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The price of ice

Luxury-lifestyle writer Helen Clemson discovers that fine jewellery and legacy pieces are sparking more than just a little interest when they go under the hammer.
The price of ice

I come from a family of magpies: women who have collected fine jewellery for more than a century and who – fortunately for me – left a legacy of striking heirloom pieces. I’m too nervous to wear the brooches or rings I inherited; I prefer to think of them as investments, only locked away and gaining my interest.

The fate that has befallen my precious baubles is, however, the opposite of current thinking, ie that jewellery is a rather clever venture.

‘We always hesitate to use the word “investment” with jewellery because, fundamentally, jewellery should be something that is loved and worn by its owner,’ says Emily Barber of Bonhams Jewellery in the UK. But, according to Knight Frank’s The Wealth Report 2018, the auction market for jewellery has grown exponentially over the past 10 years, with some categories outperforming the UK and US property markets. In fact, in September 2018, Bonhams in London sold a 5.03-carat pink diamond for £2 228 750, setting an auction world-record price per carat for a Fancy Pink. According to Barber, it sparked a bidding frenzy.

‘Pink diamonds are rare. Of all gem-quality diamonds mined, only a tiny percentage are pink and the majority are under 2 carats,’ she says. ‘This diamond sold for a record-breaking sum because it possessed exceptional characteristics: it was over 5 carats; it was an evenly saturated pure pink colour, graded by the GIA as Fancy Pink, with no modifying component colours; it had a high clarity grade of VS1; and the beautiful square cut, with a minimum of facets, was elegant and perfectly offset the colour and clarity. It had also never been on the auction market.’

With this in mind, experts will tell you auctions are good places to buy diamonds, especially large ones and particularly if they are certified as that guarantees the quality of the stone, says Anton Welz, division head at Stephan Welz & Co. ‘Jewellery can always be remodelled, so look at the stone rather than the piece.’

But if you do have your heart set on an actual piece, auctions are the perfect playground for romantics. ‘Provenance or the history of the item plays an important role, and if it is made by a famous jeweller, then all the better,’ says Vanessa Phillips, director and joint MD of Strauss & Co. At their inaugural auction, a diamond-and-pearl brooch by Cartier, owned by the Honorable Patricia Cavendish and her late mother Lady Enid Kenmare, sold for R167 100. And that’s just a trifle. ‘The most expensive brooch sold by Strauss & Co was a Victorian diamond example belonging to the descendants of Colonel Sir David Harris (1852-1942), pioneer of the South African diamond industry, director of De Beers for 40 years, financier, soldier and politician,’ adds Phillips. This brooch was a gift to his wife Rosa and went for a cool R45 472 000.

If you’re in the market for a rare and exciting find, take heed before you simply buy the biggest diamond ring in the room. ‘I would recommend examining the back of a piece of jewellery almost before the front, looking closely at the condition and evidence of any alterations,’ advises Phillips. ‘Finding a jeweller or designer’s signature is an extra bonus.’ Also, do a little reading. ‘There is strong demand for period jewels by brands such as Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier,’ says Barber. ‘In the early-to-mid-20th century, they were at the forefront of innovative jewellery design in terms of fine-quality manufacture and groundbreaking techniques. Art Deco jewels signed by such jewellery houses always add a premium because they are identified with luxury, glamour, rarity and quality.’ Those sound like rather wonderful assets to me.

By Helen Clemson


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