Going twice: More on buying jewelry at auction

Part Two of a two-part series.

More tips on buying at an auction, a fun and often rewarding way to collect jewelry.

Look closely.

This is important if buying a signed piece. Some items are "marriages", a new stone placed in a Cartier mount, for examp

al jewelers usually arrange for a private viewing of important pieces, and use the house's microscopes. You will not have access, so bring a jeweler's loupe.

In the early days, I missed seeing a scratch on the table facet of ring's centre stone. It was successfully unset and polished later– at my expense. Pieces are sold "as is", so it is your responsibility to make any repairs.

If you're shopping for a major purchase, hire a jeweler or appraiser to come with you as a consultant. My friend Jean's mother bought a 2ct Tiffany diamond this way, for a terrific price. Naturally a jeweler is happier to help if you have an interest in something he or she does not sell, such as antique cameos. Ask an appraiser for a referral; may jewelers are also appraisers.

Know the local market.

For example, I've never bid on fine jade in my city, because our large Asian population is mad for it, and their ardour jacks the prices sky high. (In my dreams, I attend an auction in a tiny remote town where no one fancies jade.)

But emeralds, for some reason, are the opposite, which is how Le Duc once happened to buy a small emerald pin. "No one was bidding", he said, "I just had to!"

Sometimes at previews you will see certain pieces absolutely mobbed. If I'm interested, I'll note that. Don't be scared off– wait and see what happens when the paddles go up– but generally, these items are fought over.

Attend auctions only when hosted by reputable, established firms with a bricks-and-mortar presence.

Beware of "government auctions" or fake estate sales, where the auction is held on the grounds of an estate. Traveling auctioneers set up, renting the house from a real estate company for the event. They often advertise the goods as "from the estate of...".

Don't disqualify an auction just because it's held at a hotel, art gallery or museum. If in doubt, check with your better Business Bureau or equivalent. Visit the preview, inspect the goods, do your research and register for a paddle.

Read the rules; check the amount of the buyer's premium, a surcharge on your bid. At fine jewelery auctions, this is typically 25-35%. The hammer price is what you bid, the actual price is hammer plus premium and any applicable taxes.

Check guarantees. The auction house should guarantee:

a. The accuracy of the description. Beware of ungraded stones or vague descriptors such as "genuine diamond".

b. The authenticity of any signed piece.
A forgery is a copy made for deceptive purposes, and represented as authentic. If the house is not sure about the authenticity, the catalog will state "attributed to..." or "in the style of...".

Some designs from major artists were produced by associates; the listing should read, for example, "from the studio of...". Pieces made by the artist (which will be more valuable) should carry a description such as "Signed by Rene Lalique" rather than "Lalique ring". (Shown, Rene Lalique ring.)

If, when you take the piece for appraisal, your find that description is inaccurate, you can dispute the sale, but it must have been attributed in the listing, not just verbally by the nice woman who took it out of the case.

Set a budget, and exercise control.

You don't necessarily need deep pockets. This smart Fred enamel and 18k monogrammed ring sold for $175 last fall (plus buyer's premium and taxes).

But then there's an acquaintance who wanted a diamond, and at auction was captivated with an antique pink, something she had never considered before. She is still paying for it, without regret, but with the weight of that debt.

On the rare occasion when I bid, I usually don't win, and 90% of the things I've let go, can barely remember.
But I'm always glad to attend a top-notch auction and encourage you to go too.

Regardless of our means, we can admire pieces like this Belle Epoque ruby, diamond and pearl pin.

One day, your eye will f
all on something at a boutique, church sale, or the auction– and you're ready for your good luck. It will be a bargain, or at least a price you can live with, and you'll make the choice that's right for you.


mette said…
Very informative, thank you. Going to auctions is definitely not for me. I totally lack the patience it takes. I can understand, that one can get hooked in auctions, even when not ever buying anything.
s. said…
I love going to auctions. When living in France, heading off to Drouot and just watching the fun made for many an inexpensive and interesting afternoon. I never bought a thing or even registered for a paddle but I would feel more confident in doing so in the future, having silently witnessed the proceedings so many times.

Thanks for yet another informative post, Duchesse.
Duchesse said…
s.: Not registering is a sure form of control but removes the possibility of pouncing if there is a special item. A wonderful pastime!

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