Going, Going, Gone: Behind-The-Scenes At An Auction House
Your guide to getting your hands on fine jewellery and antiques.
It’s not often that you’ll find invaluable, world-renowned treasures as the prizes in a high-stake competition, but that’s exactly what happens in an auction house.
Christie’s knows this better than anyone, having been the market leader of high jewellery auctions for 23 consecutive years. Over their history, they’ve handled some truly striking collections—like those of HRH The Princess Margaret, actress Elizabeth Taylor and the family collection of K’ung Hsiang-Hsi.
(Related: Christie’s New World Of Collectible Luxury)
But you don’t have to be a celebrity to try your hand at buying or selling at an auction house. The first step is as simple as getting in touch for a valuation. To break down the process, we spoke to Associate Vice-President May Lim, a jewellery specialist at Christie’s, to demystify what really goes on behind the scenes at an auction house.
What is the process of sourcing and valuation like?
May Lim Sourcing the item typically takes up the most time, about half a year, and occurs all around the world as well as locally in Hong Kong. For valuation, all of our specialists have years of appraisal experience so they can value jewellery as well as jadeite items.
What are you looking for when someone brings you a piece or collection to valuate?
ML We look for rare and unique items that our clients might be interested in.
What should people know beforehand when they bring you pieces/collections for a valuation?
ML Clients should trust our years of experience and expertise during the valuation. Christie’s is the world’s leading art business and has been the auctioneer of choice for rare jewellery for over 23 years.
What is the most interesting piece you have ever valuated or sold?
ML I think the most memorable collection that we’ve sold in Hong Kong was the K’ung Hsiang-Hsi family collection. It brought in an astronomical US$14.6 million—the pre-sale estimate was only US$2-2.9 million. The auction room was so lively and the bids came in so quickly, the auctioneer couldn’t catch them all at the same time!
Where do you find the most unique pieces?
ML Our specialists travel all around the world—Geneva, New York, Taipei, Singapore, Tokyo, Bangkok, to name a few! We never know where the next great collection will come from.
Christie’s holds a number of world record-breaking sales—what are some of the most memorable?
ML Besides setting world records, we’ve also broken our own. We set the record in 2013 for highest world auction price for a ruby necklace with a Burmese ruby and diamond necklace (87.78 carats) sold at HK$49 million. But then in 2015, we broke that same record with a 120 carats Burmese ruby and diamond necklace sold for HK$100 million.
How does Christie’s find these amazing pieces or collections?
ML We have a team of 25 top specialists who each have an average of 20 years’ experience. We’ve also developed a thorough knowledge of the international market, along with worldwide connections to potential bidders. Plus, clients benefit from our longstanding experience in putting together the most attractive and carefully curated selection of jewellery.
Why should people bring you pieces or collections to auction?
ML The successful transition of art from consignor to buyer is of paramount importance to us. Whether you are looking to buy, sell, or build a collection, our international jewellery specialists can recommend the best strategy for your needs.