Going on the road to success
Vickie Sek is quick to point out that her job is not for the dilettante or the faint of heart. Clearly, the role of director of the jewellery and jadeite department for international auction house Christie's does radiate a certain glamour, but that comes with long hours, hard work and a tough year-round travel schedule.
'People don't always realise the challenges and problems involved in sourcing and valuing jewels, or consider all the other aspects of the work,' Sek says.
'Like most businesses, we have deadlines and budgets to meet, and the competition between auction houses can be very fierce. When the market is good, it is not easy to get good items, and when it's down, there are fewer buyers around for these types of luxury products.'
Sek has been with Christie's for about 15 years and is responsible for providing professional advice to potential sellers and bidders.
This includes offering up-to-date information on the latest sale prices, valuing specific items and assessing the prospective interest at auction.
She has become used to the need for frequent overseas travel to meet clients and source attractive items. She does admit, though, that the endless business trips can be exhausting. Time differences and accumulated jet lag can be draining. Being away from home so much, she is grateful for having an understanding husband and son.
'I need to travel about eight months a year,' she says. 'That's why, when I'm not working, I spend most of my time at home with my family. I then become a 100 per cent housewife doing all the cooking and cleaning. Fortunately, my family understand that I have a busy work schedule and fully support me.'
One pertinent factor was that her son, who is now 28, started studying in London the same year she joined Christie's. But since she was able to meet him there a few times a year during her trips to Britain, they managed to remain close.
'We also talked on the phone quite often, so there weren't too many problems in our relationship,' she says. 'And, of course, without my husband's strong support and full understanding, I wouldn't have been able to concentrate on work so much and develop my career.'
Sek began learning the intricacies and history of the jewellery business when employed by a diamond company in 1978. Now, a professional in the field, she prefers to simply admire precious stones in their distinctive settings rather than to dream of owning or wearing them.
'I have seen and handled some of the world's most costly jewels,' she says. 'But in some ways that has caused a bit of a problem because I now don't want to wear anything too 'cheap', and I certainly can't afford the really expensive ones. I've decided that, for me, just having the opportunity to appreciate them from close up is good enough; it's not necessary to own them.'
The most expensive piece Sek has handled is the 4-carat cushion-shaped 'vivid pink' diamond sold for HK$83.54 million last autumn
Job satisfaction comes from building relationships with clients and knowing there is also something more to learn about her area of expertise
To relieve stress, Sek likes to swim, hikes along the trails on Hong Kong Island and enjoys different types of cuisine when eating out with her family