Industry Analysis

Auctions Brighten Soft Year

The 25.59 ct. Sunrise Ruby, set in a ring by Cartier, drew a price of $30.3 million (£19.1 million) at Sotheby’s Geneva sale; the highest price ever paid for a ruby at auction and the highest per-carat price (nearly $1.2 million/£757,000) ever paid for a ruby. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
The spring auction season ended on another strong note with sales – again − setting records.

Christie’s closed the spring auction season with a $118 million (£74.4 million) sale in Hong Kong, the highest total achieved for an Asian sale. Nearly 90% of the lots offered were sold and prices, while not quite record breaking, were very strong.

The top lot was a 120 carat (ct.) Burmese ruby and diamond necklace by Etcetera that sold to a private Asian buyer for $13 million (£8.2 million). A rectangular-shaped, 9.07 ct., GIA-graded internally flawless (IF), Fancy Intense pink, type IIa Harry Winston diamond ring sold for $12.6 million (£7.9 million), or $1.4 million (£883,000) per carat.

In addition, a rectangular-cut, 15.15 ct., D, IF diamond ring by Graff brought $3.6 million (£2.3 million), or $235,760 (£148,670) per carat, and a pear-shaped, 3 ct., IF, Fancy Intense blue diamond ring by Moussaieff sold for $2.6 million (£1.6 million), or $851,904 (£537,210) per carat.

On 13 May in Geneva, Sotheby’s sold the first ruby to break the $1 million (£630,600) per carat record. The 25.59 ct. Sunrise ruby doubled its pre-sale estimate to achieve a final price of $30.3 million (£19.1 million), or about $1.2 million (£757,000) per carat − in an auction that achieved the highest total ever for a jewellery auction: $160.91 million (£101.47 million), nearly $20 million (£12.6 million) above the previous record. The auction catalogue noted the ruby was Burmese, with no evidence of treatment.

The sale also featured an 8.72 ct. GIA-graded Fancy Vivid pink diamond that reportedly was linked to Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, the niece of Napoleon Bonaparte. The cushion-shaped diamond sold for $15.9 million(£11 million), or $1.82 million (£1.26 million) per carat. The diamond had been stored in a bank vault since the end of the Second World War.

In Hong Kong, Tiancheng International reported its most successful jewellery auction ever on 14 June. The sale totalled US$38 million (£24 million), and included a 25.72 ct. D VS2 heart-shaped diamond that sold for $3.18 million (£2 million). The diamond was cut from a 67.45 ct. piece of rough.

A jade and diamond necklace drew a top bid of $3.78 million (£2.38 million) and a necklace containing a 52.22 ct. Mozambique ruby drew a top bid of $3.18 million (£2 million).

This jade and diamond set of necklace and earrings drew a winning bid of $3.78 million (£2.38 million) at the Tiancheng International auction in Hong Kong. The eight jade cabochons measure 20.13 mm x 17.13 mm x 9.73 mm and are set with 73.55 carats of diamonds. Courtesy of Tiancheng International.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that jewellery sales continued to soften in April. Business at retail jewellery stores was down 2.4% for the month, compared to last year, and down 1.5% for all sales outlets. Retail jewellery sales were down 4.5% for the first four months of the year. The Commerce report also notes that preliminary data for May indicate that retail jewellery sales continue to be soft and that retail sales of other consumer products were generally flat for the year.

Prices for rough diamonds at the De Beers’ June sight were reportedly unchanged from May and still unprofitable to manufacture. The sight was estimated at $550 million (£346 million) to $600 million (£378 million) – medium-sized – with few refusals, but also few calls for “ex-plan” (additional sales) goods. De Beers sightholders and other diamond manufacturers report that their monthly production dropped by 25% to 35% leaving a 7-10 month supply overhang – especially in 0.30 to 0.90 carat stones in better clarities.

Hong Kong dealers report that its wholesale market is down by 25% to 30% and 5% to 7% on the mainland, despite retail sales that are still rising by a small percentage. This is because retailers there have large stocks and an abundance of caution.

For an industry that previously looked to China to buoy it through slowing markets elsewhere, the adjustment is difficult because the most robust market, the U.S., remains cautious and extremely selective.

De Beers and retail analysts remain optimistic that demand in the U.S. will pick up in September and bring low- to mid-single digit growth by the end of the year.

Russell Shor is senior industry analyst at GIA in Carlsbad.