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Markets & Pricing

Giants of Geneva

Two record-setting diamonds, names like JAR and Oscar Heyman, and an array of sparkling gemstones set the tone at the Swiss auctions.

By David Brough
Christie’s sold two 200-carat diamonds at its Geneva Magnificent Jewels sale on May 11, meeting expectations for the remarkable stones and confirming the resilience of the top end of the market despite the pandemic, inflation, and the war in Ukraine.

The Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels auction a day earlier saw strong results but sold fewer big-ticket items than Christie’s. The star lot was a signed Art Deco diamond bracelet of superb craftsmanship, which fetched nearly double its presale estimate.

The two auctions came right on the heels of the Swiss city’s GemGenève jewelry show, which ran from May 5 to 8 and reported a high turnout and buoyant business.

Christie’s: The Rock and the Red Cross

Christie’s had the lion’s share of the Geneva auctions’ highest-selling items; its top 10 lots all exceeded $1 million. Totaling CHF 69 million ($69.7 million), the event sold 92% by lot and 98% by value, reflecting robust demand among collectors for high-quality jewelry and gemstones.

Headlining the sale was The Rock, the largest white diamond ever to appear at auction. After a flurry of bidding, a private collector snapped up the pear brilliant-cut, 228.31-carat diamond for CHF 21.7 million ($21.9 million), at the lower end of its CHF 19 million to CHF 30 million estimate ($19.2 million to $30.3 million).

“It was what we expected — a great result,” auctioneer Max Fawcett told Rapaport Magazine afterward at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, the usual venue for the Christie’s auctions.

The mood in the salesroom was upbeat, and the results corroborated the prevailing sentiment at GemGenève that the upper end of the diamond, gem, and vintage jewelry market was doing well. Such superior-quality goods are often considered inflation-proof, safe-haven “passion investments” in times of heightened geopolitical uncertainty.

“Overall, the top end of the market is strong across the board, with signed jewelry doing especially well in Geneva,” said David Abramov of London-based Palmarius Jewels.

One of the highlights was the 205.07-carat, fancy-intense-yellow Red Cross diamond, which went for CHF 14.2 million ($14.3 million) after lengthy bidding. At $70,000 per carat, the sum was a world auction record for a fancy-intense-yellow diamond, Christie’s said. Significant proceeds from the sale went to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“This diamond was bought by a private collector who appreciates its history and being a part of its history,” Fawcett commented. Christie’s had already auctioned the stone twice before: Once in London for GBP 10,000 in 1918, and then in Geneva for CHF 1.8 million in 1973.

Several other highly anticipated lots achieved solid results, including the diamond and natural-pearl Furstenberg tiara, which formerly belonged to the Austrian royal family. It garnered just under CHF 2.4 million ($2.4 million), nearly quadruple its CHF 600,000 ($605,880) high estimate. “The rising prices of rare natural pearls contributed to this result,” Fawcett said.

Extremely rare and beautiful gems were much in demand at the sale. One example was a signed necklace by Alexandre Reza with sapphires and diamonds, which fetched nearly CHF 1.5 million ($1.5 million), soaring above its CHF 350,000 ($353,430) estimate.

“It is extremely difficult to find this quantity of large, similarly sized, unheated sapphires of a similar color and shape in one piece of jewelry, which is why the necklace did so well,” explained Sam Ijadi, owner of New York-based gemstone seller Ijadi Gem.

A number of signed pieces exceeded expectations, such as a sapphire and diamond bangle by Italian high jeweler Bulgari that sold for CHF 277,200 ($280,000), beating its CHF 220,000 ($222,156) high estimate. A Chaumet ring featuring a 17.80-carat Colombian emerald and diamonds achieved nearly CHF 1.9 million ($1.9 million), easily surpassing an upper estimate of CHF 650,000 ($656,370).

Fawcett attributed the strong performance of signed goods to their high quality. “Signed jewels are the most collectable of all jewels,” he said, pointing to items by maisons such as Cartier, Harry Winston, Bulgari, Chaumet and Reza.

All five pieces by contemporary Paris-based designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal — aka JAR — crushed their estimates. “JAR pieces are much sought-after by collectors around the world,” Fawcett stated. JAR’s sphalerite and diamond Hard-Boiled Egg earrings netted CHF 327,600 ($330,810), comfortably above their expected maximum of CHF 220,000 ($222,156).

Rosenthal, who attended GemGenève, was not seen at the auctions, although there was a seat reserved for him at Christie’s.

Sotheby’s: Awash in color

The most anticipated lot at the May 10 Sotheby’s sale was a 1927 diamond and gem-set bracelet by Oscar Heyman & Brothers, which fronted the auction catalogue and ultimately achieved over CHF 1.4 million ($1.5 million) — well above its CHF 745,000 ($752,450) high estimate.

“This was one of the finest Art Deco bracelets to come to the market in recent years,” auctioneer Olivier Wagner, who presented the piece as the final lot, told Rapaport Magazine after the sale at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. “It was the result of more than 1,500 hours of craftsmanship.”

The auction’s total was lower than that of Christie’s, coming to CHF 36.1 million ($36.4 million). It sold 77% of its 190 lots.

Fancy-colored diamonds were among the star achievers at Sotheby’s. A ring with a 7.17-carat, fancy-intense-purple-pink diamond was the top lot, bringing in just over CHF 5.6 million ($5.6 million), within estimates. Natural pink diamonds have recently outperformed other fancy-vivid colors, including yellows and blues, according to the Fancy Color Research Foundation (FCRF).

Another hotly anticipated piece was an emerald and diamond brooch featuring a remarkable eye-clean emerald, which fell within estimates at CHF 378,000 ($381,780). The price highlighted the strength of demand for exceptional stones.

Two Mozambican Paraiba tourmaline lots from London jeweler Boodles attracted vibrant bidding and exceeded price expectations. A pair of Paraiba and diamond earrings achieved CHF 352,800 ($356,328), more than five times their CHF 70,000 ($70,700) high estimate, while the brand’s Paraiba and diamond Wonderland ring fetched CHF 529,200 ($534,290), compared with an upper estimate of CHF 300,000 ($303,000).

“The color of the Paraiba tourmalines was super bright, lively and very clean,” Wagner reported. “The estimate was very realistic.”

Sapphires also performed nicely. A ring with a royal-blue, unheated Kashmir sapphire of 5.95 carats between two diamonds sold for CHF 819,000 ($824,111), smashing its CHF 465,000 ($469,650) high estimate. Another sapphire and diamond ring — this one with a step-cut, 28.19-carat Ceylon sapphire that showed no indications of heating — netted CHF 642,600 ($649,026), well above its CHF 420,000 ($424,200) high estimate.

“Exceptional-size, unheated sapphires are much sought-after,” observed Ijadi.

Signed items by top maisons flourished at the sale, including a rare Cartier tutti frutti bracelet with gemstones and diamonds, which surpassed estimates at CHF 529,200 ($534,492). As at Christie’s, JAR jewelry saw impressive results: The designer’s Moghul pendant/brooch with diamonds and gems, including a 14.77-carat sapphire, brought in CHF 630,000 ($636,300), cresting its upper estimate of CHF 600,000 ($606,000).

An outstanding pearl necklace also shot far beyond its expected price, underscoring the extreme rarity of natural pearls. Consisting of 542 saltwater pearls in five graduated rows, the necklace sold for CHF 302,400 ($305,424) after vigorous bidding, compared with a maximum valuation of CHF 90,000 ($90,900).

Spinel was another gem that stood out in the Geneva sales — possibly because buyers were seeing it as a value opportunity due to the exceptionally high cost of rubies nowadays. A notable example was a ring from maison Avani with diamonds and a cushion-shaped, 21.02-carat spinel, which went for CHF 478,800 ($483,588), at the top end of its estimate.

Several items failed to sell, however. One of the highlighted lots, a Chopard ring featuring a step-cut, 80.08-carat diamond and rubies, received bids of up to CHF 7.2 million ($7.3 million), but ultimately passed. “It didn’t find the right buyer on the day,” Wagner said.

There was also a brilliant-cut, 3.08-carat, fancy-pink diamond ring that remained unsold. The highest bid came to CHF 650,000 ($656,370), short of the piece’s CHF 720,000 ($727,200) low estimate.

Some dealers said privately that the auction may have lost some sales due to the brisk business that took place at GemGenève. However, it was difficult to measure any direct impact from the show.

“The right diamonds and gemstones were in demand,” remarked Palmarius Jewels’ Abramov, but “buyers were more discerning.”

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

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