Retaining their sparkle

In a year when several world economies looked likely to collapse it seems ironic that sales of jewellery on the secondary market have thrived in Australia, with record results achieved this year.

In a year when several world economies looked likely to collapse it seems ironic that sales of jewellery on the secondary market have thrived in Australia, with record results achieved this year.

In June, Sotheby's Australia had the highest-grossing jewellery auction in Sydney with total results of $2.6 million (all prices used include buyer's premiums).

Their Melbourne auction in April grossed $1.5 million, the first million-dollar-plus jewellery auction in that city.

The latest Melbourne auction, held on September 13, also broke the million-dollar barrier, with total sales of $1.2 million. The clearance rate was 70 per cent by volume and 76 per cent by value.

Top result on the night was Lot 84, a 5.12-carat brilliant cut diamond ring which sold for $114,000, well above the pre-sale estimate range of $60,000 to $90,000. Other spectacular performers included a Bulgari diamond griffe ring, which sold for $96,000, and a 5.2-carat diamond ring for $90,000.

There's a steady market for diamonds in uncertain times, especially big ones with good provenance.

That $114,000 diamond was set in an 18 carat white gold ring and came with a Precious Stone Laboratory report.

Signed pieces by Bulgari are always in demand and, according to Sotheby's Head of Jewels Hamish Sharma, items of this standard are attracting interest from investors.

He reports one couple flew over from Tasmania for the auction, with their eyes on the $96,000 Bulgari as a potential retirement portfolio diversification. "There are people who definitely see these as a good hedge against inflation," Sharma says. "Jewellery has now become a secure place to park their funds."

The Tasmanian couple just missed out this time but will probably be back for the next auction in Sydney.

There is also growing interest in antique jewels although these are more likely to be worn on an opening night than left to mature in a dark safety deposit box. Antique jewellery at the Sotheby's sale ranged from the 1850s up to the 1970s and there are bargains to be found in all decades.

What attracts buyers is the design as well as the jewels used. Bold designs usually attract the most interest. Which explains why Lot 28, an emerald and diamond ring (see above) dated from the early 20th century, had seven phone bidders including one known gem merchant. The emerald was three carats, surrounded by two diamonds which added up to 1.4 carats, so the estimates of $5000 to $8000 were very tempting. It sold for $8400 after a bidding battle.

Lot 3, a 1970s gold, diamond and emerald strapped bracelet in the typical organic design of this decade, also drew some interest. It sold for $2600, well above the estimates of $1000 to $1500.

Fashion in jewellery is as fickle as any other and a spectacular diamond and garnet brooch, dated circa 1850 in the design of a coiled serpent, sold under estimate for $900 ( below). Sharma suggests that this piece would have sold for quite a bit more seven years ago. It seems coiled serpents are a bit passe these days.

Perhaps the eighties (1880s that is) could be the hot new decade. A selection of gold and enamel bangles from the late Victorian period were heavily contested and attracted international bidding.

Some elaborate gentlemen's gold fob watches from the nineteenth century also sold on estimate.

A lot of the bidding is done on the phone these days, or online, but there are still some, such as the Tasmanian couple, who enjoy the theatrical experience of a good auction.

The next Sotheby's Important Jewels sale is scheduled for December 6 in Sydney at their Anderson Street, Double Bay, salerooms.

$900 This diamond and garnet bracelet, circa 1850, sold under estimate at Sotheby's in September.

$3840 This enamel and diamond pendant was one of several items from the late-19th century to sell well.

$10,200 Glamorous pieces from the 1950s are generally popular. This diamond brooch sold above estimates of $6000 to $9000.

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