Rapaport Magazine
Markets & Pricing

Diamonds take Manhattan

Two stunners over 100 carats were the star attractions at the New York Magnificent Jewels sales, where impressive prices offered a dose of optimism.

By Anthony DeMarco
War, inflation, stock market declines and regional challenges have had little impact on auction performance in general. Demand and prices for high-quality gems and jewels keep rising. Heading into the summer break, professionals in the secondary jewelry market expressed an almost giddy positivity about the direction of future sales.

“Auctions are proving to be a bellwether for the industry, and [that’s] giving people optimism,” said Ben Goldberg of New York diamond dealer William Goldberg. “There seems to be a scarcity of goods in the market, and the prices [that jewels are seeing at auction] are ridiculous. Both those in the trade and private collectors are in competition for these pieces.”

That much was evident at the Sotheby’s and Christie’s New York jewelry sales last month, which together earned more than $100 million in revenue.

Christie’s: Big stones and a JAR jubilee

Colorless diamonds performed exceptionally well at the Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction on June 8, which saw spirited bidding for its finely curated selection of 99 lots. In total, it achieved approximately $48.9 million, selling 95% by lot and 98% by value.

An increase in online sales and other changes in the marketplace have led Christie’s to present fewer — but more desirable — pieces at live auctions, commented Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas. “In today’s market, we find that for our Magnificent Jewels sales, the rarest jewels and gemstones perform best in a live auction setting. However, the majority of jewels offered at auction perform extremely well through the online platform, and we have seen a shift [toward] offering higher-value lots in this online channel.”

The big story was the 103.49-carat, D-flawless Light of Africa diamond, which fetched just under $20.1 million. However, there were plenty of standouts in the diamond category. A necklace featuring a heart-shaped, 76.46-carat, D-color, VVS2-clarity stone sold for more than $4.9 million. The final lot in the sale was a pear-shaped, 20.23-carat, D-flawless diamond that had no reserve price and achieved just over $2 million. And an elegant Harry Winston diamond necklace from circa 1955 fetched $970,200, nearly double its high estimate.

The other big attraction at the auction was a group of 12 jewels by contemporary high-jewelry artist JAR — one of the largest collections of the designer’s jewels ever to go up for auction, according to Christie’s. The pieces came from the estate of publisher and philanthropist Ann Getty, who was both an early supporter and a friend of the brand’s founder, Joel Arthur Rosenthal.

All 12 pieces sold for a combined total of more than $5 million, twice their presale estimate. An agate, diamond and sapphire zebra brooch brought in $554,400, nearly eight times its $70,000 high estimate, while the multi-gem and diamond Oak Leaf earrings more than tripled their upper estimate at $504,000. The multi-gem and diamond Vitrail Fleur-de-Lys brooch netted $453,600, smashing its expected maximum price of $120,000.

“It was a watershed moment for JAR’s work in the secondary market,” said Greg Kwiat, owner of Kwiat Diamonds and estate jeweler Fred Leighton. “There’s an increasing recognition that these jewels are special pieces of art and rare one-of-a-kind items, so the market for these pieces will continue to increase over time. This collection represented some of the most iconic works of [JAR’s] career, owned by one of his most dedicated clients.”

Six other period jewels from Getty’s estate were part of the sale. One was an intricate Belle Époque diamond and platinum choker that fetched $409,500, more than five times its high estimate. Another was a pair of sapphire and diamond earrings by contemporary Indian jewelry artist Bhagat that more than doubled their upper estimate at $126,000.

“Belle Époque is the ultimate in collectable period jewelry,” said Kwiat. “This necklace had all the elements one would hope for in a jewel to represent the period. A choker of this scale with intimate floral motifs is in many ways the iconic style of this era. It is not surprising to me that it blew the estimate out of the water.”

One area where the sale was lacking was fancy-colored diamonds. There were few on offer, and even fewer were exceptional specimens.

“There don’t seem to be many pink, blue and yellow diamonds on the trade side,” commented David Doppelt of New York jewelry house Jonathan Doppelt, which specializes in fancy colors. “White diamonds have increased tremendously. Colored diamonds haven’t really gone up that much at public auction. We’ll see if this continues.”

An exception was a Bulgari Trombino ring featuring a 15.98-carat, fancy-intense-yellow diamond that sold for more than twice its high estimate at $693,000.

“That’s an enormous price,” Doppelt said. “As a yellow-diamond purveyor, I was excited to see that. It always adds confidence.”

The Bulgari name was not the reason for the ring’s price, he added. “It does have pedigree, but at the end of the day, the price was not driven by the provenance. It was a stone most people were looking fiercely to own.”

Sotheby’s: Getting fancy

The Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale on June 16 was a balanced auction where colored and colorless diamonds, signed jewels, and period pieces all had an impact on the overall results. Of the 142 lots at the New York event, 81% found buyers, bringing in a total of $52 million.

The top lot was the pear-shaped, 101.41-carat Juno diamond, which went for nearly $13 million to a private collector who renamed it the Claire G. Other diamonds also did well. Among them was a Kwiat ring with an emerald-cut, 26.06-carat, D, VVS1 diamond that fetched more than $2.3 million. A pair of diamond and sapphire ear clips sold for more than $2.2 million, and a ring with a 20.50-carat diamond of H color and VS1 clarity achieved $945,000.

“I’m amazed by some of the prices Sotheby’s made,” Goldberg said. The Juno diamond “had some issues, such as internal graining and [the fact that] it was not flawless, and it still achieved a very strong price. Diamonds are hot even with all the turbulence geopolitically and in the finance world. Hard assets are ruling the day.”

Several fancy-colored diamonds sold, with two standing out from the rest: an old mine-cut, 4.08-carat, fancy-intense-pink stone that more than doubled its high estimate at $3.8 million, and a 3.46-carat, fancy-grey-violet one that came to nearly $2 million, almost triple its upper estimate. The two diamonds were previously part of the same ring, but the auction house sold them as separate lots without the original mounting.

“We were fortunate enough to offer two particular-colored diamonds from a private collector…that exuded an undeniable intangible quality that spoke to buyers around the world,” said Quig Bruning, head of jewels for Sotheby’s Americas.

“Those were incredible results,” enthused Doppelt. “That grey-violet was very interesting, and [the pairing] with the pink made quite a combination on one ring. It would be cool if the same person bought both stones.” That information wasn’t readily available, however.

Two yellow diamonds received attention from bidders as well. A pear-shaped, 15.23-carat, fancy-vivid-yellow, internally flawless specimen fetched $655,200, and an oval-shaped, 19.83-carat, fancy-intense-yellow stone on a ring sold for $604,800.

The auction also included an unusual fancy-deep-orange-brown diamond of 111.59 carats in a colorful azurmalachite frame from the David Webb workshop. Although it had no reserve price, it fell short of its $1.5 million low estimate and ultimately sold for $693,000. Even the elaborately crafted setting and the owner’s offer during the sale to give part of the proceeds to charity failed to entice any higher bids.

“It’s an unusual diamond notable more for its size than any other feature,” Kwiat remarked. “Brown diamonds are not widely appreciated.”

Several pieces particularly impressed the professionals.

For Kwiat, the highlight was a ruby and diamond sautoir necklace in a geometric red-and-white design with two detachable brooches. It sold for $529,200, more than four times its high estimate. “It was a beautiful piece that received a tremendous response,” Kwiat said.

He was also enamored of an undated platinum pendant necklace by Dreicer & Co., an important New York diamond and jewelry firm during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The oval-shaped pendant features diamonds in a foliate design and three articulated diamond tassels, for a total diamond weight of about 13.10 carats. It sold for $50,400, exceeding estimates.

Bruning’s favorite among the signed items was a Van Cleef & Arpels mystery-set ruby and diamond clip brooch depicting a holly leaf, which sold for $982,800.

“The result was confirmation, if there ever was needed, that buyers around the world continue to compete aggressively for the best of the best, especially for iconic designs by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels,” Bruning said.

Two highly touted signed jewels failed to make their reserve prices, however. The first was an Indian-inspired emerald and diamond fringe necklace by Cartier London from circa 1945, which had an estimate of $1.5 million to $2.5 million. The second was a pair of diamond earrings by Harry Winston with two Colombian emeralds of 20.27 and 18.69 carats, carrying an estimate of $1.2 million to $1.8 million.

Despite these setbacks, those in the business were satisfied with the results of both the Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales, particularly compared to other struggling investments.

“While there’s uncertainty in the global financial markets, the results from our luxury sales this week signal optimism going into the summer, as we continue to see strong prices across all price points,” declared Bruning.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2022. To subscribe click here.

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