Standout Stones Signal Strong Market at Geneva Auctions

Diamonds rock the block: Blues, pinks and yellows studded the top lots at the season’s sales.

December 5, 2023  |  David Brough

Phillips held its inaugural jewelry sale in Geneva in November, joining — and heightening competition with — Christie’s and Sotheby’s at the top end of the market.

Christie’s had the highest-value lot in the Swiss city’s seasonal sales and, for that matter, in the entire 2023 auction cycle: the pear-shaped, 17.61-carat Bleu Royal diamond, which went for $44 million, comfortably within estimates. It was the largest fancy-vivid-blue, internally flawless diamond ever to appear at auction.

Phillips: Outdoing the estimates

The Phillips sale on November 6 — which took place in a white marquee facing the elegant La Réserve Genève Hotel — got off to a cracking start when a gold Bulgari Monete demi-parure fetched more than double its upper price tag after a bidding frenzy.

Van Cleef & Arpels yellow-sapphire and diamond Ballerina brooch that sold at Phillips Geneva. (Phillips)
Bulgari gold and coin Monete demi-parure that sold at Phillips Geneva. (Phillips)

Brisk competition ensued for many lots, leading Benoit Repellin, Phillips’s global head of jewelry, to quip that “we could be here all night.” Repellin had curated the sale, titled Geneva Jewels Auction: ONE.
The leading lot was a ring featuring a 20.19-carat, fancy-intense-pink diamond. After much attention at the viewing in the city’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel de la Paix, the piece garnered CHF 11.9 million ($13.2 million), solidly within its CHF 10 million to CHF 15 million ($11.1 million to $16.7 million) estimate. The gem was the fourth-largest fancy-intense-pink diamond ever to appear at auction, Phillips said.

Many exceptional diamonds and estate jewelry pieces outperformed estimates at the event, mirroring trends that appeared later in the week at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The successes underlined the health of the market’s top end, even against a backdrop of geopolitical uncertainty that has intensified with the Israel-Hamas conflict. Rare jewelry, diamonds and gemstones can be seen as safe havens, portable stores of value during times of war and high inflation.

We saw mainly professional bidders in person — a lack of private collectors on the ground.

The overall mood in the Phillips sales area was upbeat, and bidding momentum was energetic from the start. Both colored and colorless diamonds saw active interest. An oval, 15.60-carat, D-color, VS2-clarity, type IIa stone sold for CHF 889,000 ($988,568), beating its CHF 720,000 ($800,640) upper estimate.

That said, apart from the star lot, the value of many items tended to be lower than those at the other auction houses’ Geneva sales, making it likely that Phillips will focus more on consigning the highest-value lots at its future events in the city.

“We saw mainly professional bidders in person — a lack of private collectors on the ground,” reports Monaco-based designer Martina Wagner of bespoke high-jewelry firm Monte Carlo Diamonds. Wagner attended the sales at all three auction houses.

Other standout results at Phillips — and at the Geneva sales in general — included magnificent sapphires from Kashmir, Burma (Myanmar) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), which are hugely in demand due to tight supply. Dealers saw several bargain sapphire consignment opportunities at some of the auctions and competed vigorously to bid well above estimates. One oval sapphire of Ceylon origin, weighing 16.77 carats, sold at Phillips for CHF 241,300 ($268,326), more than five times its CHF 45,000 ($50,040) top estimate.

Not all items found buyers, however. A Graff ruby and diamond ring attracted bids of up to CHF 220,000 ($244,640), missing its CHF 290,000 ($322,480) low estimate.

Christie’s: A Royal send-off

In a fast-paced auction at the traditional Christie’s venue — the luxury Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, facing Lake Geneva — 93% of lots sold on November 7. Leading the pack was the Bleu Royal, which got snapped up by a collector after intense bidding by telephone.

A senior colored-diamond dealer, who had predicted a result of around $40 million, said privately that the $44 million outcome was solid for both buyer and seller.

[The solid performance] reaffirmed clearly that the market is still very strong…especially [for] rare colored diamonds, Burmese rubies and Kashmir sapphires.

The Magnificent Jewels auction achieved $77.7 million in total, Christie’s said. The positive mood was palpable as staff gathered for food and drinks afterward. “We were very pleased with the results,” international head of jewelry Rahul Kadakia told Rapaport Magazine after the sale.

A ring with an 8.77-carat, fancy-intense-pink diamond that sold at Christie’s Geneva. (Christie’s Images 2023)
The Bleu Royal ring, featuring a 17.61-carat, fancy-vivid-blue diamond that sold at Christie’s Geneva.
(Christie’s Images 2023)

The auction’s “very good” performance “reaffirmed clearly that the market is still very strong in certain areas, especially rare colored diamonds, Burmese rubies and Kashmir sapphires,” according to London-based diamond expert Marijan Dundek, who attended the Phillips sale as well. At a previous Geneva auction, he successfully bid several million dollars to acquire an exceptionally rare yellow diamond for a client.

Another standout item at Christie’s was a colored natural-pearl pendant that sold for CHF 693,000 ($770,616), more than double its upper estimate.  The rarity of fine natural pearls has triggered strong demand and rising prices for high-end natural-pearl jewelry.

A notable piece that failed to sell was a signed Cartier Art Deco sautoir with rubies, sapphires and diamonds. The highest bid came to CHF 700,000 ($778,400), falling short of its CHF 800,000 ($889,600) low estimate.

Sotheby’s: Love after withdrawal

The Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale on November 8 produced mixed results. The main lot — a diamond necklace with a 93.94-carat Mozambican Paraiba tourmaline, the Blue Lagoon, as its centerpiece — was strongly promoted before the sale but withdrawn in the final hours before the auction.

Sotheby’s did not give a reason for the withdrawal of the piece, which had carried an estimate of $1.5 million to $2.5 million. The house had billed it as the largest top-quality Paraiba tourmaline to go up for auction.

Despite that lot’s absence, the Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale went on to achieve CHF 41.8 million ($46.5 million) in total, with 82% of lots finding buyers. Purchasers from Asia more than doubled year-on-year, Sotheby’s reported.

Colored diamonds accounted for most of the highest-selling lots, including the 103.62-carat Love Stone — a cushion modified brilliant-cut, fancy-intense-yellow, VS2 diamond that became the new top lot when it brought in CHF 2.2 million ($2.5 million).

Colorless diamonds also did well. A 20.52-carat, D, internally flawless, type IIa diamond on a ring sold for CHF 1.8 million ($1.9 million), exceeding its high estimate of CHF 1.6 million ($1.8 million). In addition, a pair of Moussaieff diamond pendant earrings, featuring two D, VVS2 stones weighing 11.05 and 11.02 carats respectively, sold for CHF 977,900 ($1.1 million), within estimates.

However, an exquisite emerald and diamond necklace went unsold, drawing bids no higher than CHF 900,000 ($1 million) against a low estimate of about CHF 1.7 million ($1.8 million). “The estate jewelry market offers favorable conditions for dealers,” says London-based antique-jewelry dealer Myint Myint Thein of Mi Mi Jewellery, who attended all of the November Geneva jewels sales. “Acquiring items at reasonable prices allows for swift resale at attractive rates.”

Emerald and diamond necklace; necklace with a 63.93-carat, fancy-deep-brown-orange diamond offered at Sotheby’s Geneva. (Sotheby’s)
Ring featuring a 4.42-carat, fancy-intense-green diamond offered at Sotheby’s Geneva. (Sotheby’s)

She’s found that “while white-diamond prices have slightly decreased and sales have slowed, the popularity and demand for colored diamonds with vibrant hues remain consistently high.”

Several of the bidding professionals who were looking to restock goods at the Geneva auctions had been exhibiting at the GemGenève show days earlier. The upscale gem and jewelry trade event took place November 2 to 5 at Palexpo, near the Geneva airport.

Main image: Ring with a 20.19-carat, fancy-intense pink diamond sold at Phillips Geneva. (Phillips)

This article is from the November-December 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

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