Join us for our weekly BAJ:Insight on the latest industry trends by Rachael Taylor, a freelance journalist who writes about jewellery for a number of titles, including The Financial Times, The Jewellery Editor and Retail Jeweller. In her 10 years reporting on the industry, she has travelled the globe to visit key industry fairs, descended a Fairtrade gold mine on top of a Peruvian mountain, toured silver jewellery factories in Thailand, and regularly has access to the most sparkling jewels and people in the business.
When it comes to serious jewellery auctions, there are two houses that stand out for the sheer magnificence of the jewels and the high drama that thrives whenever there is a gavel to be struck: Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Each commands sales that rake in millions of pounds (the houses’ jewellery sales this month earned £4.1m and $6.5m respectively).
Yet, they are not the only players on the scene dealing in serious gems, as Birmingham auction house Fellows showed this week when it sold a Graff diamond ring for £1.3 million. The ring, which set a British regional record as the most expensive jewel sold at auction outside of London, was set with a 43.59ct fancy intense yellow diamond.
Birmingham auction house – Fellows
Graff’s diamond ring
In a post on its blog, Fellows wrote: “To date, the Graff Fancy Yellow Diamond ring is the most important and the most expensive item to sell in our 141 year history. This is not only great news for us but also the Jewellery Quarter as it shines a spotlight on the roaring jewellery trade that is happening outside London.”
Another regional auction house doing a roaring trade in jewellery is Glasgow’s Lyon & Turnbull. It is also amassing some very interesting pieces, as I found out when I went to a sale preview at its newly opened London showroom. Head to my Instagram to see detailed shots of my favourite lot of the night – a bright green Swiss-made gold and enamel salamander bracelet decorated with collet-set cabochon rubies and pearls, made in 1830 for the Turkish market.
Lyon & Turnbull
John Pye Auctioneers showroom
Lyon & Turnbull is not the only regional auction house making physical moves into the London scene. John Pye, which has its headquarters in Nottingham and sales rooms across the UK, created a luxury division of its business in 2015 when it was asked to handle the sale of what was probably the biggest private collection of gemstones in Britain. I had the pleasure of seeing these stones and meeting their eccentric owner, who was not in the jewellery trade, but simply an enthusiastic magpie. This has led to the opening of a showroom on Old Bond Street in London that hosts auctions of jewels, watches and art.
John Pye probably has the biggest private collection of gemstones in Britain
In truth, regional auction houses don’t need London locations to sell major jewels, as the majority of bids nowadays are made online or over the phone. What they do need is the confidence of owners with important collections to entrust the sale of their jewels to them over Christie’s or Sotheby’s, and that’s where the swanky address comes in. And perhaps, the big two should watch out; John Pye’s choice of address – like Lyon & Turnbull’s showroom and Fellows’ Graff ring – is undoubtedly a challenge to the old boys of London jewellery auctions.