Rapaport Magazine

The Big Bang

Sotheby’s New York December sale of Magnificent Jewels set a new record for a one-day Sotheby’s jewelry sale in the city.

By Amber Michelle

The top lot of the sale was a 6.54-carat IF fancy intense pink diamond ring that sold for $8,594,500.

Beautiful jewels owned by glamourous women sold to benefit The Breast Cancer Research Foundation® (BRCF), along with rare stones and unique signed pieces, drove Sotheby’s December sale of Magnificent Jewels to new heights. The sale tallied up an impressive $64,765,013, the highest-ever total for a day of jewelry sales at Sotheby’s New York. This breaks the previous record of $53,327,840 set in December 2010. The new total continues the trend that started at the spring 2012 sale when the auction house made the highest total ever for an April jewelry sale in New York, bringing in $43,192,151. This compares to one year ago, when the December 2011 sale garnered $30,398,818.
   Split into three sessions, the auction was a daylong marathon that started at ten o’clock in the morning and ended at nine o’clock in the evening. The sale total was somewhat of
a surprise as there were a number of passes during the day that gave the appearance of a weakening market. The items that did sell were true to auction tradition — that which is rare and irreplaceable — and in the end that added up to big dollars.

   This sale also profited from two great collections — The Collection of Estée Lauder
and Evelyn H. Lauder, which was sold to benefit BRCF, and the Collection of
Mrs. Charles Wrightsman. “You could put faces to the jewelry and imagine their
lifestyles. That is very interesting to people,” explains Lisa Hubbard, chairman,
North & South America, Sotheby’s International Jewelry Division. “It’s always
great to tie the sale to a cause. To have a name like Lauder and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is a huge draw.”

The Lauder Collection
   Much of the excitement at the auction took place during the evening session when the two single-owner collections went on the block. The Sotheby’s staff changed from daytime work wear to sparkling evening attire and the competition between bidders began.
   The jewels of Estée Lauder and her daughter-in-law Evelyn H. Lauder were an eclectic assortment of very fine diamonds and signed jewelry. The collection contributed $22,248,250 to the day’s final sale total, the net proceeds of which were donated to BRCF, which was created by Evelyn H. Lauder in 1993. Estée Lauder, the woman who founded a global cosmetics company bearing her name, is a brand known to everyone.
Evelyn Lauder married Estée’s son Leonard Lauder in 1959 and worked in the family business for 50 years. She is, however, perhaps best known for her tireless work to bring global awareness to the importance of women’s health. In addition to founding the BRCF, in 1992, she created the renowned Pink Ribbon with Self magazine.

   Fittingly, the top lot of the day and the last item in the sale was the 6.54-carat, internally flawless, fancy intense pink diamond ring by Oscar Heyman & Brothers. It belonged
to Evelyn H. Lauder and sold for $8,594,500*, or $1,313,144 per carat. The pink
diamond was perhaps in some ways symbolic of the pink ribbon that Evelyn Lauder championed. There was much competition for the ring, but in the end, it was purchased by London-based jeweler Graff.

   “It was a magnificent stone, a beautiful stone,” remarked Henri Barguirdjian, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Graff, who was in the salesroom bidding. “Any colored diamond over 5 carats does not come our way that often. Bidding was fierce against other members of the trade. There is a buoyant market for fantastic stones.”
   Barguirdjian also placed the winning bids for the second- and third-top lots of the sale. He purchased a 52.73-carat, VS1, fancy vivid yellow diamond ring for $3,890,500, or $73,781 per carat. A 22.16-carat D, potentially flawless type IIa diamond ring, which had also belonged to Evelyn H. Lauder and was originally sold by Graff, was bought back by Barguirdjian for $3,442,500, or $155,347 per carat.

The Wrightsman Collection
   The Wrightsman Collection, which had its own catalog, was filled with unusual
signed designer pieces, including Suzanne Belperron, Verdura, Bulgari, Cartier and
JAR. The Wrightsman collection accounted for $15,541,188 of the day’s total. Intensely private, Mrs. Charles (Jayne) Wrightsman is known for her philanthropy as well as her
art collection. Along with numerous paintings, she donated 13 rooms of furniture and decorative arts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mrs. Wrightsman is also a knowledgeable collector who does extensive research when she purchases for
her collections.

   Many pieces in the Wrightsman Collection sold for shockingly high prices as bidders vied aggressively to own fine, unique jewelry that will never be made again. Even the dealers who are regular auction buyers tittered and shook their heads at some of the astounding sums paid for the pieces. One of the standouts from the Wrightsman Collection was the natural pearl and diamond corsage ornament, circa 1910. The piece contained three large diamonds ranging in size from 8.67 carats to 9.59 carats, two large natural pearls and an additional 19.50 carats of smaller European, rose-cut and old mine diamonds used as accents. It sold for $2,042,500 to a U.S. dealer. A world-record price for a single natural gray pearl at auction was set for a natural gray pearl and diamond brooch, which sold for $1,874,500 to a buyer who wished to remain anonymous. Due to their rarity, there is keen interest in natural pearls, which no longer exist except in older pieces and are therefore commanding robust premiums.

The 10-Carat Rule
   The daytime sessions of the sale lacked the excitement of the evening session.
There were a number of unsold items throughout the day, but mostly of dealer goods placed in the sale. White diamonds followed the 10-carat rule: If the stone was over
10 carats, it sold regardless of quality; anything the least bit under the magic 10-carat
mark passed.

   “White diamond prices are softer, people don’t know where prices are going,”
said Shailesh Jhalani, owner and CEO of Prompt Gem Importers in New York City.
“Big diamonds sold for investment purposes.”

   Matthew Tratner, chief operating officer (COO) of GemsAround.com, believes that
there is a psychological factor at work. “Prices for white diamonds, rounds especially,
have been pushed up, they’ve run out of room for profit,” he commented. “There is a certain protection for larger diamonds that don’t come on the market every day. There is
an inherent value in larger stones that won’t go away and they are more protected from price fluctuations. Psychologically, it feels like there is protection.”

   On the other hand, colored gemstones galloped through the sale, which was heavy
with emeralds. “Emeralds were going for strong prices, the prices are skyrocketing,”
noted Jhalani. “All the old material sold for very strong prices because it is not treated. New material did not sell because it is treated.”

   Hubbard attributed some of the sale’s success to the advances in technology and the ability that technology offers to show jewelry to the best advantage to a global market. Rather than being limited to a print catalog, buyers can view the catalog online, on the
iPad and even via videos made of particular pieces, which educates buyers and brings the jewelry to a larger audience. “Jewelry prices just keep inching up,” concluded Hubbard. “We had an interesting assemblage of jewels. The market is sophisticated about design
and buyers understand the rarity of stones.”

*All prices include buyer’s premium.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - January 2013. To subscribe click here.

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