RAPAPORT… Like an action figure coming at you on a 3-D movie screen, Sotheby’s Hong Kong just powered through the marketplace with a $53.5 million jewelry sale, the second-highest total for such a sale at this venue. Although the sale was only 78.4 percent sold by lot, with 71 of the 328 lots failing to find buyers, it was headlined by two stunning lots that together brought in a shade under $10 million. The top ten lots alone, totaling $24,394,871, equaled nearly half the value of the sale. Eight of these lots were bought by Asian privates; all ten went to private clients, with the trade blocked out entirely.
The Hong Kong auction jewelry market is an entity unlike any other and has been so since the two major auction houses began to hold sales there. From modest beginnings, the Hong Kong market has moved to its own beat, and today, it is the powerhouse of the global auction scene, often making the highest total per sale in a given season. Quek Chin Yeow, head of jewelry for Sotheby’s Asia, notes that buyers from all over Asia — Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand — all want “quality things.” Speaking of sourcing the sale, he says, “Because we had the ‘color’ lots early on, including the Burma ruby on the catalog cover and the alexandrite, we didn’t do as much with colored diamonds. We started collecting toward the ‘red’ sale.’”
In the short time that Hong Kong has been a jewelry auction venue — 1985 was the first “proper” sale of jadeite, with Western jewelry introduced only in 1995 — Quek says, he is now able to source some of his goods back from his Asian buyers. “They were buying early enough that they are now ready to sell,” he adds. And remarkably, in what is seen as a traditional market, his female clients buy jewelry for themselves, including very large and important diamonds.
THE D CROWD
Hong Kong is always known as the venue for D flawless diamonds and this sale was no exception. The top lot at the avidly contested sale was a 25.50-carat, brilliant cut, D flawless diamond. The unmounted stone sold over the high estimate at $5,110,256* or $200,402 per carat. It was closely followed by a pair of classic Harry Winston diamond pendant earrings, totaling 36.48 carats. The lot fetched $4,823,077, just under the high estimate. Topping out the top three diamond lots was an 11.66-carat, brilliant cut, DIF diamond set in a ring. The stone was sold for $2,382,051, well over the presale estimate.
A pair of unmounted D flawless diamonds, perfectly matched at 5.01 and 5.02 carats, sold for $1,520,513, just under the high estimate.
The number “eight” figures significantly in Chinese purchases because it equates roughly to the character for luck. For that reason, stones that weigh 8 carats often bring premium prices. When a DIF diamond weighs 8.88 carats, it is irresistible. A cushion-shaped diamond of that weight, set in a ring and flanked by a pair of Columbian emeralds weighing 5.34 and 5.71 carats, was sold for $1,233,333, a bit under the high estimate.
Equally appealing and auspicious was a pair of jadeites in the form of the number “eight” set with diamonds as pendant earrings. The pair was sold over the high estimate for $501,800.
Quek sought out specific goods for the sale, as exemplified by the brilliant red ruby and diamond ring by Bulgari that gave the sale its red theme. The sugarloaf cabochon ruby, weighing 27.67 carats, was flanked by shield-shaped diamonds weighing 3 carats. The signed lot carried a Gübelin report stating that it was natural color and of Burmese origin, with no indications of heating. It sold for $2,238,462, below the high estimate.
The report was very specific in terms of origin: It added that the ruby originated from the historic mines of Mogok. The color of this stone, “vivid red,” inspired the display of red lipsticks on the cover of the catalog, with the ruby ring casually set on top. Interestingly, for the color conscious in the business, Quek says they used a variety of red lipsticks, differing in tone, for the cover art. It’s not all “Love That Red,” the eternally popular lipstick color introduced by Revlon in 1951.
Continuing the “red” theme, the sale offered a ruby and diamond necklace with matching pendant earrings. The two pieces, which included 29 rubies totaling 75.56 carats, sold for $1,807,692, under the high estimate. A Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond foliage bracelet, circa 1959, set with 29.60 carats of rubies and 20.00 carats of diamonds, was sold for $579,800, soaring over the high estimate. Another Van Cleef & Arpels piece, a classic brooch featuring invisibly set rubies outlined with brilliant cut diamonds, made in the firm’s New York workshop, fetched $77,480, well under the high estimate.
An elegant ruby and diamond necklace featuring 53 oval and cushion-shaped rubies, with a GemResearch Swisslab (GRS) report stating that the rubies are natural, of Burmese origin, with no indication of heat treatment, sold for $189,800. The stones alternated in placement on four openwork lines of 18-karat white gold links.
The sale featured another significant, although unsigned, Burma ruby. The 6.01-carat oval ruby, set in a ring with white and yellow diamonds, brought $728,000. Also certified by Gübelin to be natural, of Burmese origin, with no indications of heating, the stone was described as possessing a “saturated and homogeneous color, combined with a high degree of transparency.”
It wasn’t all red in Hong Kong in April. A very rare 23.19-carat Brazilian cat’s-eye alexandrite, charmingly set in a bombé mount with other alexandrites and white diamonds, was sold for $1,520,513, just under the high estimate.
A 25.26-carat fancy vivid yellow diamond set in a ring with white diamonds was sold for $1,807,692, under the high estimate. For lovers of green, there were many lovely jadeite lots, as well as emeralds, on offer. A pair of cushion-shaped emeralds, weighing 10.73 and 9.52 carats, suspended from old-mine diamonds, soared over the presale estimate, selling for $1,172,600. A fancy vivid yellowish green diamond, weighing 1.13 carats, set in a ring in the shape of a calla lily, and set with white and pink diamonds, also zoomed past the high estimate, selling for $782,600.
With some 2,000 people coming through the exhibition room each day, and with the vast array of art and ceramics on view during the hyperactive auction week, there is tremendous synchronicity among the various departments. That brings people into the jewelry viewing and the results speak for themselves.
*All prices include buyer’s premium.