Rare Jewelry Sales at Auction

The gem market is hotter than ever.

It has been a banner year for jewelry sales at auction. In November 2015, a rare, 12.03-carat blue diamond known as “Blue Moon,” set as a solitaire ring, sold for a record 48.6 million Swiss francs (about $48.5 million). The buyer, Hong Kong property developer Joseph Lau, renamed it “The Blue Moon of Josephine” after his 7-year-old daughter. Only a day earlier, Lau had spent $28.5 million for a pink diamond ring—reportedly also for Josephine. In fact, Lau has a habit of spending large sums of money on gems for his children. Another daughter received a 9.75-carat blue diamond that he bought for $32.6 million, and an $8.4 million 10.1-carat ruby and diamond brooch.

According to experts at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, jewelry buying at auction today is split into two distinct categories: While there will always be the investors looking for the rarest single gems like those bought by Lau, the market for more “casual” pieces—impeccably designed but sometimes made of semiprecious stones—is picking up. The December 10 Magnificent Jewels sale at Christie’s fetched $59.7 million, more than $9 million above its estimate, and Sotheby’s December 9 Magnificent Jewels sale took in $52.2 million. A highlight of the Sotheby’s sale was a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace, created in 1939 for Queen Nazli of Egypt, and a rare sugarloaf cabochon Kashmir sapphire ring that sold for $5.1 million.

But less prohibitively priced jewels are also popular. Both auction houses report that less precious (but certainly still rare) pieces by Cartier, Bulgari and Jean Schlumberger are currently selling well above estimates. Investors pay keen attention to the fact that jewelry holds its value, and buyers are treating the pieces as art objects. Tom Burstein, senior vice president of jewelry at Christie’s, told Women's Wear Daily that current collectors are looking for signed jewelry that is representative of the brand in addition to being wearable, comfortable and well crafted.

Jewelry experts advise that collectors look for the following characteristics to help assure that jewels will retain their value over time: prestigious names from iconic eras, such as Art Deco-era Cartier; vivid colors that have been tested by the Gemological Institute of America to ensure they were created by nature; price increases; and the prestige attached to previous owners. And if you’re attracted to this last type of provenance, you might be in luck: Recently, the Philippine government approved the auction of former first lady Imelda Marcos’s jewelry collection, estimated at $21 million. The showpiece? A rare 25-carat pink diamond seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 1986. It could be yours—unless another gem collector gets it first. Happy bidding!

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