If you think the auction houses are just about selling multimillion-dollar diamonds and pricey signed jewels, you will be surprised to discover how things have changed. The big-name auction houses are now offering a broader selection of gems and jewelry in a wide range of prices and more ways to shop 24/7 through online auctions, private sales, and new selling programs that highlight emerging designers and contemporary jewelers. Oh, they still host live seasonal auctions.
The pandemic fast-tracked the auction houses’ move to increased digital sales and more personal interactions with clients, as specialists helped buyers to track down diamonds and jewelry during a time when they couldn’t go into stores. As a result, clients have gained more confidence in purchasing online without ever seeing the jewels in person, and now there’s no turning back.
“We’ve all been conditioned by the 24/7 nature of the internet – literally anything is searchable and buyable at any given moment, and this has rippled beyond the traditional seasonal auctions,” explained Paul Redmayne, Phillips’ Head of Private Sales, Jewellery. As a result, Phillips has increased its online jewelry sales (they had two last year and will have six this year), and even more are planned for next year. “This is a rapidly growing area of the market on which we are super-focused, and the benefits are both broad and rapid: new client acquisition, global reach, and instantaneous interactions, to name but a few,” says Redmayne.
The digital platform also engages younger buyers who didn’t necessarily think of going to auction houses for their jewelry purchases. At Phillips’ recent Hong Kong jewelry sale, for example, 40% of the buyers were under the age of 40.
The Auction House Advantage
Auction houses are perhaps the only sellers that can offer such a wide selection, from vintage jewelry representing all periods to coveted contemporary designs, alongside rare gems and diamonds. They curate sales made up of property that is consigned from clients and dealers around the world, which gives them unrivaled access to popular designers and brands and good deals. Now, those treasures are more accessible: Christie’s also increased the number of its online jewelry sales, from five last year to eight in 2020, according to Daphne Lingon, Head of Jewelry, Christie’s Americas.
Christie’s offers its global clients the opportunity to purchase jewelry whenever it is convenient for them, Lingon explains. “Buying diamonds at auction (live or online) has significant advantages, as we offer a large selection of important and rare diamonds, colored diamonds and diamond jewelry at competitive estimates, often from private collections with interesting provenances and histories.”
Auction Houses Can Track Down Your Dream Diamonds and Jewels
Whether you are looking for a 2-carat emerald cut diamond or a pink diamond ring, the big auction houses will track it down and even help you get it made into the ring of your dreams. When Christie’s gets a special diamond request, they have a wide network of international sources that can help them locate any stone. “We can offer clients diamonds that have already been consigned for future auctions or ones that we currently have in our private sale inventory,” explains Lingon. “Additionally, should a client have a special request, we are more than delighted to find the perfect stone from our network of sources.”
Private requests have increased this year at Phillips, where Redmayne sourced a number of diamond rings for couples who got engaged during the pandemic. “If you’re looking for a 2-carat engagement ring we can assist and have it tailor-made, and if you want a 10-carat vivid pink diamond then we can source that for you too.” Beyond stones, his team can track down almost anything: “We want collectors to buy what is right for them, and our wide-reaching selection isn’t limited to a particular brand, style, or time period. If you want Cartier from the 1920s or 1970s Bulgari, we are happy to find something for you.”
Where to Find the World’s Most Exceptional Contemporary Jewelry Designers
It wasn’t just the pandemic that accelerated changes at auction. For the past several years, auction houses have been evolving to create more dynamic businesses and attract younger buyers. Sotheby’s established its Sotheby’s Diamond division over a decade ago, which offers exceptional diamonds in cutting edge jewelry designs and capsule collections by rising talent, such as Nicholas Lieou, Lily Gabriella and Joseph Ramsay.
Christie’s has been hosting exhibitions featuring leading contemporary designers, including Wallace Chan, Michelle Ong and Cindy Chao. It’s an opportunity for the house to introduce the designers to their clients in the same way they feature great artists, and it also encourages collectors to get to know the jewelers in a more personal way.
In October, Phillips unveiled Flawless, a platform to showcase jewelry designs year-round. “Flawless has a rotating selection of individual jewels at all times, but we also use the platform to showcase works by some of today’s most prominent jewelry makers,” explains Redmayne. The launch exhibition and sale featured jewelry by the British designer Shaun Leane.
“Exhibiting contemporary artists is a priority across all our categories and our jewels team has been fortunate enough to show works by groundbreakers such as Lauren Adriana, Ana Khouri and Sarah Ho over the years,” says Redmayne. In the house’s Hong Kong auction in November it will offer two specially made creations by Paris-Shanghai-based designer Feng J, and more collaborations are planned for next year.
Beyond designer collections, Flawless is also a source for diamonds (both loose and set stones). “Our main criteria are that the stone must be best-in-class and, crucially, the price must be super-competitive,” says Redmayne.
With all of these buying opportunities, the auction houses are making it easier than ever to find the diamonds and jewels of your dreams at competitive prices – and all from the comfort of your own couch.