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Journalist and frequent DPA contributor, Anita Gates, recently wrote an article for the New York Times, “The Auction Season’s Real Gems” that gives us an in inside look at some of the biggest high jewelry sales of the year, like Elizabeth Taylor’s ruby and diamond necklace (shown above), which fetched $11.8 million at Christies in New York. When I think of auctions I think of a room full of wealthy people and fast-talking auctioneers pounding their gavels on podiums, but Anita tells us that a lot of bidding happens online—and that more women and younger people are buying jewelry at auction. For those of us who have never been to an auction, we asked Anita to give us a glimpse into this rarified world?—Sue Perry

DPA: It seems we should throw away our preconceived notions about who is today’s auction-buyer. So who exactly is likely to buy jewelry at auction and why? Are these mostly investors, looking for a safe haven to park their money in erratic times or just people who love fine jewelry?

AG: It’s both. It’s a whole, huge range of people. More women are buying major jewelry pieces for themselves, because – well, because they can. They’re able to do it financially. And they know what they love. And young people have come to appreciate jewelry because of a combination of things: it looks fabulous, it’s a status symbol, and its value grows. The word “bling” didn’t exist 30 or 40 years ago. But at the same time, jewelry is an amazingly solid investment that also happens to be very portable

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The Rockefeller Emerald, above, was purchased for $5,511,500. That’s $305,516 per carat, which broke the price-per-carat world record formerly held by a Bulgari emerald brooch.

DPA: We’re talking about jewelry with price tags in the millions. What makes a piece so valuable? In some cases, you say, it isn’t necessarily deep roots in history or a famous owner. Contemporary pieces are commanding big prices at auction too.

AG: Well, a famous original owner is always nice. I love that a 16th-century Tudor queen and a 20th-century movie star, Elizabeth Taylor, went to some of the big events of their lives wearing the exact same 50-carat pearl. But the auction-house people will tell you that it’s about the workmanship. It’s very much prized, and no one has improved on it over the centuries. But that workmanship can be re-created here and now, for a certain amount of money, and then you end up with something like the Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra jewelry line, which I mention in the article. And you’ve got a $25,000 bracelet that looks perfect with a couture gown or with skinny jeans and a tank top.

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 11.47.10 AMIntroduced in 1968, the Alhambra Collection from Van Cleef & Arpel is a modern example of exquisite workmanship valued by jewelry auction bidders. This pair of vintage malachite earrings recently fetched $4,000 more than their estimated price.

 

DPA: You also talk about the demand for colored diamonds at auction. Are these more valuable than white diamonds? And why?

AG: It’s all about rarity, the people at Christie’s told me. When a beautiful pink diamond turns up on the market, for example, it’s snapped up in a minute.

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This  fancy vivid pink diamond just shy of 19 carats—formerly known as the Pink Legacy diamond—was recently sold to Harry Winston Jewelers for $50.2 million.