Over the weekend, the New York Times profiled David Bennett, Sotheby’s jewelry czar in Geneva. In the first half of 2016, gems and jewelry sales at Sotheby’s totaled just about $300m making the department the third highest volume of sales at the auction house. Not bad for a sector he says was once, “a fusty and forgotten auction business.”
Bennett doesn’t say this but from our perspective, large diamonds and colored stones as well as signed jewelry are behaving like another alternative currency and a store of value. Buyers value the aesthetic and historical aspects of jewelry but also the portability and atavistic and immutable value of rare stones.1 That helps explain why Bennett says, “There has been an extraordinary trajectory in prices alongside an explosion in the understanding of and education about the sector.”
Certain jewelry designers’ markets resemble those of easily recognized ‘name’ artists like Picasso, Basquiat and Koons. Owning a Cartier Tutti Frutti piece or something by Suzanne Belperron puts the owner in a circle of wealthy cognoscenti just as art collecting does. The advantage these pieces have over art is that the component parts are valued in and of themselves.
Bennett adds another reason to believe jewelry will continue to gain ground, it’s easier to sell online than other valuable objects:
“Jewelry will only become more important for the auction business, not least because it appears to be selling well online — essential as we continue to dive headlong into the digital age,” he said, noting that new technologies like 3-D modeling would most likely fuel even more sales growth. “It is an incredibly global and diverse sector in terms of its client base — more so than art — and given the precious materials from which pieces are forged, people perceive real value in what they are buying,” he said.
“Jewelry has been valued for 4,000 years, so it is pretty likely to continue, given its track record, in a way clothes and handbags probably cannot.”
At Sotheby’s, the ‘100-Carat’ Man (The New York Times)