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Moving by the millions


Big-ticket items did well at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, especially colored diamonds.

By David Brough
Exquisite colored diamonds and signed pieces from prestigious jewelry brands outperformed expectations at the October 12 Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction in Hong Kong, even though some lots failed to find buyers.

Colored diamonds garnered the highest prices at the sale, which totaled over $50 million. Over 90% of the lots with estimates of at least HKD 10 million ($1.3 million) sold successfully, underscoring the resilience of big-ticket items in the auctions market during the pandemic.

“We saw strong performance for high-value jewelry,” Wenhao Yu, deputy chairman of jewelry at Sotheby’s Asia, told Rapaport Magazine. “Diamonds, particularly colored diamonds, continue to be in demand, while rare gemstones such as sapphires, rubies and emeralds continue to be collectors’ favorites.”

The top lot was a ring with an emerald-cut, 3.01-carat, fancy-vivid-blue, VS1-clarity, type IIb diamond, which went for $4.5 million, within its presale estimate. A ring featuring a pear-shaped, 5.29-carat, fancy-intense-green, SI1 diamond surrounded by pink-tinted diamonds fetched $3.1 million, also within estimates.

Among rare, natural colored diamonds, blues and pinks continue to be among the most popular, achieving record high diamond prices at auction in recent years. These hues combine well aesthetically in jewelry and have often featured together in Magnificent Jewels sales.

Promising signs

Some exceptional pieces by Parisian high-jewelry brands Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, which traditionally perform well in high-value auctions, easily surpassed their presale valuations.

A Cartier pendant necklace with pearls, diamonds and pink sapphires garnered HKD 2.3 million ($291,597), nearly three times its high estimate, while a 1930s Zip necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels soared past its upper estimate to hit HKD 3.3 million ($421,195).

“In the Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction, buyers showed strong interest in signed pieces by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Harry Winston, which continue to be collectors’ favorites, achieving phenomenal prices,” said Marijan Dundek, author of the book Diamonds, who followed the Hong Kong sale.

The rise of jadeite

Jadeite pieces garnered some of the highest prices, reflecting Chinese collectors’ strong appetite for the mineral. In Chinese culture, it symbolizes prosperity, success and good luck.

“Three exquisite jadeite pieces were among the most valuable jewels sold in the auction, and saw fierce bidding from Asia, the US and Europe,” Dundek observed.

One such item was an extraordinary carved pendant of imperial green jadeite. The piece, named Fortunate Longevity, achieved $2.8 million.

International interest in fine jadeite has continued to grow, with bidding from Asia, the US and Europe, Yu reported. “The proportion of non-Asian clients (bidders/buyers) in our jadeite jewelry sales has increased steadily over the past decade, with more significant growth since 2019.”

He added that “the average percentage of non-Asian clients from 2019 till 2021 [year to date] is around 20%, which is significant considering the average participation of 7% from 2010 to 2018.”

He attributed the growth to “the adoption of a more transparent grading standard and pricing system at our auctions, as well as our ongoing efforts to diversify our jadeite offerings and reach out to potential clients around the world.”

Sotheby’s recently worked with the Swiss Gemmological Institute (SSEF) and Gübelin Gem Lab to introduce a grading system that would help set an industry standard for jadeite, aiming to provide better guidelines and transparency for consumers and the trade. The term “imperial green” refers to those with a Grade A superior quality.

Unsold lots

Some items did not sell, whether because the right buyer didn’t come along or because the estimate was too high.

One example was the pearl and diamond Queen Joséphine necklace from the royal house of Sweden, estimated at up to $3 million. The auction house withdrew the piece at the consignor’s request. The Star of Sierra Leone, an heirloom Harry Winston brooch that carried a high estimate of $1.4 million, failed to sell as well. The brooch featured five marquise-cut, flawless diamonds and one pear-shaped diamond in a floral pattern.

Another piece that remained unsold was a rare 74.79-carat, fancy-vivid-yellow diamond in a ring. Estimated at $2.2 million to $3.2 million, it attracted bids of up to $2 million.

Online bidders were very active in the sale, highlighting the expansion of digital business during the pandemic.

“More than 40% of the lots sold were over the internet,” Dundek said. “A new trend is definitely emerging.”

“Buyers showed strong interest in signed pieces by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Harry Winston, which continue to be collectors’ favorites”

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

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