Industry Analysis

De Beers Optimistic for Holidays; Colored Gems Set Auction Records

Bulgari earrings
Laurence Graff paid $15.8 million for this pair of Bulgari earrings that feature a 6.95 ct Fancy Vivid blue pear-shape diamond and a 6.79 ct Fancy Vivid pink pear-shape diamond. They are set with 19.8 cts of colorless diamonds graded by GIA. All photos courtesy Christie’s
De Beers remains positive that seasonal demand in the U.S. and China will provide the pull-through that will make it necessary for jewelers in these markets to restock early. In anticipation, the Nov. 3-7 sight was reportedly $560 million – much larger than expected – with prices remaining stable despite the softening rough market.

U.S. jewelry manufacturers and retailers remain cautious and are opting for lower quality diamonds, so De Beers did concede some small discounts on higher color goods – but not for the type that have been popular this year.

Diamond manufacturers, however, are grappling with major challenges that show no signs of easing: diminishing availability of credit; softening polished prices that make De Beers sight purchases a break-even venture at best; and inventories that have been building over the past several years because of production exceeding sales.

The Dec. 8-12 sight is traditionally quite small, but may swell because of clients’ obligation to take sight goods they had refused earlier in the year – about $50 million by some estimates.

De Beers has reportedly committed $100 million to advertise its diamond jewelry brand Forevermark in the U.S. this fall to help spur holiday sales.

AUCTIONS: The one part of the gem market that continues to thrive is the extreme top end of auctions. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s again turned in record sales – and this season, colored stones garnered most of the buyer action.

Christie’s Nov. 11 Geneva auction set a record for the highest total ever achieved at a single sale ‒ $150 million ‒ and included 10 lots selling for more than $3.5 million each. In addition, more than half the lots exceeded their pre-sale estimates.

One private buyer paid the highest price ever recorded at auction for a sapphire: $17.3 million for the 392.52 carat (ct) Belle of Asia, more than twice its original estimate. The cushion-shaped gem was discovered in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1926 and is set in a diamond necklace.

Belle of Asia
The Blue Belle of Asia, a 392.52 ct Ceylon sapphire, established a new world auction
record for any sapphire: $17.3 million, more than twice its original estimate.
London jeweler Laurence Graff paid $15.8 million for a pair of Bulgari earrings featuring a 6.95 ct Fancy Vivid blue pear-shape diamond and a 6.79 ct Fancy Vivid pink pear-shape diamond set with 19.8 cts of colorless diamonds. The diamonds were graded by GIA.

An anonymous buyer paid nearly $6 million for an oval-shaped 23.66 ct Burmese ruby ring mounted by Cartier ‒ $254,000 per carat ‒ while a Middle Eastern dealer acquired a natural pearl and diamond necklace, originally owned by Baroness Edouard de Rothschild, for $5.1 million. Another dealer bought a GIA-graded pear-shape D flawless 20.2 ct diamond set in a diamond necklace for $5.65 million.

A diamond brooch, once the property of Empress Eugenie of France, also sold to an anonymous buyer for $2.3 million. The brooch was fashioned in 1855 by Bapst Jewellers and had been the property of the Metropolitan Opera of New York.    

Sotheby’s sale two days later brought in $95.3 million, the top lot being an 8.62 ct cushion cut Burmese ruby that just missed being the first colored gemstone to break the $1 million per carat mark. The ruby sold to Graff for $8.62 million, or $997.727 per carat; both the highest total and per-carat price ever paid for a ruby. Graff had owned the stone before, buying it at auction in 2005.

Just before the ruby went under the auction hammer, anonymous buyers paid $5.98 million for a step-cut 27.54 ct Kashmir sapphire and $7.14 million for a pair of GIA-graded Type IIa D flawless diamonds, weighing 20.05 cts and 20.06 cts respectively. Graff also bought a 3.16 Fancy Intense blue diamond for $3.2 million, or just over $1 million per carat.

Rahul Kadakia
Rahul Kadakia, GIA GG, the International Head of Christie’s Jewellery Department, led the Nov. 11 Geneva auction that set a record for the highest total ever achieved at a single sale ‒ $150 million.