Antique Jewelry Market: What’s hot and what’s coming for 2012

In the Loupe by Kathy Flood

Evidently the wealthy collect jewelry. OK, we all knew that, but maybe we didn’t automatically guess it was the No. 1 collecting category — as noted in “How The Wealthy Collect”. More than art, more than wine, furniture, firearms or crystal, the monied set digs diamonds. The bonus, of course, is that a wealthy collector cannot wear her Winchesters, champagnes or Chagalles to a party, but she can drench herself in gemstones if she really wants to stand out amid the 1%. You’ve gotta love bijoux for its total return.

Even better, since so many people through the ages owned jewelry, whatever your family’s fortunes over the generations, it’s likely someone left something to you in the way of these wonderful, wearable wares, whether an aunt’s Deco diamond watch, ma-in-law’s lustrous pearl necklace or grandmother’s glimmering emerald ring. If you have a collection of it, maybe it’s a first step out of the 99 percent. (If you’re already there, congratulations.)

We thought it might be instructive to see what sold last year at auction houses, if trends are expected to continue in that direction, which categories were strongest, and what gems might be coming up worth keeping an eye on.

We surveyed auction houses to see where jewelry’s been and where it’s heading. This information might be especially handy for anyone planning to become wealthy this year.


Rolex Oyster ChronographThat was no ticktock you heard when a Rolex Oyster Chronograph came up for bid at Litchfield: It was the sound of bidders’ hearts pounding. Courtesy Litchfield County Auctions

Nicholas Thorn, vice president, Litchfield County Auctions, Litchfield, Conn.

Top performing antique jewelry categories

Watches were certainly our biggest seller, followed by jewelry with sapphires, diamonds or rubies. I feel watches will continue to do well; it’s so easy to see the advantage of buying watches at auction against prices one would need to pay in retail settings. It seems to me interest in rubies has been increasing over the past few years, while diamonds and sapphires have always been popular. We only do one jewelry sale per year, but [2011’s] was a great success, with a sales total of $94,000 [on 102 lots].

Top-selling auction lots

Watches: The top-selling lot was a Men’s Rolex Oyster Chronograph Antimagnetic wristwatch, stainless steel case, black calfskin band, which sold for $18,720 on 29 bids. A Patek Philippe 18-karat gold men’s wristwatch, circa 1950-60, square face marked “Patek Philippe/Geneve” sold for $5,520 on 16 bids. Other watches that did well included a Vacheron Constantin pocket watch; two Cartier wristwatches; and a David Yurman “Thoroughbred” wristwatch.

Gems: A cushion sapphire, round and baguette diamond platinum ring, the cushion sapphire approximately 6.0 carats, tripled its low estimate of $2,000 to $3,000, selling for $6,300 after 19 bids, while a vintage platinum and round twin diamond ring with two round diamonds surrounded by chip diamonds, approximate weight 1.65 carats, nearly doubled its low estimate of $2,500 to $3,500, selling for $4,380 on 13 bids. Pairs of ruby earrings fared well, too.

What’s lined up for 2012?

We have some good-looking Jensen pieces, two matching Georg Jensen silver and lapis brooches depicting stylized bellflowers.


Jill Burgum, graduate gemologist, director of fine jewelry, Heritage Auctions

Top performing antique jewelry categories

By far, the greatest demand and strongest prices achieved were for the sale of large diamonds, mainly those over 8.0 carats. This trend is anticipated to continue in 2012 and beyond.

Top-selling auction lots

1. Fancy light brownish-pink diamond, diamond, platinum ring. Marquise-shaped diamond weighing 11.74 carats, enhanced by triangle-shaped diamonds, one weighing 1.33 carats; one weighing 1.26 carats, set in platinum. May 2011, sold for $358,500.

Yellow diamond ringJewelry to watch at Heritage Auctions: A fancy Art Nouveau butterfly bracelet and a colorful ‘pinwheel’ ring. Bidders find fancy colors and large-size diamonds irresistible. Courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries

2. Fancy intense yellow diamond, diamond, platinum, gold ring, custom made by Underwood’s. Cut-cornered rectangular modified brilliant-cut fancy intense yellow diamond weighing 10.02 carats, set in 18-karat gold, enhanced by cut-cornered bullet-cut diamonds weighing a total of 0.92 carats, set in platinum. December 2011, sold for $179,250.

3. Diamond, platinum and gold ring, marked Moyer. Marquise-shaped diamond weighing 15.16 carats, enhanced by marquise-shaped diamonds weighing a total of 2.39 carats, accented by full-cut diamonds weighing a total of 2.10 carats, set in platinum, having 18-karat gold accents. May 2011, sold for $131,450.

What’s lined up for 2012?

At this time, I would point out a stunning engagement ring; a rare Art Nouveau bracelet; and a stylish cocktail ring as the pieces I find most intriguing to me, personally. Each represents a different era, reflects the style of the day, and displays exceptional craftsmanship.

1. A diamond and platinum ring, circa 1950. Presale estimate: $30,000 to $40,000.

2. Art Nouveau diamond, emerald, ruby, gold bracelet, LeBolt & Co., circa 1908. Presale estimate: $3,000 to $4,000.

3. Diamond, ruby, platinum Pinwheel ring, Oscar Heyman Brothers, circa 1970. Presale estimate: $4,000 to $6,000.


Cartier London diamond aquamarine broochThis aquamarine and diamond Cartier London brooch of platinum and diamonds sold for $23,700 in late 2010 at Clars Auction Gallery.

Redge Martin, president, Clars Auction Gallery, Oakland, Calif.

Top performing antique jewelry categories

Diamond jewelry — and jewelry by well-known names: Tiffany, Rolex, Patek Philippe …”
Martin says they expect those trends to continue.

Top-selling auction lots

1. Solitaire diamond pendant necklace, platinum, with pear-shaped modified brilliant-cut diamond weighing 10.09 carats and diamond accents on mount. Total pendant and neck chain weight 10.2 grams. Chain length 18 inches. Sold Feb. 6, 2011; hammer price, $90,000.

2. Diamond ring, 18-karat white gold, center set with round diamond weighing 7.08 carats, (GIA stating: VVS2 clarity), accented by (84) round and baguette cut diamonds weighing 3.00 carats. Sold Nov. 13, 2011; hammer price, $60,000.

3. Gentleman’s Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar “Complicated” wristwatch, 18-karat yellow gold, mechanical automatic movement, day, date, month, leap year and moon phase indicator, 36 mm case, exhibition back, 22-karat gold router, black alligator strap with 18-karat yellow gold deployant clasp. Sold Aug. 7, 2011; hammer price, $40,000.

What’s lined up for 2012?

Coming up quickly, we have two jewelry items by Buccellati: a citrine and blue sapphire ring of 18-karat white and yellow gold ($5,000-$7,000) and a diamond band ring-and-earrings suite in 18-karat white and yellow gold ($3,000-$5,000).


Daphne Lingon, senior vice-president, jewelry, Christie’s New York

Christie's Elizabeth Taylor diamond ringElizabeth Taylor’s diamonds weren’t the only stars at Christie’s New York last year. This even rivaled results in the Elizabeth Taylor sale. Courtesy Christie’s

Top performing antique jewelry categories

Diamonds, both colorless and fancy-colored, continued to show great strength in a market where demand continues to exceed the scarce supply of rare gemstones. We expect this to continue into 2012.

Top-selling auction lots, excluding the results of the record-setting $144 million Elizabeth Taylor sale. Readers will still enjoy taking a look at those results themselves on your website, but once-in-a-lifetime events might skew the view a little.

1. Vivid yellow diamond, a pear-shaped fancy vivid yellow VS2 diamond of 32.77 carats. Sale 2472, lot 334; sold for $6,578,500.

2. Diamond ring, set with cut-cornered rectangular-cut diamond weighing approximately 37.16 carats, flanked on either side by three graduated baguette-cut diamonds, mounted in platinum. Sale 2433, lot 272; sold for $4,450,500.

3. An impressive diamond ring set with an oval-cut E color VVS2 diamond weighing approximately 46.51 carats, flanked on either side by a pear-shaped diamond weighing approximately 1.00 and 1.01 carats, mounted in platinum. Sale 2452, lot 125; sold for $4,226,500.


Rhonda Harness, director of jewelry, Michaan’s Auctions, Alameda, Calif.

vintage paste jewelryAntique jewelry in good condition performed well at Michaan’s. Courtesy

Top performing antique jewelry categories

The strongest items in jewelry this past year [for Michaan’s] were jadeite jade; larger high-quality diamonds; anything antique and unusual in good condition; and watches. Just a few examples of unusual antique pieces included a great bear bangle bracelet in gold that looked like the front of a bear rug, with diamond eyes and platinum teeth, in the Art Nouveau style, dated Christmas 1905; an unusual modern art necklace by Vivianna Torun for Georg Jensen; and 18th-century multi-gemstone brooches and paste jewelry.

Top-selling auction lots

1. Jade, diamond, 14-karat white gold ring, June 2011 fine jewelry sale, lot 1492, $25,000.

2. Diamond, platinum ring, July 2011 estate sale, lot 229, $20,000.

3. Jade, diamond, 18-karat yellow gold ring, June 2011 fine jewelry sale, lot 1488, $12,000.

What’s lined up for 2012?

We have a signed necklace, in original box, by the famous Parisian modernist jeweler Jean Vendome. We also have an incredible Art Deco diamond, emerald and platinum ring, and a beautiful diamond and 18-karat yellow gold Ippolita anniversary bracelet.

Kathy Flood is a journalist, author of Warman’s Jewelry,” 4th Edition, and owner of the online antique jewelry shop

More vintage jewelry articles by Kathy Flood

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