On the eve of Christie's New York Jewels sale, we talk to Rahul Kadakia, the auction house's Head of Jewelry, about the healthy market for fine jewelry from brands both old and new.
In the face of the current economic crisis, the art market might be in uncertain turmoil, but the market for fine jewelry remains healthy as buyers look to make long-term dependable investments. Following the sale of the historic Wittelsbach diamond – the 35.56 carat blue diamond that set the record for the most expensive jewel ever sold at auction at $24.3 million at Christie’s London in December 2008 – there has been a succession of significant jewelry sales at auction, the most recent being at Christie’s Hong Kong where a pear-shaped 20.70 and 10.02 carat diamond pendant sold for $3.3 million.
Christies is gearing up for its latest round of jewelry sales in London and New York, where, on June 11, the highlight will be four blue diamonds, which are amongst the rarest of color diamonds. Alongside these will be offered an array of fabulous pieces of vintage jewelry from established houses such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, as well as items by younger jewelers. Of the latter category, the highlight is undoubtedly an emerald and diamond ring designed by Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR), who is regarded as one of the most influential contemporary jewelers and whose work rarely comes up at auction.
Why the record-breaking prices for jewelry as other markets suffer? As Rahul Kadakia, the Head of Jewelry at Chrstie’s, explains in this exclusive interview, it is because of the enticing combination of beauty, rarity and long-term investment potential.
What is your definition of luxury?
Having the means and more importantly the time, to do all that one wants.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
A great Art Deco jewel, a superb painting, a vintage sports car, a villa in Como or even an ice-cream cone on a really hot summer afternoon. It's anything that makes you happy.
If luxury were a person?
I can think of all the Maharajas of India who were the very epitome of luxury and style.
If luxury were a moment?
I think the weekend is enough...
If luxury were a place?
It's called home!
What is the state of the market for jewelry in the face of the current economic crisis?
We have just completed a $33 million auction in Hong Kong on May 26, where a pear-shaped 20.70 and 10.02ct D Flawless diamond pendant sold for $3.3 million, and a jadeite double cabochon ring of vivid green color and exceptional translucency achieved $1.3 million. At Christie's Geneva on May 13, a 20.46ct rectangular-cut D, VS1 diamond achieved $1.99 million and, in New York on April 22, a 30.02ct pear-shaped D Flawless diamond soared past its $2.5 million estimate to sell for $4 million. So, the jewelry market remains healthy and continues to demonstrate the stability and long-term dependability of gems as a resilient store of value.
How difficult was it to bring four blue diamonds of significant size and quality to auction?
We sell between 7,000-8,000 lots of jewelry each year at our sales worldwide and if we come across two blue diamonds during the course of the year, it is a great event, so four blue options in the same sale is indeed a rarity in the world of jewelry auctions.
Did the sale of the Wittelsbach diamond for $24.3 million at Christie’s in December 2008 mark a turning point in the market for blue diamonds and for jewelry in general?
While $24.3 million was a great figure and a world-record price for any jewel ever sold at auction, in my eyes, the Wittelsbach is priceless. It was purchased by Laurence Graff and while I am sure that he took into consideration the rarity of a blue diamond and the history of this fabulous gem, he also purchased it as a piece of art. So, yes, absolutely this was a great moment for the jewelry world.
What response does an item of Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR) jewelry receive at auction?
It has come to a point where one could almost not put any estimate on a jewel created by JAR and it will take off all the same. The man is a genius with extremely fine taste and above all, has a great eye for color which allows him to put together the most sensational pieces with stones that you or I would never consider. Joel, along with his partner Pierre, also only produce between 60 and 70 jewels each year and so for the rest of the world the only way to acquire something by JAR is at auction and when that happens...
What is currently most in demand from buyers in terms of brands, stones, quality, etc.?
Demand is healthy all over so long as prices are in line with the market. Having said that, we have always found buyers to be very interested in natural pearls, old Indian diamonds, fine Burmese rubies, Columbian emeralds, and Kashmir sapphires, no matter where the market stands. Vintage jewelry has also always witnessed great demand especially jewels by the likes of Bulgari, Boucheron, Cartier, Janesich, Lacloche, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Harry Winston, preferably from the Art Deco years.
How do prices differ between pieces from iconic brands such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels and younger, less established designers?
Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and many of the designers I have noted above are established houses, most of them for over 100 years. These houses have great history and archives of fabulous creations created by some of the most innovative designers in the field. When you see a great Art Deco bracelet or necklace by some of these houses, it is like finding a great painting and the prices paid reflect this. With the new designers, we also see great talent and while prices may not always be as strong as the established houses, some of them command just as much interest. Joel Arthur Rosenthal, who has been called to the Fabergé of modern times, is probably the best example.
Christie’s is staging jewelry sales in Geneva, London, New York and Hong Kong this spring. How do the markets differ?
While great jewelry will sell anywhere, we do find our markets slightly different from one another and you will see in the catalogues that the sales in Geneva cater to Russian and Middle Eastern tastes while London will have a greater emphasis on antique jewelry. Similarly, the New York sales feature important diamonds and also jewelry by American designers such as David Webb while in Hong Kong, you almost only see diamonds of the finest quality and exceptional jadeite.
New York Jewels at Christie’s New York, June 11