5 million ($1.6 million) — one of the highest prices for a tiara in recent years. In addition, an entire collection of Harry Winston pieces from the 1970s found buyers, with most surpassing their high estimates.

“Collectors are more than ever looking for rare historic and noble jewels, especially pieces which have never been on the market before,” Wagner said. “We did not expect a pair of Harry Winston emerald ear pendants from the 1970s to pass the million [mark, in either dollars or francs]. They went for more than four times their presale low estimate.”

Extraordinary colored diamonds commanded strong prices. Among them was a pear-shaped, 3.11-carat, fancy-deep-blue diamond on a Graff ring, which realized CHF 2.1 million ($2.3 million), comfortably within estimates.

However, some outstanding items failed to sell. One was a diamond ring valued at CHF 3.5 million to CHF 4.3 million ($3.9 million to $4.8 million), which attracted bidding up to CHF 3 million ($3.3 million), but ultimately went unclaimed. Other unsold lots included a pair of emerald and diamond ear clips, and a Bulgari diamond and sapphire ring.

“It is just the nature of an auction — some items don’t find a buyer on the day, but this is in no way reflective of the quality of the object or the strength of the market,” Wagner said.

The auction market for diamonds, gemstones and antique jewelry is robust, according to Geneva-based jewelry dealer Thomas Faerber, a cofounder of the GemGenève trade fair.

“With a limited number of lots compared to pre-Covid-19 auctions, the results were very encouraging for good stones and estate jewelry,” Faerber reported. “With the exception of D-color, internally flawless stones, diamonds are firm. Good-quality colored stones fetched very strong prices, and fine estate jewels — especially when signed — went extremely well. It was very difficult to buy at the dealers’ level.”

Christie’s: Making a Spectacle

The Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction on May 12 achieved a total of CHF 57.8 million ($64 million), with sell-through rates of 91% by lot and 98% by value. Bidders from 29 countries participated in the event, which took place as usual at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues.

The much-anticipated Spectacle diamond — a rectangular, 100.94-carat, D-color, internally flawless stone — brought in a solid $141,000 per carat, totaling CHF 12.8 million ($14.2 million). And the magnificent 19th-century sapphire and diamond Braganza Crown sold for CHF 1.8 million ($1.9 million) after a flurry of bids, skyrocketing past its CHF 350,000 ($315,315) high estimate.

“Items that attracted vigorous bidding, such as the Braganza Crown, signaled the health of the market for exceptional pieces that have strong provenance,” said Ronny Totah of Geneva dealer Horovitz & Totah, who cofounded GemGenève with Faerber.

The crown dates to the 1840s and formerly belonged to Queen Maria II of Portugal, who lived from 1819 to 1853. It features old-cut diamonds and unheated octagonal step-cut and oval-shaped sapphires.

Confirming the popularity of tiaras following their success at Sotheby’s the day before, Christie’s garnered CHF 525,000 ($585,000) for an early-19th-century tiara with sapphires and diamonds, more than twice its high estimate.

Both colored and colorless diamonds performed well, including a Boucheron ring with a rectangular-cut, fancy-purplish-pink diamond weighing 8.06 carats. It sold for CHF 3.2 million ($3.5 million), smashing its CHF 1.5 million ($1.7 million) high estimate and triggering a round of applause in the salesroom.

“It’s been a while since we heard this [applause] in an auction room,” auctioneer Rahul Kadakia, Christie’s international head of jewelry, told those present, expressing his thanks.

The sale’s number-two lot was a ring with an oval-shaped, fancy-intense-pink, VS1-clarity, type IIa diamond of 15.23 carats, which fell within estimates at CHF 8.6 million ($9.5 million). This, too, spurred a round of applause.

Two unmounted colorless diamonds did nicely as well. A pear-shaped, brilliant-cut, 12.22-carat stone with D color and SI2 clarity went for more than double its high estimate at CHF 400,000 ($440,000) after vigorous bidding, while an oval-shaped, brilliant-cut diamond of 15.24 carats netted CHF 275,000 ($302,500), far above its CHF 160,000 ($177,600) high estimate.

There was also a diamond necklace, possibly by Harry Winston, that fetched CHF 687,500 ($766,000), surpassing its CHF 600,000 ($666,000) estimate. The piece sports a maker’s mark from French designer Francois Tavernier.

As at Sotheby’s, rare blue sapphires were successful. A Cartier diamond necklace featuring five exceptional unheated Ceylon sapphires fetched more than twice its high estimate at CHF 1.8 million ($2 million). Another unheated Ceylon sapphire on a ring with diamonds hit CHF 400,000 ($446,000), comfortably above its CHF 200,000 high estimate.

“We are definitely on an upward trajectory, with inflationary pressure across all categories,” said Max Fawcett, head of the jewelry department at Christie’s Geneva. “Diamonds, which I consider to be a good barometer of the jewelry market in general, have increased in price due to higher demand. This is a trend I expect to continue [as we head] toward the Autumn sales.”

Pieces by Paris-based jewelry designer Alexandre Reza, who died in 2016, performed consistently well throughout the sale. Examples included a sapphire and diamond bracelet, which bested its high estimate at CHF 93,750 ($104,400), and a pair of sapphire and diamond earrings that sold for CHF 250,000 ($278,500), also above estimates.

Among the most anticipated lots were a number of jewels that once belonged to Stephanie de Beauharnais, the adopted daughter of Napoleon. The collection exceeded expectations: All the pieces beat their high estimates, with many of them doubling or tripling that amount.

Jewelry by celebrated Indian designer Viren Bhagat made a rare appearance at the auction: a pair of elegant emerald, diamond and natural pearl earrings that fetched CHF 175,000 ($195,000), surpassing a high estimate of CHF 150,000 ($167,000).

“There were a not a huge amount of surprises in the sale,” Fawcett said. “The lots were correctly priced and of high quality, so we knew already that they were set to achieve very strong prices.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2021. To subscribe click here.

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