Abstract Gems & Gemology, Spring 2014, Vol. 50, No. 1

What Possesses Bidders at Auction? This Article Offers Some Clues

Linarite from Hoppel Collection
J. Spann and G. C. Spann. “The Heritage Auction of the Hoppel Collection,” Rocks & Minerals, Vol. 88, No. 6, Spring 2013, pp. 14–15. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com.
Auctions of world-class diamonds and colored stones have made headlines around the world, with prices reaching the tens of millions for some top rarities.

What is it about the auction process that spurs buyers to keep waving their paddles long after a particular piece has exceeded the recommended price tag? Jim and Gail Copus Spann’s article on the auction of the Hoppel Collection gives some insight into how this can happen.

The sale of the Hoppel mineral collection was held at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas on June 2, 2013. According to the authors, the name Hoppel was a pseudonym for a “serious collector of rare minerals” who did not want his identity known.

This article, like many auctions, makes us wait a bit for the good stuff. The first couple of pages are taken up with the arrival of the catalog, the meet-and-greet at the previews, and buyers’ wishful thinking that some of the lots being offered without reserve prices may go for bargain prices (the first clue to the auction mentality). This otherwise bland section is richly illustrated with images of some significant pieces from the sale.

The excitement kicks in when the authors, who were active buyers in Dallas, take their place in the audience and the bidding commences. We’re there, scoping the audience. We size up the buzz, who’s in and who’s out. We hear the grumbling from bidders who got outbid—and know that they’re just waiting for the moment to strike. And suddenly the price is way past what anyone planned to spend. Do we stay in? Do we really want this thing? How high can it go?

The sale’s costliest item was a large smoky quartz crystal enmeshed within folds of rose quartz, standing at a height of 39 cm, found in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Bidding started at $100,000 but quickly reached $350,000 (the pre-sale estimate). The final selling price landed at $660,000.

In the end, there were few bargains in the $3 million auction, but the authors believed the prices were fair and restored a sense of price transparency that is often lacking.

Russell Shor is senior industry analyst at GIA in Carlsbad, California.