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Fancy Colors, History Ruled 2018 Auctions


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Demand for top fancy colored diamonds was strong in 2018. This 8.08 ct cushion cut Fancy Vivid blue diamond ring by Bulgari sold for $18.3 million ($2.27 million per carat) at Christie’s December Hong Kong auction. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

World-class fancy colored diamonds and truly historic jewels highlighted the 2018 auctions, but behind the headlines, total jewelry sales at auction were down an estimated 15% from 2017.

The total of fine jewelry sales from all Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions in 2018 was an estimated $900 million, down from about $1.1 billion the year before.

Christie’s announced 2018 jewelry sales of $492.3 million; $484.5 million from in-room sales and $7.8 million from online auctions. In 2017, its jewelry sales were $565.6 million, including $9 million from online sales. 

Sotheby’s does not announce its fine jewelry sales, but estimates were about $420 million as several large buy-ins reduced the total.

The large pink center stone of this ring is a cut-cornered rectangular-cut diamond. It is flanked by colorless diamonds.
The GIA-graded 18.96 ct Pink Legacy, renamed the Winston Pink, achieved a record per-carat price for a pink diamond when it sold for $50.4 million ($2.65 million per carat) at Christie’s November Geneva auction. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

The year’s highlights came in mid-November.

Sotheby’s Geneva auction of Royal Jewels from the Bourbon-Parma Family included 10 pieces that belonged to ill-fated French queen Marie Antoinette. The collection brought $53 million against a pre-sale estimate of $7 million.

A small oval shape ring holds a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair. Her initials are set in small rose cut diamonds on the top of the oval.
This monogrammed diamond ring contains a woven lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair and brought more than $447,000. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

The day before, Christie’s Geneva auction achieved a record per-carat price for a pink diamond, selling the GIA-graded 18.96 ct Pink Legacy for $50.4 million ($2.65 million per carat). The buyer, Harry Winston, Inc., renamed the diamond the Winston Pink. That same sale saw an anonymous buyer pay a record price of $15 million for the Peacock Necklace, which contains 23 Kashmir sapphires totaling 109.08 carats and 21 cushion cut diamonds.

A large pear shaped yellow diamond hangs from a black cord and lies against red material.
Historic gems and jewelry like the Moon of Baroda, a 24.04 ct Fancy yellow diamond, achieved top prices at auction in 2018. The diamond, found in India centuries ago and part of the collection of Marie Therese of Vienna, sold for $1.3 million at Christie’s November Hong Kong auction. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

Other auction highlights from 2018 include:

  • A 24.7 ct Burmese ruby for $11 million, Sotheby’s April Hong Kong 
  • A 3.47 ct Fancy Vivid blue diamond for $6.7 million; nearly $2 million per carat at Sotheby’s April New York
  • A 3.09 ct Fancy Intense blue diamond for $5.38 million at Christie’s April New York
  • An 8.01 ct Fancy Vivid blue diamond by Moussaieff for $20.5 million ($2.55 million per carat) at Christie’s May Hong Kong
  • A 5 ct Fancy Vivid blue diamond for $13.8 million ($2.8 million per carat) at Sotheby’s October Hong Kong
  • The 24.04 ct Fancy Yellow Moon of Baroda, owned by empress Marie Therese of Austria and worn by Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s to promote her film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which sold for $1.3 million at Christie’s November Hong Kong
  • A 10.04 ct Burmese ruby for $7.23 million ($720,481 per carat) at Christie’s November Hong Kong
  • A 21.19 ct Fancy Light pink diamond for $7.4 million at Sotheby’s November Geneva
  • An 8.08 ct Fancy Vivid blue diamond by Bulgari for $18.3 million at Christie’s December Hong Kong
  • A 15.56 ct Fancy Intense pink diamond pendant for $9.37 million at Christie’s December New York
Ruby and diamond ring
Christie’s November Hong Kong auction included a 10.04 ct Burmese ruby and diamond ring that sold for $7.23 million ($720,481 per carat). Photo courtesy of Christie’s

While demand for historic jewels and most top fancy colored diamonds was strong, buyers were more cautious in their bidding for other high value pieces, especially in Hong Kong, where only 65% to 70% of the lots offered found buyers.

Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction totals were set back by the failure of several major pieces to find buyers. These include a 10.62 Fancy Vivid blue diamond that failed to achieve the $20 million to $30 million pre-sale estimate in November; a jadeite bangle that fell short of its $12.8 million estimate in April; and a 14.18 ct Fancy blue diamond that did not reach its $7 million estimate. Several other million-dollar-plus jadeite pieces also did not find buyers at that Hong Kong auction.

Exceptional diamonds and colored gems, however, still lag behind fine art. The year’s highlight was a Modigliani work that sold for more than $157 million – a price considered lackluster by some art experts.

Updated on Jan. 4, 2019 to reflect auction sales estimates.

Russell Shor is a senior industry analyst at GIA in Carlsbad.