Best place to strike deal for exquisite gems

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2007, 12:00am

Like great art or fine wine, the rarest and most beautiful jewellery is often bought - and sold - at an auction. Buyers know it's the best place to find the truly unusual pieces, and sellers know they can get the best possible prices.

Just ask film star Ellen Barkin, who auctioned her wedding ring, rubies, sapphires and pearls after being unceremoniously dumped by her billionaire businessman husband Ronald Perelman.

Expected to earn the movie star US$15 million, Barkin walked away with a cool US$20 million.

Undoubtedly, the pieces fetching the highest prices are extraordinary. The star piece in Sotheby's most recent sale last month was a flawless, vivid blue diamond of more than six carats which, Terry Chu, Sotheby's deputy director (China and Southeast Asia) and deputy head of its jewellery department, said was one of the most fantastic stones she'd ever seen. 'This vivid blue diamond is top, top quality and very rare in the market nowadays; best clarity, best colour, and a sophisticated and clean admiral cut,' she said.

The sale also featured a Columbian emerald pendant necklace with a stone weighing more than 40 carats. The necklace used to belong to famous Broadway composer Irving Berlin. It was first sold by Sotheby's New York in 1991, and changed hands this time in Hong Kong for more than HK$20 million.

Christie's upcoming sale from November 25 will feature the largest briolette diamond to appear at an auction in Asia, weighing in at a staggering 31.92 carats, and an estimated value of HK$25 million.

Christie's is also expecting to create a sensation with its Luna Pearl, weighing 202.26 grains, the biggest natural pearl seen in Asia, and the fourth-largest button shaped pearl recorded. And Bonhams November 26 auction will feature an impressive jadeite Guanyin pendant estimated to fetch between HK$1.5 million and HK$2.5 million, and an exceptional emerald and diamond ring weighing 13.55 carats, estimated to be worth between HK$1.6 million and HK$2.2 million.

Vickie Sek, director of the jewellery and jadeite department at Christie's Asia, and Sotheby's Terry Chu agreed that for collectors in Asia, the focus was on the highest quality stones.

'The Asian market is famous for the best quality stones in addition to the jewellery itself,' Ms Chu said. 'In the past few years we have been selling top quality diamonds, D flawless, and top quality coloured stones, untreated emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Asian buyers are interested in exquisite stones as long as they are top quality.'

Ms Sek said that prices for these collectable pieces had been increasing steadily. 'The past five years have been very strong, we've been breaking all sales records,' she said.

The buyers are diverse; some are well-heeled women who are buying the jewellery to wear, some are executives who are buying pieces as a reward for themselves, but more often collectors are buying investment pieces that are stored away in safes, and worn perhaps once or twice a year. In Asia, buying and selling collectable jewellery today is about much more than status.

'For those buying the highest quality pieces, we are talking about a relatively more sophisticated buyer, both in age and income. There is a desire to just own, or collect,' Ms Chu said.

'In Asia, as in America or Europe, people now tend to be more understated, unlike the old days, and will wear a piece only occasionally. In the past, people bought beautiful jewellery because they liked its look and wanted to decorate themselves, but now, particularly with diamonds or jadeite pieces, it's all about the investment.'

But she is quick to point out that in the smaller sales there is also a trend towards exquisite and distinctive but wearable designs: 'In the last small jewellery sale we sold a diamond butterfly brooch, made with rough diamonds, it was a very exclusive design.

'People also like something they can put on every day, something that is easy to wear and relatively understated.'

Sotheby's sold the brooch for substantially above estimate.

While coloured diamonds and gemstones continue to grow in popularity, Ms Chu said the Asian jade market was set to rise.

'In two or three years this market will get stronger,' she said.

'Lots of mainland Chinese are getting more interested in jadeite and the price will go higher. In the last sale we had a private jadeite collection, and one bangle, estimated at between HK$6 million and HK$9 million, that fetched more than HK$11.5 million.'

So for those with a few million dollars to spend on collectable jewellery, head to the auction houses.

This diamond and emerald pendant will be up for auction at Christie's autumn sale this month. The diamond briolette is the largest to appear at an auction in Asia.