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Markets & Pricing

Hong Kong hues

The pandemic and the geopolitical climate made their mark at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, but gems, jadeite and fancy colors still shone.

By Leah Meirovich
Jadeite and colored diamonds proved once again to be the toast of Hong Kong, nabbing several of the top 10 spots at both the Christie’s and Sotheby’s spring auctions and yielding strong prices. However, the revival in luxury goods that the Asian market saw at the start of the year began to wane slightly as Covid-19 restrictions in China and sanctions related to the Russia-Ukraine war kept some of the regular buyers away.

While most of the notable items at Christie’s sold, bidding prices largely remained within their estimates, leading to a $56.3 million total. Meanwhile, a few big-ticket items failed to find buyers at the Sotheby’s auction, which garnered $37.7 million.

“I’ll tell you what affected prices,” said Jonathan Abram, brand director for Hong Kong-based jeweler and gemstone dealer Ronald Abram. “There is a distinct lack of Chinese and Russian buyers in the market. The Russians because of sanctions, and the Chinese because they are not free to travel [due to Covid-19]. Even though the auction is taking place in Hong Kong, Hong Kong buyers are not the great majority of spending power at the auction. International buyers want to purchase in Hong Kong because it’s free of duties and taxes, which makes it more worthwhile, but if no one can get into Hong Kong, buying the item from overseas would make it very unattractive.”

Sotheby’s: Bolt from the blue

Jadeite and colored stones stood out at the Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale on April 29. While some high-priced items didn’t make the cut with collectors, the health situation didn’t deter serious buyers, Sotheby’s said. In particular, demand for colored diamonds remained strong, with blue coming across as the color of the moment.

Jadeite is always a solid bet at Hong Kong auctions, and while several big jadeite lots underperformed expectations, they fetched respectable prices nonetheless. The top lot for Sotheby’s was an imperial green jadeite and diamond parure consisting of a necklace, a pair of earrings and a ring. The set, which contains a total of 13 jadeite beads weighing 231.70 carats in all, went for $5.9 million, falling short of its $6.4 million lower estimate. A necklace with a pepper-shaped jadeite hanging from a brilliant-cut diamond achieved $3.1 million. Though it, too, missed its $4.5 million low estimate, the piece saw strong interest from bidders, Sotheby’s noted.

A third jadeite jewel also found a buyer, but not during the auction. An international collector scooped up an imperial green jadeite bead necklace for $9.9 million immediately after the sale, a Sotheby’s spokesperson told Rapaport Magazine. The auction house did not disclose the lot’s original estimate.

Also notable was a ring with a cushion-shaped, 3.27-carat, fancy-vivid-blue, internally flawless diamond surrounded by white diamonds and chalcedony, which sold for $5.3 million. Although the price was within estimates, Abram felt that it should have been higher.

“There were two blue diamonds — [a] 3.06-carat at Christie’s and this one at Sotheby’s — and both sold for around $1.6 million per carat, which is significantly less than the market value for those items, so it’s a bit concerning,” he elaborated.

Two large brilliant-cut, D-flawless white diamonds cracked the top 10. The stones, weighing 25.33 carats and 18.88 carats, went for $3 million and $2.1 million respectively, within estimates.

However, Abram believed these stones could have done better as well. He attributed the lower-than-expected prices to an oversaturation of large white diamonds in Hong Kong, and the fact that local buyers are not the market for those items. In addition, he said, buyers are looking for investments, and the jewels on sale in Hong Kong are not as storied as those going under the hammer in other areas.

“Something you don’t have at the Hong Kong auctions, which you do have in Geneva and New York, is jewels from the estates of important collectors,” Abram remarked. “My father had a saying: The most beautiful jewels don’t come from the ground, they come out of estates.”

Aside from the disappointing prices, Sotheby’s also failed to find buyers for some of the auction’s top items. A radiant-cut, 5.11-carat, fancy-vivid-pink diamond on a ring by designer Nicolas Lieou had been expected to fetch as much as $12.8 million, while the Carmine Rose — a ring with an oval, 8.08-carat ruby surrounded by pear-shaped diamond petals — had an upper estimate of $5.1 million. A pair of unmounted oval-shaped, D-flawless diamonds weighing 20.29 and 20.28 carats carried a high estimate of $4.1 million, but ultimately went unsold.

Harsh Maheshwari, executive director of Kunming Diamonds in Hong Kong, considered the estimates fair, but said that external elements — the health situation, travel restrictions, inflation and the Ukraine war — had hampered sales. However, Abram posited that investors were wary of high-priced diamonds and gemstones and might be moving toward other luxury goods such as art and watches.

“The key is that the value of art and watches is going up, whereas jewelry has been all over the place,” Abram said. “It’s not exciting for someone to hear the prices of colored diamonds and gemstones come down from one season to the next. You don’t hear that in other categories, so that’s a bit of an issue.”

Christie’s: vibrant shades

The standout item for Christie’s at Magnificent Jewels on May 25 was a jadeite bead necklace with a clasp that featured an 11-carat Burmese ruby and oval-cut diamonds. Creating top-quality jadeite bead necklaces can be extremely difficult, as the beads need to match nearly perfectly in color, texture and translucency, Christie’s explained. The 33 stones on this necklace were perfectly round, with the most saturated and purest imperial green and a glassy translucency. The piece fetched $8.8 million, within estimates.

While it didn’t reach its highest expected price, the necklace saw spirited competition and was among multiple pieces that participants were eager to snap up, according to Vickie Sek, chairman of the jewelry department for Christie’s Asia Pacific.

“Our Hong Kong saleroom exhibited market vibrancy and strong buying momentum,” she reported. “We are delighted to have achieved strong prices across the diverse selection of fine jadeite, rare colored and colorless diamonds, [and] important colored gemstones.”

Another top seller was a rectangular-cut, 3.06-carat, fancy-vivid-blue, internally flawless diamond on a ring by Moussaieff. It garnered $1.6 million per carat, just shy of its $5 million low estimate. A fancy-intense-orangey-pink diamond also found favor with bidders, securing the third spot. The emerald-cut, 13.32-carat, VVS1-clarity diamond fetched $4.4 million, narrowly missing its $4.8 million upper estimate.

“Colored diamonds and jadeite have been seeing strong and steady demand in Hong Kong,” said Maheshwari. “There have been some very important colored diamonds and gemstones that were sold in recent auctions.”

Indeed, colored gems did make a major splash at the auction. A ring with an oval-cut, 6.05-carat, pigeon’s-blood Burmese ruby and diamonds went for $3.9 million, just above its $3.2 million low estimate. Also noteworthy was a Belle Époque twin-stone ring featuring a cushion-shaped, 9.23-carat Kashmir sapphire and a cushion, 5.25-carat, D-color, internally flawless diamond. That jewel brought in $2 million, edging out its $1.9 million high estimate.

“[Recent strong sales] of colored gemstones at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s, such as that twin-stone ring, tell me that people are more interested in fine colored stones at the moment, such as rubies and sapphires, than they are [in] colored diamonds,” said Abram.

Meanwhile, the trend for big diamonds continued to gather steam. An emerald-cut, 36.15-carat, D-flawless diamond on a ring realized $3.7 million, and a pair of round brilliant-cut, D, internally flawless diamond earrings weighing 15.59 and 15.12 carats achieved $2.8 million, within estimates. A second set of earrings, featuring pear brilliant-cut, D-flawless diamonds of 10.98 and 10.11 carats, also performed well. The Harry Winston duo sold for $2.1 million, above its $2 million upper valuation.

In total, Christie’s sold 85% of the items on offer at the auction, with bidders hailing from 13 countries across four continents.

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

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