Collectors Driving Up Antique & Period Jewelry Prices
New York - For many of us, contemplating the latest market fashions and tastes occurring within the antique and decorative arts industry may seem like a bit of a stretch at the moment - especially as the west and much of Europe continues to struggle with the effects of Covid 19. However, stunning results from a number of high-end auction sales in Asia recently appear to be turning a blind-eye to the pandemics stagnating effect on commerce, as a once famous and exceptionally popular decorative arts genre seems poised to be making a comeback with collectors and dealers from around the world. Or, as Hong Kong, Arts & Crafts dealer, Nigel Connally mused while attending one of these sales, "Antique jewelry is back baby!"
Connally, and other top dealers who were rep'ing the local Hong Kong decorative arts scene, said the recent auctions put on by Phillips and Sotheby's were literally mayhem with so many dealers and collectors from across Asia unexpectedly showing up. "I just had no idea how popular late Victorian and Belle Époque jewelry had become," said Connally. "We were literally falling off our chairs at some of the prices being realized."
The Sotheby's sale featured an art deco emerald and diamond-set necklace made for American socialite Hélène Beaumont, who was a close friend to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. Reported pre-auction estimates were pegged at around $1.8 million, but the early twentieth-century piece ended up being hammered-down for a staggering $3.6 million to an Asian buyer - more than double what it brought when last at auction.
According to Jean Ghika, global head of jewelry at Bonhams auction house, sales of top-shelf late antique Victorian pieces and almost anything art deco has become exceptionally popular with Asian buyers. “There is an understanding and appreciation of these older pieces and the fact that many come with history, are unique, and often produced in limited numbers,” said Ghika. As for favorites, Ghika says that Asian buyers seem particularly enamored with pieces from famous French and Italian jewelry houses such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, Buccellati and Bulgari to name a few.
Echoing these statements, Graeme Thompson, who heads the global division of jewelry at Phillips auction house has also noticed a strong influx of interest in antique jewelry in not only China, but across Asia. “Jewels from the early 20th century, particularly the Belle Époque period, are becoming very popular," he said. Thompson noted that ten years ago he'd witnessed a stunning art deco diamond-set necklace by Cartier fail to sell at a Hong Kong auction. As fate would have it, he came across this same necklace this past year and consigned it to a Phillips sale, where it promptly sold for double its previous auction estimate. "It was at this point that I realized antique and period jewelry was becoming highly sought after in Asia,” Thompson said.
A mix of more knowledge, and a tremendous amount of disposable income is apparently at the root of Asia's newfound interest in antique and early twentieth century jewelry says Harvey Brown. "Our shop in San Francisco has been dealing in these types of items for over fifty years, but recently prices have started going through the roof." Brown says that he started getting calls from Asian dealers last year looking for late Victorian and Deco pieces on a fairly regular basis. "I didn't put two-and-two together until I realized we'd sold out of every Deco piece we had." Brown went on to say that it wasn't only his shop that experienced the sudden interest in all things 'antique,' but that many of his picker friends and other dealers from up and down the west coast were beginning to notice a scarcity of available stock. "This craze may have started in Asia," said Brown, "but I can assure you that we're hunting down and adding late Victorian and early twentieth-century jewelry to our shop just as fast as we can."
Whether or not this movement towards more traditional craftsmanship and older forms of jewelry will come to dominate the decorative arts market for the average antique dealer or collector remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain. A better 'worldwide' understanding of rare gems and the artistry behind such creations has fostered a new confidence amidst a growing group of global buyers. There are now legions of well-informed collectors prepared to pay top prices to obtain the finest antique examples at auction, regardless of whether or not there's an eventual return on investment. For today's antique dealers, buyers with pockets as deep as these are simply a dream come true.
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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