People buy jewellery at auctions as an investment or for personal adornment. Whatever the reason, first-time buyers need to do their homework before going to an adrenalin-pumping bidding process.
Although rookie collectors may be intimidated by the spectacular, glittering gems that fetch millions of dollars, Quek Chin Yeow, deputy chairman, Asia, head of jewellery for Sotheby's, is quick to reassure beginners that relatively affordable pieces are also on offer.
'You should walk in with an open mind because at auctions the collections run the gamut,' he says, as he walks by numerous glass cases displaying jewellery that was put on auction earlier this month at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
He encourages potential buyers, or those interested in learning more about jewellery, to attend previews and see the pieces firsthand. 'You can try them on over the counter and it's a relaxed, less formal environment,' Quek says, adding that it's important for interested buyers to learn as much as they can about the pieces.
The most reassuring aspect of auctions is that the pieces have been examined by experts and come with certificates of authenticity.
And those familiar with market prices will know that, on occasion, an opening bid could be lower than the actual retail price because the owner may have personal reasons for wanting a quick sale. So, it may be worth attending and even bidding at jewellery auctions for such bargains.
Quek says women rarely go to jewellery auction previews without knowing what they want. 'They usually like to collect certain stones, certain colours, shapes, designs, or a certain brand.' But for the uninitiated, he says it is important to first set a budget and then employ a process of elimination. 'For example, you can come in and say 'US$50,000 is my budget, what can I get for that?' We will ask you what kind of jewellery are you looking for - necklaces, bracelets, earrings. Then we will further narrow it down and ask do you like diamonds, gold, silver, single stones or clusters.
'And, from there, we will eventually figure out what you want.'
Sotheby's sources jewellery pieces globally, from European estates to established families in the United States and to new money in Asia.
Quek says the auction house tries to find the most interesting items for its clients.
It is important for potential buyers to adhere to budgets, which is why some people prefer to make telephone bids or an absentee bid to stay as objective as possible. Others prefer to watch the atmosphere of the bidding room, as they decide whether or not to join the fun and raise their paddles.
Quek says that, for everyone involved, the auction process is transparent because it immediately indicates the price of an item, be it up or down.
And diamonds, particularly coloured ones, are competitively priced, he says.
Still, whether an item of jewellery is bought at an auction or a retail outlet, they remain emotionally charged purchases and often reflect the wearer's personality. 'While it's a liquid possession, it's also wearable art,' Quek says.