No longer considered Grandma’s leftovers, vintage and antique baubles are in high demand.
Every collectors’ market has its turning point. For estate jewelry, it may well have been 1987, when a dazzling array of jewelry that the Duke of Windsor had bestowed on his duchess, the former Wallis Simpson, went under the hammer at Sotheby’s. It sold for over $50 million—six times the expected figure. “The Duchess of Windsor sale really brought [estate] jewelry into the realm of art,” says Frank Everett, senior vice president and sales director of jewelry at Sotheby’s.
Since then, like an upmarket entrepôt, the major auction houses have become a glamorous funnel for storied jewels, a source to acquire rare, one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces—and perhaps make an investment too. Fueled in part by the global expansion of wealth and the spike in financially independent women buying jewelry for themselves, Sotheby’s jewelry sales hit $571 million in 2015, a 46% jump from $390 million in 2011.
On Sept. 22, Sotheby’s is launching its two-day “Important Jewels” sale in New York, featuring a selection of signature pieces from every important era and every celebrated maker. From exquisite diamond rings to precious stones fashioned into fanciful brooches and sumptuous necklaces, the Sotheby’s sale showcases an ornate 18-karat gold, sapphire, and diamond necklace and ear clips with a detachable 84.90-carat, cushion-cut, yellow Ceylon sapphire by Van Cleef & Arpels, estimated to sell at between $150,000 to $200,000. Another star is a 1942 platinum and diamond brooch shaped into a curved bow, also by Van Cleef & Arpels, estimated to bring between $50,000 and $70,000.
Such baubles are alluring, but do your due diligence. “Jewelry can be a bit of the Wild West,” says Fiona Druckenmiller, a former Dreyfus hedge fund portfolio manager who opened New York’s FD Gallery in 2010.
First, pay attention to authenticity and rarity. The major auction houses, such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, stand behind the authenticity of the pieces they are selling; they usually provide gemological certifications. Try to buy from a known and reputable dealer.