Auction Fever continues in 2014


Will Auction Records Continue to Shatter in 2014?

 Russell Shor

The Orange, a 14.82 ct Fancy Vivid orange diamond, fetched a record $2.4 million per carat. It was the centerpiece of Christie’s Nov. 12 sale in Geneva, which brought the highest auction total ever—$125.4 million. Photo by Christie’s Images Ltd. 2013, courtesy of Denis Hayoun Diode SA Geneva.
The world’s two leading auction houses are gearing up for another extraordinary year.In 2013, Christie’s and Sotheby’s posted record jewelry sales of $678 million and $600 million, respectively, through auctions of mega diamonds, rare colored gems and classic period jewels. Economists predict the demand for ultra-luxury items that drove these auction numbers should be even stronger in 2014.Three landmark diamonds in 2013 contributed to the record-breaking sales:

  • The highest price ever paid for a gemstone: Sotheby’s estimated a price tag of $61 million for the Pink Star diamond offered at its Nov. 13 Geneva sale, but the GIA-graded 59.6 ct Fancy Vivid pink sold for $83.02 million, nearly doubling the 2010 record price of $46 million, also for a pink diamond. The buyer, New York diamond dealer Isaac Wolf, promptly renamed the stone the Pink Dream.
  • The highest per-carat price ever paid: the Orange, a GIA-graded 14.82 ct Fancy Vivid orange diamond, was sold by Christie’s to an anonymous buyer for $35.54 million, or $2.4 million per carat.
  • The record total for a single jewelry auction: Sotheby’s Nov. 13 auction in Geneva, which featured the Pink Dream, had a dozen lots sell for more than $1 million each, and seven that went for more than $6 million each—for a total of $199.5 million.

Sotheby’s November sale in Geneva saw the highest price ever paid for a gemstone at auction: $83.02 million for the Pink Star, a 59.6 ct Fancy Vivid pink diamond. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The record setting began in May at Christie’s Geneva, when Harry Winston paid $26.7 million for a 101.73 ct D-Flawless diamond it named the “Winston Legacy.” Another highlight from that sale was the 19.88 ct Star of Kashmir sapphire, which sold for $3.48 million, a record $175,202 per carat.

This 101.73 ct D-Flawless pear shape, the Winston Legacy, sold for $26.7 million at Christie’s May 2013 sale in Geneva. Photo by Christie’s Images Ltd. 2013.

Sotheby’s Oct. 7 Hong Kong sale saw the highest price ever paid at auction for a colorless diamond: a GIA-graded 118.28 ct oval D-Flawless, cut from a 299 ct piece of rough, sold for $30.6 million to an Asian buyer. Despite the record amount, the final price was on the lower end of the pre-sale estimate.

The surge really gained momentum a month later, when  Christie’s Nov. 12 Geneva sale broke the record for the highest jewelry sale total—$125.4 million—with the Orange as its centerpiece. The sale also had a record 22 lots top $1 million, including a Cartier emerald and diamond necklace that generated $9.9 million; a seven-strand natural pearl necklace that topped $9 million; and a brooch by designer Anna Hu, featuring a 58.29 ct Burmese sapphire, that sold for $4.5 million. Hu’s brooch set a record price for a contemporary designer at auction.

Sotheby’s Geneva auction the next night was, according to David Bennett, Sotheby’s chairman for jewelry in Europe and the Middle East, “charged with energy … everything seemed to be selling for more than their estimates. The night could not have conceivably gone better.”

Four records were broken:

  • The highest price ever paid—both total price and per carat—for sapphire jewels: $8.45 million ($175,821 per carat, breaking the record set in Geneva in May) for the Richelieu Sapphires, a pair of Kashmir sapphires, weighing 20.88 and 26.66 ct.
  • A record price for a Burmese sapphire: a 114.73 ct gem that sold for $7.14 million, or $62,214 per carat.
  • The most expensive piece of jewelry ever sold at auction by Sotheby’s: a Van Cleef & Arpels brooch, featuring a GIA-graded 96.62 ct Fancy Vivid Yellow briolette-cut diamond, that went for $10.55 million.

François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Asia, explained that the growing wealth in that region is one reason for the sharp rise in prices for rare stones and jewels.

“In 1994, we sold two lots above $5 million, with a 19.66 ct pink as the top lot for $7.3 million ($375,000 per carat). This was the year we inaugurated our Hong Kong auctions, which brought 11% of our $190 million annual total,” Curiel said. “In 2013, we sold 14 lots above $5 million, with the 34.65 ct Fancy Intense pink Princie diamond fetching $39.5 million ($1.1 million per carat). Hong Kong last year contributed 29% of our $675 million annual total. We have just started selling in Shanghai.”

Asian wealth was a major force behind the surging prices for rare gems and jewels in 2013. At Christie’s Hong Kong, the 34.65 ct Fancy Intense pink Princie diamond brought $1.1 million per carat. Photo by Christie’s Images Ltd. 2013.

Will 2014 see more records fall? Economist say the boom isn’t over, and that the ultra-wealthy are still seeking outlets for their excess cash.

Curiel believes there will be more rare gems on the market, because the rarest items tend to be offered for the first time—or come up for sale again—when people know they may get top prices.

“There is an extreme shortage of rare diamonds, jewels, colored stones and pearls; the same items are fetching many times more than their first time on the auction block,” Curiel said. “These new prices are bringing more rarities to the market than ever before—and promise another exciting year for the jewelry industry worldwide.”

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