Less Is More

Monday, December 18, 2017

Something dazzling happened at the big auction houses earlier this month: vaults from all over the world were emptied for the annual fine jewelry sales. In the aftermath, as the diamond sales data is calculated, an important question is emerging: are American women becoming more sophisticated? Although once known for their gaudy, overstated taste in jewelry, Americans have begun to favor more subtle looks.

It’s a story borne out from auction results: bigger is not always better. In the Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale, Lot 195, a rare 110.92-carat round diamond was billed “the largest round diamond ever to be offered at auction,” with a sale estimate between $4.2 million and $6.2 million. The diamond is so large, wearers needed a little support, “You have to squeeze your fingers tight to hold it in place,” said one auction preview attendee. Others just wanted to show it off to their followers on Instagram.

But it didn’t sell. Buyers murmured that it was too much of a show-off piece. “When you wear a 100 plus carat ring, no can miss it,” noted one auction-goer.

So what did sell? In the spotlight now is special estate jewelry and colored stones. Sotheby’s top seller this year was a 5.69-carat blue diamond ring that gaveled out at $15.1 million. The blue diamond is 5% the weight of the large round diamond—the difference between a large plum and half a grape. Over at Christie’s, a 9.43-carat Kashmir blue sapphire ring, Lot 306, sold for $672,500. Well under 100 carats, both rings were in demand, selling over their estimates.

It’s a trend that’s been observed by industry experts like Patrizia di Carrobio, the former head of jewelry at Christie’s and author of Be Jeweled due out this spring, who notes that “women in this country are becoming more discrete.” A trader as well, di Carrobio says that the 110.92 ring “would have been grabbed up by an American buyer in the past.”

“Today no one wants to be obvious,” echoes stylist Karen Pandiani. “In the 80s, it was all about excess. Now people in certain spheres, who are doing well, don’t want to show it.”

The trend isn’t just limited to New York women. “The women I sell jewelry to are more interested in collectibles and tasteful pieces rather than the biggest rock they can afford,” says Moira Gehring, Principal of Moving Through, an appraisal and estate sale firm in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Gone are the days when women from certain states wore their chandeliers to tennis.”

Meghan Markle typifies the new American sophistication. She is sporting a trinity of diamonds that tell a story of sentiment rather than size. The center stone, according to The Daily Mail, is a 2.5-carat from Botswana, a place the couple loves, while the accompanying smaller diamonds belonged to Harry’s mother. At the moment, heritage jewelry or gemstones that have a personal connection are desirable. “Most of my customers come to me with family diamonds or stones that have a lot of history attached to them,” says Brooklyn jewelry designer Marissa Alperin.

So who’s still buying big? In last week’s sales records, Sotheby’s and Christie’s highlight Asian and Middle Eastern buyers.

When it comes to buying jewels at auction, the newly minted Chinese tycoons do not “shy from flaunting their wealth,” managing director of London-based 77 Diamonds Tobias Kormind told Such hubris is not surprising as lists Asia as the region with the largest number of billionaires. Moreover, China tops that list, beating out the U.S., according to the Shanghai-published Hurun Report. With a long merchant history, Mainland China auction buyers also see jewelry as “investment tools, similar to real estate and stocks” Yu Wenhao, head of jewels Poly Auction Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post.

In the Middle East, “big is the word,” says di Carrobio. “The size shows your power; something discrete would not cut it.” David Bennett, worldwide chairman of international jewelry at Sotheby’s, made similar comments to The National. He loves going to the Middle East, he said, because he finds enthusiasm about gemstones and jewelry, “It is part of the vernacular to admire and have jewelry, to wear it and enjoy wearing it.”

But things are different back in the states. Even with the current mantra of making everything great again, it seems a more subtle expression of style is taking hold.


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