Jewellery is an auction mainstay, but during the pandemic, diamonds seem to be doing all the heavy lifting. In April, a Cartier ‘Tutti Frutti’ bracelet broke the record by going for USD 1.34 million. It was the highest a piece of jewellery had commanded at an online auction, this one from Sotheby’s and featuring an exuberant mix of sapphires, emeralds, rubies. And single-cut diamonds. Not to be outdone, next week, Christie’s will present the largest D-colour diamond to be sold at an online auction. The 28.86-carat VVS1 clarity diamond ring is estimated at USD 1 million – 2 million, making it the highest valued lot ever offered for sale online at Christie’s. Other highlights include a couple of Graff necklaces and a Kutchinsky cuff bracelet, all diamond studded.
The Kutchinsky cuff bracelet
These developments offer a welcome contrast to recent dismal updates on unsold diamonds in the retail sector. A Bloomberg article, for instance, quotes Gemdax, a specialist advisory firm, and observes that five of the world’s biggest diamond producers have to deal with excess inventories worth USD 3.5 billion. So what explains the robust sales at the two big auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s?
Coming from South Africa
The answer could be collectible jewellery, with game-changing gems encouraging increased online participation from clients around the world, many of them new. “The [28-carat] diamond was originally consigned for a live auction. However, having experienced greater client confidence of transacting at higher price points online, the decision was made to move to an online sale,” explains Rahul Kadakia on email. International Head of Jewelry at Christie’s, 46-year-old Kadakia has been with the auction house for 24 years; personal highlights include 2011’s inaugural Elizabeth Taylor online sale and last year’s unique Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence “sale of the century”. The transfer of the Pink Legacy diamond to Swatch-owned Harry Winston in 2018 for an astonishing USD 50.66 million, was also on his watch. Is there a backstory to next week’s spectacular diamond? “We believe the stone was probably mined in South Africa and this is the first and only time this diamond has been to market,” is what Kadakia is willing to share.
As the lots won’t travel to various Christie’s showrooms to be viewed by prospective buyers, clients will have to make do with online viewing rooms and technological advancements like 3D-view for now. “Our clients have trust in the pieces that we offer for sale, so many can comfortably transact without seeing pieces in person,” adds Kadakia. Choosing not to comment on whether the house has been receiving more appraisal requests over the last couple of months, he reveals that clients are participating in online sales from over 150 countries. And new registrants are as high as 80% for select sales.
Graff’s Classic Butterfly wristwatch
Hailing from a family of jewellers in Mumbai, the auctioneer says he keeps track of diamond manufacturers and coloured stone dealers in the country, as well as star designers. Viren Bhagat is on his list of favourite contemporary jewellers – “for his unmistakable style that threads old gems and natural pearls into an East meets West marriage” – together with Joel Rosenthal for his “unmatched colour palette” and Anna Hu. Incidentally, Hu has designed three beautiful jewels for the Alrosa diamond company, which Christie’s will showcase in an online charity sale next month.
As for the 28-carat headliner from the auction house, jewellery historian Usha R Balakrishnan sums up, “If it sells at a good price it will be an important benchmark in the transition of buyer confidence to new modes of buying. Gemstones like this one always come with certificates of authenticity from the best gem labs. The onus now rests with the certifying labs.”
Christie’s Jewels Online is from June 16-30