On 13 November 2013, the 'Walska Briolette Diamond Brooch' was sold by auction at Sotheby's in Geneva. Made by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1971, this beautiful piece showcases the historic Walska Briolette Diamond, a Fancy Vivid Yellow diamond weighing 96.62 carats. The diamond was purchased by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1971 at the auction of jewels belonging to Ganna Walska, and the maison created the piece featuring a bird of paradise in yellow gold, diamonds, emeralds and a cabochon sapphire, on commission from an American collector. The large yellow diamond can be detached and worn as a pendant; the bird's wings also detach to form a pair of earrings, while the tail can be transformed into a brooch.
The price attained, over $10 million, shows that fine jewellery can be considered an investment and not just a luxury product. Van Cleef & Arpels pieces have consistently attained record prices in auctions, such as the sale of a sapphire and diamond ring with a 43.16-carat rectangular sapphire that reached US$1,560,000 on 23 November 2012 at Bonhams, Hong Kong, far above the pre-sale estimate of $550,000-650,000. In 1969, Jacques Arpels travelled personally to Sri Lanka to purchase the sapphire, which was later mounted in a ring and flanked by two pear-shaped diamonds. The record sale was one lot of eight, jewels from a private collection.
As you scan the results of recent auctions, it is striking how some jewellery brands consistently sell above the estimate prices. As well as Van Cleef & Arpels, the most frequent high-performing names include Bulgari, Cartier, Chaumet, Chopard, Harry Winston, and Tiffany & Co. Geoffroy Medinger, managing director of the United Kingdom, Swiss and Italian markets for Van Cleef & Arpels, told us that "Van Cleef & Arpels are number one on the world auction market. This is because our quality has been consistent over the years, and also because most of our products are limited editions. Moreover, the quality of our stones has always been the best, and this gives us a clear positioning."
Branded jewellery can start increasing in value fairly soon after it has been sold retail. For example, the four-leafed clover cufflinks by Van Cleef & Arpels, for which Geoffroy Medinger said, "We are currently working on a cufflink collection, but our four-leafed clover cufflinks are already available in onyx and mother-of-pearl. We didn't make many, as is usual for us, and they are now difficult to find. They are becoming a hot item."
Sometimes, rather than the brand name, it is the history of the piece that contributes to its auction value. The 'Millais ring' that sold for €44,242 at Bonham's in London on 9 October is a very personal piece, commissioned from London jewellers Hunt & Roskell by artist William Holman Hunt to signify his deep friendship with John Everett Millais – together they founded the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. The gold signet ring has the initials WHH intertwined with an M.
Another factor in auction performance regards the stones themselves. Individual gems are continuing to break records. A 118-carat flawless white oval diamond – the size of a small egg – sold for $30.6 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong on 7 October 2013, setting a new world record for diamond sale price at auction. The largest orange diamond in the world – 14.82 carats, Fancy Vivid Orange – reached over $35 million at Christie's in Geneva on 12 November. The Pink Star, which was the star of the November 13 Sotheby's auction in Geneva, is a 59.60 carat oval cut pink diamond, the largest flawless Fancy Vivid Pink ever to reach the salerooms. The estimate price of over $60 million was confirmed by a final price of over $83 million, now the world auction record for a diamond or jewel.
But if it's a piece of jewellery that you'd like to wear or see on a loved one, the auction houses offer a constant stream of fine pieces. It's always interesting to visit before the auction, so that you can view and perhaps even handle the pieces. Auction houses offer the integrity that is essential to ensure that a piece retains its value. And at the end of the day, it is important that you like the piece. If you like it, other people will. And this is what creates the best of both worlds: a good investment that brings you constant pleasure.
Over the last four decades, Sotheby’s and Christie’s have had an important influence on the market for gemstones and jewellery, making them competitors for the top jewellery brands themselves. The massive media attention dedicated to celebrity jewellery auctions – such as the Elizabeth Taylor collection auctioned at Christie’s, New York, in December 2011, and the epochal Duchess of Windsor sale at Sotheby’s, Geneva, in 1987 – brought the salerooms to the attention of the public at large. The whole world became emotionally involved in jewellery.