Rapaport Magazine

Global Appeal

Despite economic ups and downs, the estate jewelry market continues to flourish on an international level.

By Phyllis Schiller
The estate jewelry market is alive and well and flourishing, attracting collectors and connoisseurs on a global level. “There’s more affluence in the world,” says Michael Goldstein, New York City dealer in antique diamonds and jewelry. “Just as the estate market has broadened and deepened in the U.S. over the past ten years, there is a wealthy cosmopolitan stratum of society abroad developing similar tastes for the fine and rare,” including estate jewelry.

“As the world gets smaller, we’re seeing more buyers out there,” acknowledges Virginia Salem, director, New York jewelry, Bonhams. “It’s interesting, because there’s more money in certain parts of the world than there was prior to even eight years ago — Russia, Dubai, the Mid East, even Hong Kong, which had gone down and then back up.”

So far in 2011, continues Salem, “foreign buyers have been willing to spend. And if the past six months are any indication, people are pretty confident in buying their jewelry within the U.S.; it’s definitely a sound buying audience that I don’t see going anywhere.”

Spanning the Globe

Scott Gordon, Scott Gordon Jeweler/Gemologist, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, points out that international markets have an inherent appreciation of fine jewelry as a store of wealth, which can carry over into a desire to own high-end estate pieces. “Last fall,” says Gordon, “I blogged about the international estatejewelry market, referencing the World Wealth Report 2010, published by Merrill Lynch/Capgemini, which said that greater demand for collectible jewelry wasemanating from China and India, as one would expect, as well as Russia, Brazil and Germany.”

Jorge Chamizo, buyer for estate dealer McTeigue Since 1895, observes that emerging economies such as India, China and the Gulf countries are increasingly more interested in estate jewelry now. “With respect to style, these new markets are first searching in their own cultural backgrounds — jade in China, natural pearls and gold in India and the Middle East — and thenbroadening their collections to include the classic staples of twentieth-century style, such as Art Deco, or pieces signed by the major jewelry houses, as well as the very rare gemstones.”

Broad Appeal

Certain styles do better in different countries than others, continues Chamizo. “We see Retro Moderne jewelry do better in the U.S. and Latin America than in Europe, probably because of a cultural reticence in Europe toward 14-karat gold. Pieces from the nineteenth century have a better reception in Europe than in the U.S., where there is more interest for jewelry made of diamonds and platinum than gold. There used to be a certain cultural aversion to secondhand items in China, but a very strong emerging upper class is hungry for collectible pieces of any period, especially Art Deco.

In the signed antique jewelry market, the pieces of Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and the other major masters have become a luxury brand in themselves, says Goldstein, which is noted all over the world. “And I think that fine jewelry has come into the same area of scholarship and connoisseurship and collectibility as furniture or art glass objects. It’s the rarity and uniqueness. New money goes after the finest things it can find. If you look at some of the diamonds and colored stones in some of these fine pieces, it explains why.”

 Chamizo agrees that for the foreign market, estate jewelry has undoubtedly become a very powerful source for stones. “The price of rough diamonds is at historic high levels, so estate dealers are seen by these new markets as the new diamond and gemstone mines. A lot of the estate pieces that we buy in America are being sold to Indians, Chinese or Indonesians, who either keep them as they are or remanufacture them, just as we have been doing in America and Europe. Styles change, pieces get refashioned into new styles or as components of other new pieces. Only the pieces that best represent a certain style or period will remain intact over time.”

To Each His Own

Depending upon the country, says Patti Geolat, chief executive officer (CEO), Geolat Companies, Dallas, Texas, “there are certain classic periods that will always be salable. Art Deco is still very much in demand; that seems to be the default period that everybody loves to find. But, for example, you would do better with eighteenth-century Georgian jewelry in England and the U.K. than in Asia. England has an appreciation for the historic pieces, typically associated with a particular monarch or century, and signed pieces. And the better markets in Europe — Switzerland, Italy, France — have a great appreciation for the rare gem.” But while markets can be geographically centered, the universal demand, Geolat states, is for quality. “As long as the piece is in good condition, and it’s good quality and well made, that’s what is going to rule. They would much rather have a really good example of a contemporary, twentieth-century piece than a poorly crafted Art Deco piece.”

The newer international buyers at auction, says Salem, are learning more every year and their tastes are becoming more and more refined. “But I think that as a sweeping generalization, they’re more concerned with a look and a design that is going to tell their friends they’ve arrived and that they know fashion. Good quality, obviously, but they are looking for more of self-adornment.”

Specific jewelry very much toward the Asian taste, points out Simon Teakle, antique and period jewelry specialist at Betteridge Jewelers in Greenwich, Connecticut, includes more contemporary, signed pieces, such as a 1960s Cartier panther bracelet or invisibly set Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet. But antique jewelry, not so much. “Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. We have picked up a couple of Asian clients through the internet and they’ve interested in nice, signed jewelry; they are sophisticated buyers and they know what they like and they know what’s good,” says Teakle.

Helping the U.S. Market Grow

“There are more people in the world, in sheer numbers, who appreciate antique and estate jewelry than ever before,” says Salem, “which has definitely fed the estate jewelry market. The desirability has gone up and therefore demand has gone up for these types of things, which makes them a little harder to acquire.”

Geolat points out that the price of gold, a worldwide issue, is driving the market for selling off jewelry. This in turn is raising awareness among U.S. family-owned and operated stores, which are now considering getting into the estate market. “Jewelers have gotten a brand-new appreciation of buying from the public. And that will only continue to grow. Some of it is just jewelry that is going to get melted and is not going to live a continued life as an estate piece of jewelry. But the appreciation for this recycling has definitely fueled the estate jewelry market.”

Moreover, much of what the mom-and-pop stores are buying for scrap, says Geolat, “is diamond melee-type goods, which they are shipping off to India and China, where they are recycled. So that’s another angle on the international impact on estate jewelry.”

There’s a trickle-down effect, explains Geolat. “Wholesalers who deal in the U.S. and also overseas share what’s happening in the market with their retail stores, who will then educate their consuming public. I think by the next generation, we’re going to see even more jewelers create estate jewelry departments. They’re going to be going themselves to see what is in museums and other estate jewelry stores across the country and across the world.”

“New collectors from these markets are coming to the market, and new financial centers are making this industry more global,” sums up Chamizo. “The market is not just in Paris, New York and London, but also in Hong Kong and Mumbai, as well as Dubai. For those of us who are dealers of estate jewelry, it represents a chance to broaden our markets far beyond our traditional U.S.–based business. We participate in most international trade shows and slowly meet the key players in each region, so we can provide them with the pieces and stones we source in the U.S.”

For those who are stepping into the foreign market arena, Teakle offers a word of caution. “People think emerging markets, the Middle East in the 1970s, Russia in the ’90s and now it’s Asia, are paved with gold. You can’t go there thinking to make a quick buck. The most important thing is to not underestimate your client and the power of negotiation. Be true to yourself as far as what you offer and the price you offer it at. My mantra has always been if you protect your client, look after your client, you will engender business.” 

*Top: Belle Époque diamond tiara with a center 7.26 carat, D color VVS2 pear-shaped diamond. Photo courtesy of Bonhams



Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2011. To subscribe click here.

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