What can you buy for a million dollars? If you were Jay-Z, you’d buy your darling wife a pimped out super yacht to make up for something (or someone) you might have done. Or, you could buy yourself a three-storey “bungalow in the sky” penthouse in Tanjong Pagar to knock the socks off anyone you bring home.
Or, if you were really smart, you’d put all that money in your pocket – in the form of the Pink Star Diamond, a vivid pink diamond that’s the size of a kumquat.
Weighing in at 59.60 carats, the oval mix-cut diamond is the world’s largest Vivid Pink diamond and, at the start of this year, it lay claim to yet another title: It’s the most expensive gemstone ever sold, having gone under the hammer for a whopping US$71.2 million (roughly S$100 million) at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong. (Hong Kong jeweller, Chow Tai Fook, is now its proud owner.)
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The price of the Pink Star diamond is not an anomaly, either. From the 12.03-carat Oppenheimer Blue (the world’s most expensive fancy blue diamond) that sold for US$57.5 million, to the 25.59-carat “The Sunrise Ruby Burmese ruby with its $30.3 million price tag, to the 392.52-carat cushion-shaped “The Blue Belle of Asia” sapphire that fetched US$17.7 million, a quick look at recent year records show just how serious a business jewellery acquisition has become. And who could forget the earth-shattering Christie’s New York Elizabeth Taylor jewellery auction that took place at the end of 2011?
Racking in approximately US$116 million, the highest ever for any private collection of jewels, the auction broke six other world records including the price garnered for the La Peregrina pearl necklace and the 33.19-carat Elizabeth Taylor Diamond (formerly known as the Krupp Diamond). The figures are simply head-spinning and it’s easy to dismiss the entire affair as the stuff of blockbuster movies, far removed from real life.
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But what if we told you that this needn’t be the case? Sure, not all of us are able to slap that many zeroes down on the counter at a go. However, you don’t need to be the owner of a private jet to start an investment portfolio and it’s the same with jewellery.
The 59.60-carat diamond is the world’s largest Vivid Pink diamond and it sold for a record-breaking US$71.2 million at a Soethby’s Hong Kong auction at the start of the year
This diamond took approximately 2 months to carve out of a 132.5-carat rough
The 14.62-carat stone sold at Christie’s in Geneva in May 2016 for US$57.5 million
The 392.52-carat juggernaut sold for US$17.6 million at a Christie’s Geneva auction in 2014
The Cartier jadeite bead, ruby and diamond necklace, once owned by the late Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, set a world record for the most paid for a jadeite jewel when it went under the hammer for US$27.4 million at a Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction in 2014
The 16th century quail egg-sized pearl made its rounds among Spanish royalty before it ended up in the hands of Elizabeth Taylor as a gift from Richard Burton. She commissioned Cartier to design a necklace around it. Burton bought it for $37,000 in 1969 and it sold for US$11.8 million in 2011 at the Christie’s New York auction.
Yet another gift from Burton, Taylor’s The Night of the Iguana brooch by Jean Schlumberger, Tiffany & Co. fetched US$1.2 million at the Christie’s New York auction, far exceeding expectations by a million dollars.
So what’s the best way of buying jewellery that is able to exceed, or at least, retain their value for years to come? We turn to three jewellery experts for their advice: Quek Chin Yeow, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and Chairman of International Jewellery, Asia; Brenda Kang, founder of vintage jewels retailer Revival Jewels and ex-senior jewellery specialist at Christie’s New York, Paris, Geneva, China and Singapore; and Julilian Tan, Production and Design Manager of Larry Jewelry.
What tips would you give someone looking to start investing in jewellery?
QUEK: Always buy what you like and buy the best you can afford. I encourage those looking to start collecting and investing in jewellery to always view the jewellery in person – at international auctions, jewellery fairs, special exhibitions or museums. I would also recommend doing careful research to decide whether you would like to buy a piece as an appreciating asset, for brand appreciation or aesthetic purposes. Read and learn as much as you can. With all gemstones, people usually appreciate their beauty even better when they have had the chance to learn about it or see if often.
KANG: I always tell my clients jewellery is much more than just another investment. It can return to the wearer a joy from life’s special moments and occasions for you and future generations to hold dear. That said, it is a fact that if you buy jewellery well and have a good outlet for liquidating when you need it, your jewellery can outperform the stock market. As with any other form of investment, you need to do your research, analyze the current and historical market prices and have in depth knowledge of your product. If you don’t have the time or opportunity to invest on the research, then consult someone who has many years of international experience with trading in jewellery and gemstones. Other points to keep in mind: 1. Signed (or branded) pieces hold value comparably well but not all signed pieces are good investments: Mass produced pieces loose 50% of their value the minute you walk out the shop door. 2. Pick pieces you enjoy wearing but also ones that resonate with international collectors too. For example, Jade or Peranakan jewellery appeal to some Asian collectors but not with European or American collectors, which limits it’s saleability when you need to liquidate. 3. Well selected vintage pieces can make for a better investment because of its lower price point. Look especially for vintage pieces with great workmanship that is costly to replicate, or pieces with rare gemstones. 4. Condition, craftsmanship, design, certificates, maker’s marks, hallmarks and brand history, are all very important factors to bear in mind when evaluating a piece. All these can be learnt from seeing and handling a lot of jewellery, from all historical periods.
What factors make a jewellery piece a worthy investment? Is it all about the gems?
QUEK: The quality of the gemstone is a critical factor. The rarity of a top quality gemstone is what gem connoisseurs will really go for. This is an element that significantly contributes to the value of a piece. However, it is also good craftsmanship with a unique design that will bring out the best in a rare gemstone. Also iconic pieces that represent certain stylistic periods by renowned jewellery brands such as Art Deco pieces by Cartier continue to be highly sought after.
TAN: The quality and the craftsmanship of the jewellery is important as well, as a good jeweller looks at the gemstone and brings out its beauty through the design. Always buy from reputable jewellers with an established name in the industry that can assure you of the quality and sources; and get certification from reputable gemological institutions such GIA to ensure that the stones are of the grade stated. The size of a stone does matter but it is up to personal preference: What one thinks is a good size may be too large or small for another.
KANG: Rarity, desirability, condition of the piece in the case of vintage and who is collecting the brand? Rene Boivin, Suzanne Belperron, Jean Schlumberger, Fulco di Verdura, JAR, Bhagat pieces stand out for their unique designs and high quality craftsmanship. More importantly, they had a long list of important international jewellery collectors who supported them. Provenance, or who owned it previously, can add value also. As a general rule of thumb, provenance adds more value when it’s from a collector who was known for a great collection of jewellery (like Elizabeth Taylor or Duchess of Windsor), versus someone like Margaret Thatcher.
What about heirloom pieces? Do the same factors come into play as with investment pieces?
KANG: It’s pretty much same factors as discussed above. If a piece of jewellery gives you great mileage, is something you can wear often, enhances your image, it’s an extension of your character, creates conversations because of its beauty and rarity and, finally, is able to hold its value in the long run, then surely one would have made a worthy investment.
TAN: Because jewellery is so personal, at Larry Jewelry, we see two schools of customers – those who want to appreciate it first and pass it down to the next generation, and those who want to create bespoke pieces from scratch for the next generation. As such, customers have to be satisfied with the stones and the craftsmanship before even making it an heirloom and passing it on.
QUEK: The interesting aspects of heirloom jewellery are the stories behind the pieces. Stories passed down through generations, embodying heartfelt stories of love, dreams and accomplishments.