Rapaport Magazine


Sotheby’s New York Magnificent Jewels sale was its best in nine years.

By Amber Michelle
RAPAPORT... After nine years of medi-ocre results, Sotheby’s New York finally got a taste of success with its December Magnificent Jewels sale. Bolstered by the artistically and historically important Judith H. Siegel Collection of Castellani & Giuliano, the one-day sale totaled $25,824,080. Tapping into the holiday buying frenzy, the Magnificent Jewels portion of the sale garnered $18,419,280 against a presale estimate of $22 million to $29 million, while the Castellani & Giuliano collection realized $7,404,800 against a presale estimate of $3 million to $4 million. The Magnificent Jewels sale was sold 79 percent by lot and 62.8 percent by value. The Castellani & Giuliano sale was sold 96.8 percent by lot and 97.7 percent by value.

This total compares with Sotheby’s April 2006 sale, which tallied up $17,526,900, and the December 2005 sale that realized $23,878,920. According to Lisa Hubbard, international jewelry department chairman, North and South America, the sale total was the largest jewelry sale at Sotheby’s New York since October 1997. The top lot of the sale was a pair of emerald and diamond pendant earclips, which sold to an American private for $688,000. Each ear pendant had a cushion cut emerald weighing over 3.50 carats and pear-shaped emerald drops, each weighing over 19 carats, with diamond surrounds

The strength of this auction came from its selection of signed, well-designed jewelry that is so coveted and hard to find in today’s market. The trend at Sotheby’s New York sales is to offer fine period jewelry, which the auctioneer excels at selling. This sale showcased 77 pieces of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, as part of a yearlong tribute to the French jewelry house that celebrated its one hundredth anniversary in 2006.

“Every piece of signed, well-made jewelry sold and it sold well,” observes Hubbard. “It sold well because in part it is hard to find and the auctions are a wonderful source for that jewelry. Castellani and Giuliano were the jewelers of their time. They were inspired by archaeological digs and they created one-of-a-kind pieces of art. People felt that they were buying something really special. The jewelry is pretty and wearable for having been made from the 1870s to the 1890s.”

“What was selling was beautiful, vintage jewelry. Age mattered here,” notes Janet Levy, principal of J. & S. S. De Young. “There were a lot of really great bracelets. And there was a lot of good jewelry at good values. The Van Cleef Japanese motif pendant is in the realm of art.”

Gail Brett Levine, author of Auction Market Resource and executive director of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers, agrees. “The sale was magnificent; it really lived up to its name. The condition of the items was impressive. And the Castellani took your breath away. The condition and strength of the pieces was the kind of thing you only see in books and museums.”


What hurt the bottom line of this auction was the failure to sell a 28.03-carat, VS2, fancy intense purple-pink diamond. Estimated at $6 million to $6.5 million, or $240,000 per carat, the bidding stopped just short at $5.7 million. While the stone was very rare due to its size, and attractive, dealers had a variety of concerns: The stone was not really intense, there were gray overtones, the color washed out around the edges and there was some fluorescence that detracted from its brightness. Dealers didn’t think the price was justified for the stone and there were no privates in the market for such a rarified item.

“We were disappointed by no sale on the pink,” comments Hubbard. “It’s one of the most beautiful stones I’ve seen in the 30 years I’ve been working here, and it was not a pushy price. It will find a home eventually.”

At the April Sotheby’s sale, the Golden Maharaja, a 65.57-carat orange brown diamond, generated much interest and rabid bidding, selling for $1,382,400. Brown continued its winning streak at this sale when a fancy dark orangy brown 30.60-carat diamond framed by 28 white diamonds sold for $312,800 to a bidder intent on owning the stone.

“The estimate — $75,000 to $100,000 — was low and the orange gives the brown a warmth. It’s a color that is popular right now,” says Hubbard.

While diamond sales were steady, there was not the same zeal to buy stones under 10 carats as in previous sales. “Stones that were put in by privates and priced inexpensively sold well. Yellows were slow, but they are common,” says Hubbard.

Levine believes the slower sale of diamonds was caused by end-of-the-year market saturation, when 3-carat to 5-carat goods are not flying out the door as they did a couple of months earlier. “But prices for diamonds were respectable,” she adds.


Colored gemstone sales were lackluster, with passes on many of the gems offered. This is not, however an unusual scenario at auction, where typically jewelry and diamonds sell better than colored gemstones.

Christopher Smith, vice president and chief gemologist at the American Gemological Laboratories (AGL), who was observing the auction, noted that there was a broad spectrum of quality goods offered, but not enough information to put the gems in the proper context for pricing.

“There was very little supporting documentation,” commented Smith. “Often people feel more confident and comfortable buying colored gemstones if they have more information. Education is key. By providing a better description, with details on treatments, color, overall quality and cut, much of the mystery in acquiring colored gemstones can be dispelled.”

Despite a couple of stumbles, Sotheby’s sale reflected a strong market in search of fine jewelry. Buyers were often willing to reach deep into their pockets to win their prize, as proven by the prices achieved in the Castellani & Giuliano portion of the sale.

“Not all art hangs on walls,” concludes Hubbard. “Some of this jewelry was like a small miniature work of art that doesn’t shout. As we educate people, they will look at jewelry with new appreciation and, we hope, more art collectors will consider buying jewelry.”

*All prices include buyer’s premium.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - January 2007. To subscribe click here.

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