LUXURYCULTURE.COM - The Brand Value of High Jewelry


In the face of uncertain stock markets and shaky economies, fine jewels are proving a wise buy for smart investors who know their brands.

As the markets face an even shakier year ahead, fine jewels are proving a wise investment for smart buyers who know their brands.

Time was when jewels were guarded for more than their monetary value. Passed down through bloodlines, each was a piece of history, the story growing with each generation. Apart from its holistic appeal, the beauty of such a sublime objet d'art was its functionality and the quality not only of its precious components, but of the art and workmanship of each piece.

Elizabeth Taylor famously tracked down notorious gems with the voracity of a big game hunter, while on Oscar night, the names Fred Leighton and Harry Winston are uttered more times than "and the winner is...". These celebrated marques, which sit in the upper echelon of haute jewelry alongside Cartier, Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany are as revered as their precious rocks. As news of mis-dealings and deceit sent the world's stock markets plummeting, nervous investors seeking a more secure return for dwindling shares have turned to fine jewelry. At Christie's New York sale of fine jewels from the collection of Alice Lawrence - a stellar line up of pieces from Buccellati, Gattle, Lucien Gautrait, Lalique, Mellerio, Tiffany & Co and David Webb, alongside the aforementioned Boucheron and Cartier – the entire collection sold for $670,000, while another, comprised of mainly Cartier, surpassed its estimate by almost a third, achieving a total of $1.3m.

As Rahul Kadakia, Head of Jewels at Christie's Americas remarks "One doesn't have to have a name associated to a jewel, as its workmanship will always tell you that it was manufactured in a great workshop, but if it does have a famous mark, it does add that extra pizzazz. Vintage jewels, especially from the 1920s from great houses such as Boivin, Boucheron, Bulgari, Cartier, Janesich, Lacloche, Mauboussin, Sterlé, Van Cleef & Arpels, and of course, Harry Winston, have always had a strong following, and more so today as examples from this period have become more and more difficult to find."

Van Cleef & Arpels, a top seller at auction, has a separate boutique dedicated to the buying, selling and appraisal of the company's vintage pieces, which, according to Stanislas de Quercize, President and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels, "Is successful because it reassures people of the value of their piece." Coveted pieces from the jeweler's back catalog includes early examples of the Mystery Setting, a revolutionary technique patented back in 1933 (this remains a complex setting that only few master jewelers are able to achieve, even today), unique creations and a diverse range of pieces ranging from the 1940s-1970s.

Realising the value of a comprehensive archive, it is not only canny investors who are driving up prices, but the houses themselves. Older houses such as Chaumet, and Boucheron all work tirelessly to maintain their impressive library of vintage jewels, particularly as many of the earlier pieces from the 19th century were one-offs. Some of most impressive signature pieces and treasures of Mellerio, the world's oldest jeweler, who's list of noble clients once included Marie Antoinette, have fallen into the hands of museum collections around the world. Chances are that the buyer bidding against you at Baselworld on that Art Deco Cartier ring is actually from Cartier.

It is not only old school names that are proving to be the most dazzling future nest eggs. Lorenz Bäumer, a bright young thing still in his thirties, has established himself as a major player, even amongst the neighboring luxury brands that surround his Place Vendôme showroom. Although a fledgling compared to such institutions of haute joallerie, Bäumer believes that he has successfully captured the spirit of the great marques "The brand is built around core values, which have been integral to our designs: artistry, great stones, an incredible attention to details and a commitment to make our clients feel special when they are wearing our works. Our buyers are buying what I am known for, which is creative and unusual pieces of jewelery. These are the pieces that will increase in value over time the most, I believe."

Although unique, creative pieces are ideal for burgeoning marques, Stanislas de Quercize advises "Try to go for something recognizable. Also always go for the best quality you can afford and be sure to ask for certification of authenticity." But how much added value can a name really bring to an object of already peerless quality? I ask "You wouldn't invest in a painting without a signature, would you?" is his response. Touché.

Though the full repercussion of last year's financial catastrophies remains to be seen, the luxury market is taking comfort in the new consumer spirit. The crisis has given rise to a reassessment in values and a new perspective on quality and craftsmanship. This is the end of bling.

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