Q&A: Christie’s Head of Jewelry – Robb Report

“Moving and booming.” That is how Rahul Kadakia, international head of jewelry at Christie’s, describes the sale of jewelry at auction, with individual pieces routinely crossing the eight-digit barrier. “A decade ago, you’d only hear these numbers in pictures sales; a Picasso sold for $10 million, a Van Gogh for $20 million,” he says. Robb Report sits down with Kadakia to break down the trends. (christies.com)

Robb Report: What have been the past year’s most significant jewelry sales?

Rahul Kadakia: Last November in Geneva, we sold the Blue Belle of Asia Sapphire, a 392-carat sapphire that sits in the palm of your hand and fills almost all of it. It made $17.5 million, a world auction record for a sapphire. In the May 2014 sale in Geneva, we had a super belle epoque corsage brooch by Cartier that made almost $17.9 million. This past spring, we sold a ruby necklace at Christie’s in Hong Kong for $13 million. We’re talking big money.  

RR: Is interest in color fueling the market?

RK: Yes. It used to be that $100,000 a carat for a white diamond and $1 million a carat for a colored diamond were big deals. Now, over $2 million a carat for a colored diamond is normal.

RR: Is this largely due to investment-minded buyers? How has the global economy impacted auction sales?

RK: Stocks are good when they’re good, but when they’re no good. You can’t do much with pieces of paper—whereas with your diamond, you feel it, you hold it, it’s worth what it’s worth. That’s one very important reason why people are diversifying into important stones—because they’re portable, very secure stores of value.

RR: What are the hottest names in signed jewelry?

RK: As far as classic jewelry is concerned, the big houses continue to earn a great premium: Boucheron, Bulgari, Cartier, Harry Winston, and Van Cleef & Arpels. In contemporary makers, there’s JAR, of course—everybody loves Joel Arthur Rosenthal. There’s Viren Bhagat from India; from being a jeweler to Bollywood, he now has a following worldwide. There’s Carnet, a Hong Kong–based company with Michelle Ong as the designer. There’s Edmond Chin with Etcetera—also in Hong Kong—who designed the ruby necklace that sold at Christie’s Hong Kong for $13 million.

RR: As periods go, is art deco still the era to beat?

RK: Deco will continue to reign. It’s really a great period of jewelry manufacturing because the supply of stones was so abundant. But you also find very nice retro jewelry, where people were using pink and yellow gold. Belle epoque is a fabulous era right before deco. Art nouveau is a more targeted market; but when it comes to fine workmanship using plique-à-jour enamel, it’s fetching top dollar.

RR: What distinguishes collectors regionally?

RK: Predominantly, the most powerful jadeite collectors are all Asians. Natural Oriental pearls are also doing well because there’s renewed confidence among buyers from the Middle East, Asia, and India, where pearls are part of the culture. Americans go for American jewelers like David Webb, Seaman Schepps. Europeans—in particular, English clients—prefer the look of antique jewelry. In Geneva we sell not just pearls but a lot of the larger suites of jewelry.

RR: Do you expect the jewelry market to continue to rise in the coming years?

RK: For the things you cannot find, the market will continue to go up: rare pearls, fine Kashmir sapphires, fine jewels from the art deco and belle epoque eras. There are always going to be corrections in the market at every stage of its progression for more modestly priced items, and that’s normal. Collectors continue to educate themselves because they want to buy as best they can.

RR: What can you tell us about the next generation of connoisseurs?

RK: The new collector is evolving with the market. He or she wants to buy jewelry and art, and has a good eye on the investment value of the purchase when the numbers get big, which was not the case when big diamonds were being purchased 20 to 30 years ago.