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The World Loves Colored Gems

Top jewelry lots at Sotheby’s and Christie’s for 2020

By Carol Besler

The year 2020 will go down in history as one of the worst of the century, with pandemic panic, business shutdowns and many hardships. Surprisingly, it was a stellar year for jewelry and gem sales at auction – perhaps because of store closings, along with a desire to invest in gemstones.

Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s reported record online sales for the year, along with an increase in the value of jewels sold, along with several record-breaking gem prices, particularly with emeralds.

Here is a look at some of the beautiful baubles that sold at auction in 2020.

A 107.46 carat cushion shaped fancy yellow diamond brooch by Graff. Sold by Christie’s for $3,036,000. Price per carat: $28,000.

Christie’s sold 48 lots over $1-million in 2020, and says online bidding was at an all-time high, with a 143% increase in the number of online sales and a 241% increase in the value of online jewels. Christie’s new record for a piece sold in an online auction was a 28.86 carat D color diamond, selling for $2,115,000.

Left: A 21.86 carat Colombian emerald ring, signed by Cartier, from the collection of philanthropist Cecile Zilkha sold by Sotheby’s for $3,650,000. Right: A 6.41-carat pigeon blood red Burmese ruby ring from the collection of philanthropist Cecile Zilkha sold by Sotheby’s for $2.8-million.

Sotheby’s likewise reported an increase in online transactions, with a 182% increase in the value of bids, and says 30% of its new buyers hit a younger demographic – under age 40. It’s highest-value online sale was $15.7-million for a 102.39 carat perfect diamond.

The top jewelry lot of the year at Christie’s was a fancy intense blue, marquise-cut, internally flawless diamond ring of 12.11 carats, selling for $15.9-million. Another fancy color, a 1.05 carat purplish red diamond set in a ring made by Graff, sold for $2,640,000.

Harry Winston went shopping at Christie’s this year, picking up a 43.10 carat Kashmir sapphire bracelet surrounded by D color, internally flawless diamonds for just over $6-million. The piece will be added to Winston’s Legacy Collection.

Left: Fancy intense blue, internally flawless diamond ring of 12.11 carats. Sold by Christie’s for $15,870,815. Right: The Winston Legacy Sapphire, a bracelet with a Kashmir sapphire and diamond bracelet of 43.10 carats. Sold by Christie’s for $6,030,000.

Sotheby’s sold $310.5-million worth of jewels at auction in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019. It’s top lot was a 14.83 carat vivid purple-pink internally flawless diamond called Spirit of the Rose, which someone picked up for $26.6-million. It represented the world’s largest diamond of that color to appear at auction. “With its size, beautiful color, perfect cut and oval shape, it is a wonder of nature,” says Benoit Repellin, head of Sotheby’s jewels in Geneva. “The record-breaking price is testament to the growing awareness of the scarcity of high-quality pink diamonds around the world, following the closure of the Argyle mine.” So confident is Sotheby’s in the demand for diamonds that it took a chance last year on offering a blockbuster diamond without reserve: a 102.39 carat D color, flawless oval. It sold for $15.7-million.

On the colored gemstone side, Sotheby’s sold some spectacular pieces from the collection of philanthropist Cecile Zilkha. A 21.86 carat Colombian emerald ring sold for $3,650,000, and a 6.41-carat pigeon blood red Burmese ruby ring sold for $2.8-million. “She [Zilkha] was part of that generation that really dressed for dinner,” says Catharine Becket, Sotheby’s SVP, head of magnificent jewels. “She had the wherewithal to buy serious jewels from a relatively young age and was a consistent collector. She had a very complete jewelry wardrobe because she was this great society hostess, and she dressed the part.”

Signed jewels are still prized among collectors. Sotheby’s sold a Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet set with carved rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds for $1,340,000, and a Van Cleef & Arpels sapphire and diamond brooch for $1,109,000, in which the gems are mystery set, a signature technique of Van Cleef.

Left: Sotheby’s sold a Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet set with rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds for $1,340,000. Right: A Van Cleef & Arpels sapphire and diamond brooch sold by Sotheby’s for $1,109,000. The gems are mystery set, a signature technique of Van Cleef.

Jade is also strong, and not just in Asia. Sotheby’s fetched a whopping price for a green jadeite bead, ruby and diamond necklace, which sold for $10.4-million. “Top quality jadeite has always been sought after in Asia, but more recently, interest from outside Asia has considerably increased, with almost 30% of jadeite lots sold to non-Asian buyers in the past three years,” says Wenhao Yu, deputy chairman of jewelry for Sotheby’s Asia.

“The growing global demand is also encouraged by an international grading system that distinguishes the finest jadeite as imperial jadeite.”

Top Image: Spirit of the Rose, a 14.83 carat vivid purple-pink internally flawless diamond sold by Sotheby’s for $26.6-million ©



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