First up during auction week in New York was Christie’s. The sale, held on April 12, 2011, tallied up $31,792,875 and was 71 percent sold by dollar value and 80 percent sold by lot against a presale estimate of $40 million for 281 lots. This compares to its October 2010 sale, which totaled $52,492,138 for 447 lots. The April 2010 Jewels New York Sale pulled in $41,246,325 for 297 lots.
The top lot of the sale was a 37.16-carat cut-cornered, rectangular DIF Type IIa, white diamond. It sold to a private for $4,450,500*, or $120,000 per carat. It was estimated at $4.2 million to $4.8 million. The sale also showcased a 3.25-carat internally flawless vivid blue Asscher cut, made exceptional by no gray undertones. Bought by dealer Aleks Paul of Essex Global Trading, it was the second-top-selling lot of the sale, garnering $3,666,500, or $1.1 million per carat, against a presale estimate of $2 million to $3 million. It was one of the few pieces in this auction that seemed to garner a lot of interest. Rounding out the top three lots was a 6.61-carat VS2, rectangular fancy intense pink diamond. It went to a member of the U.S. trade for $3,554,500, or $540,000 per carat.
“There were some strong numbers all through the day,”observed Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas. “I was happy to see a resurgence from the trade, who, in many instances, outbid private collectors to acquire lots that they liked. The market is very much there and while numbers are getting higher and higher, collectors and the trade remain very focused on what they wish to buy and for how much.”
Dealer Marc Boghossian of Geneva-based Crown Gems was in agreement, “This sale was good. There were good prices with healthy, strong buying, but with no speculation.”
What hurt the bottom line of this sale was the failure-to-sell of the highly touted 10. 09-carat fancy vivid purple-pink diamond estimated at $12 million to $15 million. While the gem was a beautiful, rich hue, with the color spread evenly throughout the stone, dealers noted that it was highly included, concurring that the SI1 clarity grade was generous.
“It’s always the same story,” said dealer Hagop Baghdadlian, H.B. Ltd. “The good things always sell. The pink was not clean. Nice gems sold well, but prices were soft. People are concerned about money.”
On the chilly, rainy, gray spring day, the mood in the partially full sales room was as subdued as the weather outside. It seemed that most of the dealers in attendance were more interested in watching and chatting with each other than in bidding. Although five of the top ten lots did sell to dealers, four of whom were U.S. based, bidding was moderate, with little competition for the pieces.
New York–based dealer Moses Abraham noted that a lot of the prices were out of reach for dealers, besides which, there were “a lot of left shoes, things were not very fine — they had graining or strong fluorescence.”
Two days later, on April 14, Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale scored its highest April New York total ever, garnering $39,367,500. It sold 93.4 percent by dollar value and 84.2 percent by lot against a presale estimate of $26 million for 380 lots. Sotheby’s December 2010 New York sale of Magnificent Jewels realized a total of $53,228,590, for 452 lots, a record-breaking total for a Sotheby’s jewelry sale in New York. This compares to Sotheby’s April 2010 total of $39,608,676 for 565 lots.
The top lot of this sale was a 30.52-carat D, VVS1, emerald cut diamond that sold for $3,386,500, or $110,960 per carat, against an estimate of $3 million to $4 million. It was purchased by Essex Global Trading.
“This was the perfect storm,” said Lisa Hubbard, Sotheby’s chairman of the International Jewelry Department, North & South America. “This sale had everything — great sapphires, rubies and emeralds, as well as diamonds. The prices were strong and it is a very selective market right now.”
Perhaps it was the sunny spring day that put people in the mood to buy. The room, fuller than usual, was bubbling with energy, as dealers and retailers alike left their offices and made the trek to Sotheby’s Upper East Side location. Bidding was voracious at this sale, with so many buyers competing for the same item that the auctioneer lost track a couple of times as bidders dropped out and returned again for the same piece, with others unexpectedly jumping into the fray late in the game. The competition for a couple of pieces was so fierce that it took a solid ten minutes for the bidding to end conclusively, as buyers brought out calculators to figure cost, or persevered tenaciously to get what they wanted regardless of cost.
The focus of this sale was jewelry, but it also had its fair share of great stones. Unusual to this sale were colored diamonds set in interesting mountings instead of the usual rock-in-four-prongs explained by the caveat that “it lets the stone talk.” However, there were some pretty chatty colored diamonds in this sale that were in nontraditional mountings. A 3.18-carat vivid blue, internally flawless diamond in a long, narrow marquise shape was set as the center to a large, delicate openwork flower that served to enhance the elongated shape of the stone. It was the second top lot of the sale, going for $3,274,500 or $1,029,717 per carat. It sold to an Asian private. Also earning a spot in the top ten was a sunny 11.13-carat vivid yellow diamond made fresh in a Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. basket of white diamond bees. The setting allowed the diamond, which had a medium fluorescence, to seem even brighter, and brought more interest to a yellow diamond. It sold to the U.S. trade for $1,082,500, or $97,260 per carat, against an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.
“There were some beautiful things in this sale that brought strong prices. When the merchandise is beautiful and unusual, everybody wants it,” commented Russell Zelenetz, partner in the Madison Avenue retail store Stephen Russell.
Among the many historic pieces was a truly special, museum-caliber plique-a-jour morning glory brooch by Marcus & Co. that had been part of an 1897 exhibition in Boston. The flowers were three-dimensional works of art that could never be replicated today.
“This was a really healthy sale,” noted Lee Seigelson, principal of the New York firm bearing his name, who bought the Marcus & Co. brooch. “There were interesting things from private estates and people are willing to pay for legitimately nice pieces.”
Christie’s and Sotheby’s bring different points of view to the market. Christie’s put together a sale that was oriented more to high-end diamonds with great value in a couple of items, taking a risk on stones that they believed would tempt the market. Sotheby’s was more jewelry oriented, enticing bidders with pieces that had historical value and fashion savvy. But the market is fickle and one never quite knows which direction the wind will blow. But overall, it seems that the industry can breathe a sigh of relief as the jewelry auction season roared off to a strong start.
*All prices include buyer’s premium.