At the end of April, while you were waiting for an Ocado slot to secure flour for your sourdough, another eager consumer was holding their nerve at sothebys.com. They placed a final bid of $1.34m for a 1930s Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet – an Indian-inspired art deco classic, clustered with carved gems. In doing so, they set a record for the highest price ever paid for a jewel online.
It was a short-lived record, as it turned out. At the Christie’s online jewellery auction at the end of June, an emerald-cut 28.86ct D-colour type-IIA diamond (chemically pure, with limpid beauty) went for $2.1m. During the sale, Christie’s reported unprecedented digital engagement across 134 countries, with a 70 per cent increase in daily visitors to the sale page compared with its online jewels sale in June last year. Sotheby’s, too, reported that jewellery had proved to be one of the bestselling categories online since the pandemic began: in April, five in 10 of the most valuable lots sold online were jewels. Both auction houses had attracted a slew of new buyers – more than 30 per cent of attendees – to online jewellery sales. They had been quick off the mark in moving sales online, and in the process sparked an interesting moment – and momentum – for their corner of the luxury world.
As uncertainty rippled across the globe, jewellery showed signs of reverting to one of its most essential roles: a safe haven and store of wealth in times of crisis. Jewellery and its intrinsically valuable components, namely gold and gemstones, stood out again – representing security, stability, longevity and continuity. In light of the global economic turmoil, they also offered the potential of an alternative asset class. Coupled with these “hard” values were the purely joyous properties of jewels: they’re uplifting, life-enhancing, escapist, unlikely to go out of style next season – something to be enjoyed impulsively and viscerally, or savoured and studied during our incarceration. Graeme Thompson, worldwide head of jewellery at auctioneers Phillips, notes: “During the pandemic, discretionary spending has shifted away from luxury holidays, couture and high-end accessories to jewellery, diamonds and gemstones as a store of wealth, a hedge against possible inflation, an undeniable mood-lifter and a memento that can be passed down.”
While there have been definite shifts in what – and how – consumers are buying, the pandemic has also crystallised emerging or evolving market trends. As the online auction records proved, the classics – your signed Cartier jewels or top-quality diamonds – have done well online because as well as having enduring appeal, they’re identifiable and quantifiable (so can be assessed online without seeing them up close and in person). While prices of white diamonds had flattened, the crisis seems to have reinvigorated interest. Alisa Moussaieff, of Moussaieff Jewellers, who bought a rare, shield-shaped 100ct diamond for £4.7m at Christie’s Geneva in July, sees buyers “slowly waking up to white diamonds and beginning to nibble”. She believes it’s because “people have the time to watch and study”.
Meanwhile Saul Goldberg, of New York diamantaire William Goldberg, has seen demand grow for higher-value diamonds. More noticeable is the quest for significant coloured gemstones, especially gems from the great heritage mines in Kashmir, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Colombia, and, rarest of all, coloured diamonds. “Top pink and blue diamonds – as well as Burmese rubies, Kashmir sapphires and Colombian emeralds with no oil – are the gems that are leading the interest of investors into our industry,” notes Albert Boghossian, CEO of the eponymous Geneva-based house. Supply of these heritage gems is limited at the best of times but, Boghossian explains, “cutters, dealers, auctions were all either shut down or unable to operate normally – hence, production was reduced to a trickle of what it was.”
At 1stdibs, jewellery specialist Clive Kandel has seen a rush for single-stone rings set with an emerald, ruby or sapphire (particularly where the origin of the stones can be identified), and rings set with old mine-cut diamonds from around 1900. Origins and history,…
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