Highest quality items outperform at Geneva jewel auctions
By David Brough
GENEVA, May 2019 – The Geneva magnificent jewelry auctions in May revealed brisk demand for the highest quality jewels and colored gemstones, but some standout items fell short of their investment potential.
Among the star lots was an Art Deco necklace once owned by an American socialite who was a friend of the Duchess of Windsor, and supremely rare rubies and emeralds, which also had in some cases royal provenance.
Many lots surpassed pre-sale estimates, especially signed jewels from high jewelry brands and remarkably rare and beautiful colored gemstones and diamonds.
Prestigious Paris-based gemstone supplier Piat, which delivers gems to some of the world’s leading jewelers, gave the following analysis of the Geneva sales:
“The market was very selective: only stones of truly fine quality achieved an exceptional price. The remainder were either unsold or achieved an average price. This is a market for experts – for real merchants.”
The top selling lot at the Christie’s sale held at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues on May 15, was an extraordinarily rare ruby of 22.86 carats set in a ring by Harry Winston.
Attracting dynamic bidding, the ring, which was the property of a princess, sold for $7.2 million to an anonymous buyer, well above its $2.0-3.0 million pre-sale estimate.
“Rubies are not easy to find in large sizes,” chief auctioneer Rahul Kadakia said in an interview after the sale.
“A ruby of almost 23 carats, old-mine cut, with royal provenance, Harry Winston – all of that put together, this is the perfect situation for an auction.”
Another strongly performing gem was a 118.05-carat yellow brilliant-cut diamond, which achieved $7.09 million, almost triple its pre-sale estimate.
“One very special diamond,” said Kadakia, Christie’s International Head of Jewelry.
“An old cushion stone. There was a personal element in the purchase of the stone. It was purchased by the family of Sam Abram, an important member of the trade who passed away recently. This was a purchase made by his children.”
The stone was named the SIBA Diamond after the sale, in recognition of the family company.
Some good quality but not exceptional gems failed to score impressive prices, Piat said in its analysis.
One example was a Burmese sapphire (Lot 170 Christie’s) of 20.76 carats, which achieved an unremarkable $25,000 per carat.
“It is a logical result. The stone was a little sad, with some grey in the blue,” Piat said.
Pearls remained in high demand at the auction, with the top lot, an exceptional sautoir of 110 natural pearls, achieving $5.77 million, snapped up by an international trade buyer after a prolonged bidding battle, far exceeding its pre-sale estimate of $2.5-3.5 million.
A combination of exceptional provenance and rarity contributed to the lofty price.
“Very large sizes: the central pearls were almost 15 mm in size, natural salt water pearls with very little graduation,” Kadakia said.
It was fresh to the market.
“This was from a lady from a noble family, who had it for a long time.”
Referring to the rarity of the pearls, Kadakia added, “These sizes you don’t see any more because of pollution in the oceans.“
Gemologist Peter Reiter, who has tracked the Geneva sales in person for decades, said the result for the sautoir was exceptional and was unlikely to be repeated soon.
“If it came back to the market quickly, it would struggle to make this price again,” he said.
Among unsold lots in the Christie’s sale, Piat noted a greyish blue diamond of 7.22 carats (Lot 200A) and referred to its “sad” look.
A supremely rare emerald with royal provenance was a top performer.
The Imperial Emerald of the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia, a pear-shaped Colombian emerald necklace of 75.61 carats, which was presented in a glass showcase in the salesroom, sold for $4.34 million, well above its $2.3-3.5 million estimate.
“Top quality color stones are all making the same sort of uptick (in value) if they are of comparable quality,” Kadakia said.
Signed items from high jewelry brands, such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, Harry Winston and Bulgari, notched up extraordinary sales prices.
One standout was a Van Cleef & Arpels Burmese ruby and diamond necklace, which sold for $2.4 million, several times its $400,000-600,000 estimate.
A matching Van Cleef & Arpels Burmese ruby and diamond bracelet fetched $1.58 million, around 10 times its estimate.
“A big selection of rubies – some 150 carats of matched rubies in perfectly graduated sizes, old Burma material, in a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace which was probably created in the 1950s or 1960s when there was a greater abundance of finer material to put together. A perfect auction moment,” Kadakia said.
Among diamonds, the JONKER V, a rectangular cut, D color diamond ring of 25.27 carats, by Harry Winston, sold for $3.02 million, within its estimate.
Paris-based contemporary designer JAR outperformed in the sale.
A multi-gem necklace by JAR (Joel Arthur Rosenthal) sold for a hammer price of $380,000, outstripping a $100,000-150,000 estimate.
JAR’s elusive cachet contributes to his appeal.
“Try and buy something from him. Try and go to the (JAR) shop (off Place Vendome) and ring the bell and see what happens.You can’t get in! That’s the cachet,” Kadakia said.
ART DECO OUTPERFORMS
The Sotheby’s sale, held in the Mandarin Oriental on May 14, saw a number of Art Deco pieces sell for big sums, but they did not necessarily realise their full potential.
The top lot was a 1930s emerald and diamond necklace once owned by Helene Beaumont, an American socialite and close friend of the Duchess of Windsor, which garnered $3.6 million, in line with its pre-sale estimate and more than double the price achieved when it first sold at auction in 1994.
“When you think of really great jewelry of the 20th century, Art Deco comes to mind,” said chief auctioneer David Bennett, Sotheby’s Worldwide Jewellery Chairman, who also sold the necklace the last time, a difficult period in the auctions market just after the Gulf War.
He referred to the necklace, possibly created by Van Cleef & Arpels, as a masterpiece, which “fits like a glove” around the neck.
Piat, in its analysis of the necklace, said the doubling of the price in 25 years, represented an unexceptional 4 percent annual increase on average.
In addition to the “Beaumont necklace”, the evening saw a number of high prices for Art Deco jewels.
Set with cushion-shaped Colombian emeralds weighing 17.01 and 17.71 carats respectively, a pair of earrings in the Art Deco style sold for $972,934.
Created by Cartier in 1933, a coral and diamond bangle doubled its pre-sale estimate to sell for $148,918.
Daniela Mascetti, Sotheby’s Chairman Jewelry, Europe, said that Art Deco jewelry can be worn easily alongside today’s fashions, increasing the appeal of the most remarkable pieces from the 1920s and 1930s.
Provenance played a big part in the sale of a Faberge diamond tiara for $434,346, which was comfortably above its estimate.
The tiara was made for the wedding of the last Crown Princess of Prussia, Duchess Cecilie von Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1886-1954), on the occasion of her wedding to Crown Prince Wilhelm, son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, in Berlin in June 1905.
“It has gone to a collector who has been looking for that kind of tiara — not necessarily Faberge, but very clean, simple, not ostentatious and with a lot of charm,” Mascetti said.
Among diamonds, a 36.57-carat D color, Type IIa brilliant-cut stone sold for $5.01 million, within its $4.5-5.5 million estimate.
Boasting the same color and Type IIa, an 18.86-carat step-cut diamond mounted as a ring by Harry Winston fetched $1.45 million, well above its $800,000-1.2 million estimate.
A fancy intense 1.01-carat blue diamond ring by Tiffany sold for a hammer price of $700,000, smashing its $150,000-250,000 estimate, while a 7.56-carat fancy purplish pink diamond ring failed to sell.
Among colored gemstones, rubies scored impressive results.
A ring by Bulgari, featuring a ruby of 5.14 carats surrounded by diamonds, sold for $1.69 million, beating its $1.25-1.35 million estimate.
Piat singled out this ruby as being of exceptional quality, referring to “its great elegance, a pretty red, lightly pink (not pigeon blood).”
A pair of colored sapphire and diamond ear clips by JAR sold for a hammer price of $150,000, surpassing a pre-sale estimate of $80,000-125,000.
“The Geneva magnificent jewelry auctions benefited from the proximity of the second edition of GemGeneve, which brought more buyers here,” said Elke Berr, a Geneva-based gems dealer who regularly attends the auctions.
She was referring to GemGeneve, a well-attended gems and jewelry trade show held at Palexpo, near Geneva airport, from May 9-12, just before the auctions.
Piat exhibited at GemGeneve, benefiting from the influx of buyers who also came to attend the auctions.
“GemGeneve works well alongside the Geneva auctions creating an attractive environment with natural light to facilitate buyers shopping for gemstones,” said Emmanuel Piat, CEO of Piat.