IN DEPTH: Fine gemstones at auction

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Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Christie’s gem experts on the demand for gems.

The growth of high quality gemstones, pearls and coloured diamonds at auction shows they not only look good, but are also considered a worthy investment. Kathryn Bishop hears from three top auction houses about the impact of coloured gemstones at high-profile global sales.

In April this year the hammer fell on a fancy deep-blue diamond put up for auction at Bonhams in London. The selling price for this 5.30ct stone? £6.2 million.

This diamond, with its bright blue hue, hit a world record price per carat for any blue diamond at auction and continued the pace for what has been a whirlwind year for coloured gemstones and diamonds at auction.

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At the time of Professional Jeweller going to print, Sotheby’s in Hong Kong was ready to usurp the 5.30ct stone with an even larger blue diamond that goes under the gavel on October 7. The 7.59ct round brilliant-cut internally flawless fancy blue stone is dubbed the Premier Blue, and has an estimated sale price of about $20 million (£12.5m).

MUST-HAVE GEMS
For Bonhams UK and European director for jewellery Jean Ghika this sudden passion for coloured gemstones, and in particular coloured diamonds, is concentrated on older stones with a story to tell. “The most desirable stones [are] old material from the 19th to mid-20th century that are unheated” she explains. “There is a limited supply of this kind of material on the market and when it does appear it is fiercely fought over.”

A 43.16ct unheated Sri Lankan sapphire ring by Van Cleef & Arpels was sold at Bonhams in Hong Kong in November 2012 for £972,762, a world record price for a Sri Lankan sapphire, measuring £22,600 per carat.

Indeed, sapphires, rubies and natural pearls have become auction must-haves. The price rise in natural pearls sold at auction has been sudden and acute, as Christie’s head of jewellery in London Keith Penton explains: “We have seen a steady rise in the price of natural pearls over 10 years and a more marked shift upwards in the last three.”

The recent auction of Gina Lollobrigida’s jewellery also bought natural pearls into the spotlight. The head of Bonhams London jewellery department Bryony Meredith dubs natural pearls a ‘big success of the last few years’. In May 2013, Lollobrigida’s exceptional pair of natural pearl and diamond earrings achieved CHF2.3 million (£1.55m) at Sotheby’s Geneva, surpassing their estimate.

Penton also notes an increase in active bidding at auction for old mine emeralds, in particular those with a complete absence or minor oiling.

DIAMONDS DAZZLE
Though coloured stones have carved a path at auction, it is coloured diamonds that continue to make an impact and command some of the highest prices in the sale room, smashing record after record as they go.

“Because of the very high quality of diamonds offered and the exceptionally strong prices achieved, the market is perceived by buyers and sellers to be strong,” Meredith explains. “A hundred years ago coloured diamonds were not fully understood and were seen more as attractive curiosities. The strong market has led to a far better awareness and understanding of their beauty and rarity.”

Meredith speaks of the world record set by the Graff Pink at Sotheby’s Geneva and the further record achieved at auction record for the 110ct yellow Sun-Drop Diamond, which sold for CHF11.28 million (£7.73m) in 2011.

“Without question the demand for coloured diamonds continues unabated,” states Bonhams’ Ghika, noting the impact and charm of the 5.30ct blue diamond sold in April.

Panton agrees, referencing the selling of coloured diamonds at Christie’s: “Fancy coloured diamonds, particularly pinks and blues, have always been desirable and we have seen a marked increase in interest resulting in The Princie Diamond, a 34.65ct fancy intense pink VS2 Type IIA Golconda stone selling for US$ 39.3 million (£25.5m), the most expensive diamond ever sold at Christie’s and a world auction record for a Golconda diamond.”

NEW DIRECTIONS
With Hong Kong hosting this month’s Sotheby’s auction of Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite, it seems that gem auctions are no longer the reserve of Geneva and New York, as the East becomes a budding market for gem sales, and jade become a stone to watch.

Penton believes the future looks bright for gems at auction. “I don’t foresee any change in the short term at the top end of the market as high quality, rarity and portability are a winning combination,” he states. “Sellers want to take advantage of the increased global demand and buyers want to move their assets into something rare and portable.”

This feature was taken from the October issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

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