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DIAMONDS AT AUCTION

AS HIGHER-VALUE JEWELRY IS BEING SOLD ONLINE AT AUCTION SOTHEBY’S AND CHRISTIE’S CONTEMPLATE MAJOR CHANGE

 

There are many business sectors that are likely to be inexorably changed once the COVID-19 crisis comes to an end. One of the them is auction houses, which have quickly pivoted to online sales, with a degree of some success.

This not say that business has continued uninterrupted. The leading auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, have furloughed much of their staff and canceled and delayed numerous sales. But they have not ground to a complete halt. 

A well-documented online jewelry sale at Sotheby’s in April saw the the million-dollar barrier on a single item being broken, when a Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet went for more than $1.3 million. It was the highest price for any jewel sold in an online sale as well as the highest price for any jewel sold at auction in 2020, and it proved beyond doubt that life goes on even if there is no audience of buyers sitting in the room.

In reality, though, it should not have come as a surprise. For years already many of the most active buyers at auction have not been located on the premises, but rather have called in their bids by phone.

LARGEST DIAMOND EVER TO BE AUCTIONED ONLINE

June has traditionally been a key season for the auction houses, with the most important venues being New York, London, Geneva and Hong Kong. 

All four cities were impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, with New York and London still largely under lockdown and Geneva and Hong Kong working under stringent health restrictions.

No surprise then that Christie’s is about to put on the block the largest D-color diamond ever to be sold at an online auction. It is a 28.86-carat, D color, VVS1 clarity diamond, and is listed as the top lot at Christie’s Jewels Online sale, which will take place June 16 to 20. Its estimate sales price is $1 million to $2 million. It was originally slated to have been sold at a live auction.

It goes without saying that the auction will be carefully watched, for if the results are better than expected, it could come to be regarded as a turning point in the sector.

The 28.86-carat, D color, VVS1 clarity diamond, which is listed as the top lot at Christie’s Jewels Online sale, which will take place June 16 to 20. (Photo courtesy of Christie’s)

The Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet that sold more than $1.3 million in April during a Sotheby’s online sale. It was the highest price for any jewel sold at auction to date in 2020.

LIVE-ONLINE HYBRID STRATEGY BEING CONTEMPLATED

According to Sotheby’s and Christies, online auctions have already proven themselves, with sell-through rates more than 90 percent and many of the goods sold surpassing pre-sale estimates. Nonetheless, for the most part to date they have included jewelry of lower values than what are normally would be sold at la ive auction.

This could be about to change. “Our previous online sales have offered lots with more moderate estimates, however, we plan to strategically include higher value property in upcoming sales,” said Rahul Kadakia, International Head of Jewelry at Christie’s, in an email exchange with Forbes. “This year alone, we have seen unprecedented levels of global participation. It is also encouraging to see online lots continually outperform estimates. We have also received many inquiries for higher value property through our newly launched virtual private ‘Sales Viewing Rooms,’ so we know the appetite is there.”

“Having experienced greater client confidence of transacting at higher price points online, the decision was made in collaboration with our consignor to move to an online sale, which is a very active channel for us,” Kadakia told Forbes. 

“The estimate was based purely on the value of the diamond and recent market comparables. In no way was the estimate adjusted because of the platform it is offered. We are also confident that the stone will achieve a comparable price to what it might have sold for in a live auction.”

But Kadakia does not believe that the live auction is about to disappear. “As an auctioneer, I can firmly attest that there is nothing that can compare to the energy in the auction room. Creating an atmosphere and public forum for transaction establishes a moment in history,” he stated. “Instead of online replacing live auctions, I do see an evolution to more hybrid buying combining online participation in live sales, or live viewing for online sales.”