US Jewelry Auction Season Ends on an Upswing

Stellar stateside stones: Colored diamonds came out on top at the December sales, while sapphires continued to draw collectors’ interest.

January 24, 2024  |  Anthony DeMarco

It was business as usual as the fall auction season came to an end in New York and Chicago. Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Hindman held their sales in early December, and considering the volatile state of the world, the extension of the ban on Russian diamonds, and the likely shift to a more conservative collecting approach, most were happy with the results.

“The sales were generally nice, with a lot of goods exchanging hands,” reports Benjamin Goldberg of New York-based diamond dealer William Goldberg. “The market for diamonds and diamond jewelry was pretty impressive. There were a lot of peaks and valleys during the season, but sales ended on the upside.

Christie’s sold most of their lots, Sotheby’s struggled a little more, and small diamonds and fancy-colored diamonds made decent prices at Bonhams. Overall, the market is in a pretty good place.”

Audemars Piguet gold and diamond Royal Oak wristwatch. (Sotheby’s)

Sotheby’s: A star-studded selection

The December 5 Magnificent Jewels sale at Sotheby’s New York totaled more than $38.4 million — higher than any of the other major auction houses in the month’s US sales. Of the 137 lots on offer, 75% found buyers, and fancy-colored and colorless diamonds dominated the top 10.

There was also strong demand for vintage pieces from prestigious jewelry houses — particularly those from the estates of iconic entertainers such as Mary Tyler Moore, Frank Sinatra, Richard “Red” Skelton and Tony Randall.

Mary-Tyler Moore. (Sotheby’s)

Leading the sale was a 133.03-carat, fancy-vivid-yellow diamond that fetched more than $5.5 million, surpassing its $5 million high estimate. The VS2-clarity gem was the largest diamond of its color ever to sell at auction, according to Sotheby’s.

“It seems like they get one big stone every sale, and it sells,” says David Doppelt of New York-based jeweler Jonathan Doppelt, which specializes in fancy-color diamonds. “That was a great stone and price.”
Another piece that caught Doppelt’s attention was a diamond necklace from Leviev Diamonds. The necklace features 30 variously cut diamonds weighing a total of 123.27 carats, ranging from D to G in color and internally flawless to SI1 in clarity. It sold for nearly $2.4 million.

The market for diamonds and diamond jewelry was pretty impressive.

Colored diamonds continue to be in strong demand, according to gemologist Gary Roskin of the Roskin Gem News Report. One example at Sotheby’s was a ring with a 7.37-carat, fancy-intense-orangy-pink, VS1 diamond that went for nearly $1.7 million.

Pieces by Harry Winston had mixed results. One ring by the New York jewelry house, featuring a pear-shaped, 23.65-carat, D, VVS2 diamond between tapered baguette diamonds, netted nearly $1.4 million. However, two other high-profile pieces by the jeweler failed to sell: a Wreath diamond necklace and Wreath bracelet, which respectively had estimates of $700,000 to $1 million and $650,000 to $850,000.

Notable among the auction’s signed jewels was a pink-sapphire, diamond and gold ring that belonged to Skelton. It brought in nearly $1.1 million, over seven times its high estimate. The sapphire is of Burmese origin and weighs approximately 16 to 18 carats. Meanwhile, a collection of Randall’s jewels included a gold, sapphire, emerald and diamond bracelet by Jean Schlumberger that sold for $127,000, exceeding its high estimate of $35,000.

A 133.03-carat, fancy-vivid-yellow diamond. (Sotheby’s)

Christie’s: Blues and oranges

The Magnificent Jewels auction at Christie’s New York achieved more than $38.1 million, selling 90% of its 152 lots. However, the anticipated top lot — the California Sunset earrings, which featured a pair of oval, fancy-vivid-orange-yellow diamonds weighing 12.20 and 11.96 carats respectively — was pulled from the December 6 sale at the last minute without explanation. The earrings carried an estimate of $7 million to $12 million.

David Webb aquamarine, enamel and diamond cuff.
(Christie’s Images Limited)

While the withdrawal of an item often makes negative headlines, it’s really a typical part of the auction business, explains Roskin. “You never know why something is withdrawn. It could be a host of reasons. The auction house never reveals that information, and for good reason. Most people who aren’t familiar with auctions look at that as a problem. Those familiar with auctions take it as something normal.”

Colored diamonds and blue sapphires did well. The lot that ultimately led the sale was a platinum ring with a 3.49-carat, fancy-vivid-blue, internally flawless diamond, which came in only $5,000 shy of its $5.5 million high estimate.

“Christie’s had some really special colored diamonds,” says Doppelt. “I thought that 3-carat stone sort of brought back the good old days for blues. They’ve been a little down lately. That was an amazing stone.”
Another blue diamond that attracted attention was a pear modified brilliant-cut, 2.06-carat, fancy-deep-blue, VS1 stone that fetched just under $1.2 million, nearly double its upper presale estimate.

Orange diamonds also did well, notes Doppelt. A yellow gold ring with a pear-shaped, 5.16-carat, fancy-vivid-yellowish-orange, VS2 specimen sold within estimates at $1.7 million. And an oval modified brilliant-cut, 2.06-carat, fancy-vivid-orange diamond achieved $743,400, comfortably above its $600,000 high estimate. “I saw them both in the saleroom the day before,” remarks Doppelt. “They were incredible.”

A few natural pearl jewels had some impressive results as well, observes Roskin. Among the high points were a triple-strand pearl necklace that fetched $138,600 — well beyond its $80,000 top estimate — and a pair of diamond, platinum and gold earrings with button-shaped white and dark-gray natural pearls, which bested their $50,000 upper estimate at $75,600.

“Natural pearls have really done very well, and rightfully so,” Roskin says. “Some of the natural pearls I’ve seen lately have been fabulous.”

Blue sapphires were among the top lots at the auction house. A Cartier platinum ring with an emerald-cut, 23-carat, unheated Kashmir sapphire fetched $3 million, more than twice its $1.2 million high estimate.

David Webb turquoise, emerald and gold necklace.
(Christie’s Images Limited)

Another unheated Kashmir sapphire that stood out was a cushion mixed-cut, 8.91-carat specimen in a Tiffany & Co. platinum ring from circa 1950, which nearly doubled its $1 million high estimate at over $1.9 million.

Bonhams and Hindman: From Burma to Kashmir

The blue-sapphire theme continued at the Bonhams and Hindman auctions. The top lot at the December 4 Bonhams New York sale was an 11.87-carat, unheated Burmese sapphire that achieved $660,900, three times its presale estimate. In addition, a 3.91-carat, unheated Kashmir sapphire sold for $343,400.

A fancy-yellow diamond and diamond necklace that sold for $318,000 at Bonhams. (Bonhams)

At Hindman’s December 6 sale in Chicago — which totaled $4.4 million — a platinum ring with an unheated Kashmir sapphire of approximately 8.90 carats fetched nearly $1.3 million, more than double its $500,000 high estimate.

A lot of the blue sapphires are selling for two and three times their high estimates. They’re beautiful stones.

“That sapphire Hindman sold created a great deal of buzz,” as did the large sapphire at Bonhams, Doppelt relates. Roskin says he’s been “impressed at how well blue sapphires have done at auction the past couple years. A lot of the blue sapphires are selling for two and three times their high estimates. They are beautiful stones.

Typically, it’s the Sri Lankan [and] Kashmir that are special. For me, it’s more about how they look, not necessarily where they’re from. The Kashmir sapphires should get the big prices because of the way they look.”

Coco Chanel and Fulco di Vendura. (Boris Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet)

The Bonhams sale totaled $7.3 million, with 88% of its 257 lots finding buyers. Among those was a platinum ring with a cushion-cut, 1.30-carat, fancy-brownish-red diamond between two oval-shaped diamonds, which went for $254,500. That sale caused a positive stir among dealers, according to Doppelt, who has seen rare fancy-colored diamonds like this one attracting more attention among collectors.

Main image: A ring with a 3.49-carat, fancy-vivid-blue diamond that sold at Christie’s. (Christie’s Images Limited 2023)

This article is from the January-February 2024 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

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