Glittering prizes

© Written by Rachael Taylor for Platinum Resident

As an investor, you’ll no doubt have seen a steady stream of antique jewels, vintage watches and gemstones with hammer prices that seem to obliterate the pre-sale auction estimates to such a degree that making money on watches and jewellery seems easy. In some cases this is true but the experts believe the best way of buying well is to find something that elevates the value of what you’re buying beyond its base commodity.
One sure-fire way to do this is to give a jewel a history; auction buyers love to be seduced by a story, particularly one that they already know a little about and there has been a real vogue in the past decade for suctions of jewellery that one belonged to high-profile celebrities.
Perhaps the most famous of recent times were the sales of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels at Christies in 2011 and Wallis Simpson’s at Sotheby’s in 2010. Both auctions smashed pre-sale estimates with Simpson’s jewels fetching nearly £8 million while Taylor’s sale completely sold out and brought in £75 million, outselling its estimate by five times.

Both women had incredible jewellery collections and the circus around the sales drove prices even higher. The history not just of the jewels but of the women themselves turned sales previews into news-worthy exhibitions.
The top lot from the Taylor sale was La Peregrina pearl necklace designed for the actress by Cartier; the final hammer price of US$11.8 million eliciting applause from a hyped-up sales room crowd. For the Simpson collection it was also Cartier that became the leading lot of the sale when an onyx and diamond panther bracelet created by the house in 1952 sold for £4.5 million.
Just as the provenance of famous names will ramp up prices, so will the names of famous jewellery houses.
“If you’re looking to buy jewellery as an investment, always buy something you love and make sure it is of the best quality you can afford,” says James Nicholson, international head of jewellery, watches and silver at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctioneers. “Jewels made by the world’s most respected jewellers – Cartier, Boucheron, Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels – are always a good buy. The signature on a piece of jewellery by one of those houses immediately adds provenance and premium.”
Last year yielded a fabulous example of just how powerful one of these brand signatures can be when a bracelet from Cartier’s Tutti Frutti collection – referred to by auctioneers as the Holy Grail of jewels – came up for sale at Sotheby’s.
The platinum bracelet set with carved emeralds and rubies, onyx beads and diamonds, made in 1928, had already made an appearance on the auction circuit, fetching £465,000 in 1999, but when it returned to auction at Sotheby’s in December it fetched a much inflated US$2.16 million.
“Not all jewels bring a 500% return in 15 years, but signed jewels do tend to retain their value better than their unsigned cousins,” says Sotheby’s New York vice-president and jewellery specialist Catharine Beckett. “The global audience for jewellery is expanding rapidly with buyers in developing markets becoming increasingly sophisticated in their aesthetic sensibilities, leading to unprecedented prices for wearable works of art at auction.”
More adventurous jewellery tastes have also been affecting gemstone auctions, with colour proving to be a winning attribute. Diamonds have long been a safe haven for investors and last year it was a coloured diamond that broke records at Sotheby’s when a 9.75ct blue diamond known as The Zoe Diamond sold for US$32.6 million in November and the Graff Vivid Yellow became the most expensive yellow diamond ever sold at auction when it sold at Sotheby’s in May 2014 for US$16.3 million.
Coloured gemstones have also been selling well and are emerging as a strong alternative investment to diamonds. “With the extreme shortage of fine quality gems, prices for truly exceptional Mogok rubies, Kashmir sapphires and Colombian emeralds continue to soar,” says Flora Wong, director and Asia senior specialist in the jewellery department at Sotheby’s.
Natural pearls also have strong investment credentials. Often over 100 years old, natural pearls will only get rarer, and more expensive, as auctions are showing. In May last year a natural pearl and diamond necklace beat its pre-sale estimate by more than eight times when it sold for close to US$ million at Sotheby’s.
Vintage watches are popular investment pieces too. The auctions are constantly dominated by two names – Patek Philippe and Rolex. Last year Sotheby’s achieved a new world record when it sold a Patek Philippe Graves Supercomplication, commissioned by banker Henry Graves Jr in 1925, for US$24 million at an auction in November and the market for immaculate heritage pieces is fierce.
Adrian Hailwood, director and watch specialist at Fellows Auctioneers, advises those trying their luck in watch investments to seek out unusual models from big brands.
“Rolex and Patek are always trending but other brands are becoming increasingly collectible too,” he says, adding that the introduction of auctions for modern watches in the 1980s have made collections from big-name brands that flopped on launch suddenly collectible to the watch buying crowd. “In the 1970s Rolex could barely sell a Paul Newman Rolex, but now they are rare and they make stupid money.”
Hailwood’s final piece of advice echoes that of Nicholson, and that is to first and foremost buy what you like when it comes to spending money on jewellery and watches at auction. After all you may as well take some pleasure from your investment while it is making money for you.
This article was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Platinum Resident magazine. To see the article in its original layout click here for a PDF

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