Private collectors are “sophisticated and smart”, according to jewellery auctioneers in Hong Kong. And private collectors wear their jewellery, but “also expect the pieces’ value to appreciate over time”, says Vickie Sek, deputy chairman and director of jewellery, Asia, Christie’s Hong Kong. “High-net-worth-individuals (HNWI) these days tend to allocate part of their wealth to jewellery assets. These pieces are typically set with top-of-the-line diamonds, coloured gemstones or jadeite.”

Yu Wen-hao agrees. “Given the prevailing volatile economic conditions, more collectors go for special pieces as long-term investments,” says the Poly Auction Hong Kong jewellery specialist. “Prices of important pieces with top-grade diamonds and coloured gemstones are appreciating. The demand has remained strong, while supply is limited.”

Yu says a magnificent imperial green jadeite jewellery set sold for HK$26.43 million to an Asian specialist collector at Poly Auction’s sale last month. “The set features 12 double-cabochon jadeite pieces in top matching colours and of high translucency,” Yu says.

“It was certified by the Gübelin Laboratory in Switzerland, and the lab’s certificate has a special appendix in Chinese. The buyer has identified the great investment value of this set.”

When the market is relatively slow, auction houses adopt a more prudent pricing strategy. As a result, some buyers become more enthusiastic about bidding. Strong bids were made for a pair of D-colour internally flawless type IIA round diamonds of slightly more than 30ct each at Poly Auction’s October sale. They sold for a record-breaking HK$82.6 million, Yu adds. “The diamonds were cut from the same piece of rough. The price per carat of this pair is actually highly attractive. This encouraging result reflects the market confidence in top-quality rare pieces. The buyer is a private collector in greater China.”

At Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s autumn sale last month, an emerald and diamond demi-parure, signed by Bulgari, sold for three times the estimate price. Signed jewellery pieces performed well, the auction house says.

[Collectors] go for special pieces as long-term investments. Prices of important pieces with top-grade diamonds and coloured gemstones are appreciating
Yu Wen-hao, jewellery specialist, Poly Auction Hong Kong

Meanwhile, auctioneers put ultra-extraordinary items up for sale to stimulate interest in not-so-positive market sentiment.

For its auction this month in Hong Kong, Christie’s will featur the exceptional Ratnaraj ruby, a 10.05-carat Burmese ruby ring defined as “pigeon’s blood”.

“As the market has been a bit dull, we need top-quality gemstones to excite [it],” Sek says. “We got hold of this stone only a few days before we closed [the sourcing].

This Burmese ruby is in pigeon-blood colour, of great symmetry and perfect oval shape. The crystal is exceptional with wonderful brilliance. The estimate is between HK$68 million and HK$98 million.” Christie’s upcoming Hong Kong auction also includes a 4.29ct vivid blue internally flawless marquise diamond set in a ring signed by Moussaieff. The estimate price is between HK$75 million and HK$100 million. Items of average quality “do not stimulate buyers’ interest in a slow market”, Sek notes.

“Clients are more selective and the quality and rarity are their top priorities. Some may think the competition will be less intense and they will become more willing to bid for top lots.”

Buyers in Hong Kong and mainland China are also looking for unique items that are collectable and have a story to tell, says Graeme Thompson, director of jewellery at Bonhams Asia. “For these reasons, we believe vintage and antique jewellery is becoming more sought after in Asia,” he says.

Bonhams Asia’s upcoming sale features a Cartier ring with an 8.88ct internally flawless D-colour step-cut diamond, estimated between HK$5.7 million and HK$6.5 million, and a diamond bracelet by Van Cleef & Arpels, circa 1965, estimated between HK$1.9 million and HK$2.3 million. Now is a very good time to seek out buying opportunities, Thompson adds. “There have been price corrections in certain areas of the market, such as colourless diamonds,” he says. “It has resulted in a number of attractive opportunities.

“I don’t believe the market will remain as cautious in the medium to long term and I suggest buyers take advantage of these opportunities, before it is too late.”