Indians Are Increasingly Looking At Auctions To Purchase Jewellery

The pandemic saw a rise in online jewellery auction sales in India and abroad.

2020 was an interesting year for online auctions. Just as the pandemic began, Cartier’s Tutti Frutti bracelet smashed its estimate of $800,000 and ended up being sold for $1.3 million at Sotheby’s auction in April. It set a new record for achieving the highest price for any jewel sold at an online auction.

Two months down the line, in June 2020, a 28.86 carat, D colour diamond broke the earlier record when the rare stone sold for $2.1 million at a Christie’s online auction.

The pandemic may have set businesses off course, but the online jewellery auction market was not one of them. Results of auctions across the globe proved that people are turning to collecting rare jewels as well as those of provenance even in the midst of global turmoil.

Indians, too, have been actively participating in auctions held by Christie’s and Sotheby’s as well as homegrown ones like Saffronart and Astaguru, to acquire jewellery not just for investment and self-consumption but also for gifting purposes.

In 2019, Saffronart saw a 30% growth in the volume of jewels sold by the auction house compared to 2018. In 2020, the auction house saw a 150% growth in the volume of jewellery sold.

They have expanded from hosting just one major jewellery auction before Diwali every year and independent private jewellery sales (which sometimes equal the astonishing figures sold at auctions) to additionally host smaller, quick online auctions such as Absolute Tuesdays, which has no reserve price, as well as Friday Five (5 items from 5 categories), which are spread out throughout the year.

Five-strand Burmese ruby and diamond necklace. AstaGuru auction in 2018. Image courtesy of AstaGuru

“Despite the fact it was a year when people were not travelling or having large gatherings where jewellery is an important part of adornment, we saw steady purchases throughout the year being made for personal reasons, to collect or to gift. The top end of the jewellery market did see some resistance because there wasn’t a perceived need to acquire larger pieces, but it positively impacted the market in terms of volume and velocity of jewellery being sold. There were many more people acquiring jewellery,” shares Minal Vazirani, co-founder of Saffronart and StoryLTD.

AstaGuru is another auction house that has been conducting online auctions for jewellery. Last year, their ‘Heirloom Jewellery, Silver & Timepieces’ auction which took place on 20-21 October generated a total revenue of Rs.8,87,67,536.

A suite of diamond and 18-karat gold jewellery by Lacloche. October 2020 Auction. Image courtesy of AstaGuru

“I’ve been with AstaGuru for the past three auctions, and I have definitely seen a lot more people acquiring vintage jewellery, timepieces and silver from our auctions on a year-on-year basis. Having said that, there is still a huge potential to grow,” shares Jay Sagar, jewellery specialist at AstaGuru.

Younger audience

Pair of enamelled rose quartz and diamond earrings. Absolute Tuesdays Jewellery Edition, 1 December 2020. Image courtesy of StoryLTD

Vazirani, who introduced jewellery auctions at Saffronart 12 years ago, notes that there is a greater reliance on auctions for jewellery in the last five years.

“Other than specific externalities that have created shifts the market,  like the ups and downs due to demonetization and implementation of GST, overall, we have had significant growth. We are seeing an increasing number of younger collectors participating in auctions. These include first-time collectors as well as seasoned and knowledgeable buyers who are steeped in the market,” shares Vazirani, who adds that over 50% of their buyers are from India.  

Most of AstaGuru’s buyers are based across major metro cities in India. “Indians are very open to buying from online auctions, given the benefits of extended time duration and remote accessibility. I envision 2021 being our best year yet, and the online sector will indeed play a big part in the auction market,” shares Sagar. He also notes that vintage jewellery which bears a signature of the maker does very well at their auctions, especially signed Art Deco pieces.

Why buy jewellery at auctions?

Pair of pink sapphire and diamond butterfly earrings. Online Auction of Fine Jewels 28-29 October 2020. Image courtesy of Saffronart

According to Vazirani, auctions democratise access to important pieces of jewellery.  “Auctions bring transparency in pricing. The details are published, and it allows buyers to be able to compare with a great deal of certainty what something could be potentially priced at,” explains Vazirani, adding that they also provide ease of access to information which is sometimes opaque in the jewellery world.

“The due diligence conducted by auction houses and condition reports for the articles on sale give buyers further confidence to opt for purchases through auctions,” informs Sagar.

Auction houses not only evaluate a jewellery piece on the breakdown of its components but also evaluate the history of a piece, if it is made using a dying craft, and so on.  Uniqueness and rarity in terms of design, inherent value of gems, provenance, and craftsmanship dictate the reserve prices that are generally set at auctions.

Bringing in contemporary jewels

Ruby and diamond earrings. Absolute Tuesdays Jewellery Edition, 28 July 2020. Image courtesy of StoryLTD

“We have got an incredible history of jewels, and over time there is a greater value placed on the history, craftsmanship and the story of where we come from, and that will pave the way forward for jewellery auctions in the future. At the same time, I would also like to see young designers participate in auctions as well as contemporary jewels with a greater emphasis on design, innovation and original become a part of our auction offerings,” notes Vazirani. They are also looking at investing in AR/VR technology to enhance the quality of online viewings to grow sales in the future.

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