Important jewels auction at Christie’s in London

I’ve always wanted to attend a jewlery auction. Certainly not to buy, but simply to have the possibility to take a look at exceptional jewlery.
The only problem was that I was intimidated by the idea because I thought that I would have to register and that I might be denied entry.

I went first to Christie’s last November when I was chasing the Paddington statues.


And I was very surprised to see how easy it has been to entered.

When I came back home on that day, I remember that the first thing I did was to go on Christie’s website to read more about Christie’s history and checked the coming auctions.
I also sent an e-mail to the customer service to be sure that auctions were opened to the public. I was replied that most of them were, except some evening sales that were ticketed.

Christie’s is the largest auction house and one of my most famous (with Sotheby’s).
It was founded by James Christie in London in 1766.

James Christie

It now has 53 offices in 32 countries and 12 salerooms around the world located in London (2), New York, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Asterdam, Dubai, Zurich, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Mumbai.

Christie’s offers around 450 auctions annually in over 80 categories including all areas of fine and decorative arts, jewelry, photographs, collectibles, wine, ….

As you can imagine, jewelry auctions don’t take place every day. I regularly checked Christie’s website to stay informed of the auctions.
Finally, by chance, I saw on June 1st that an auction of important jewelry would be held on June 3rd and that the jewels could be seen until June 2nd.

I felt very fortunate to have checked the website just on time, as I wanted to be part of the whole process of the sale: the viewing and the auction.

The viewing

So on June 2nd, I went to Christie’s for the viewing.

I chose my clothes carefully because I wanted to wear an outfit that wasn’t overdressed or underdressed and in which I felt confident. I finally opted for a pair of black pants, a grey cashmere tee-shirt, a  black jacket, a scarf and a pair of loafers.

Christies 5

On the way, I had mixed feelings: I really wanted to go but at the same time I wasn’t sure that I would find the courage to enter in the building. When Christie’s was finally in sight, I stopped thinking and just entered.

Christies 1

I went directly to the Reception to ask where the viewing was.
I took the stairs to the first floor. On my left was a room with transparent glass doors, kept by 2 security guards who granted access without any question.

So here I was, with potential buyers, consultants from Christie’s, more security guards and “important” jewels. I felt out of my comfort zone, a bit like an elephant in a china store.

I went to one window display and started to have a look at the jewels, each more beautiful than the others (with a few exceptions). There were a mixed of antique jewels and pieces signed from some of the greatest houses including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chaumet, Bulgari and Boucheron. It was glitter everywhere: diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds…

Christies 6

The 6 most important lots

It was also a show in itself to see potential buyers inspecting the jewels. They better had to do it carefully as the lots were sold “as if”, which means in their current state.
The potential buyers could be grouped into 2 categories: professionals (mostly men), interested in many pieces to see the one that really worth it and private individuals (mostly couples and women from India and China), interested in a piece or two for which they had a crush.

I didn’t dare to ask if I could see a jewel from closer but I asked if I could take pictures. The answer was yes if I was a interested in a piece. Certainly….But I took some anyway.

Christies 3

Christies 2

My favourite lot: a 19th century sapphire and diamond necklace, tiara and corset ornament, which made me think of Empress Josephine

I stayed for about 40 minutes and went around 3 times, discovering new pieces each time.

The auction

On June 3rd, I went back to Christie’s to assist to the auction. I decided to only go to the afternoon session when the most important pieces would be auctioned.

I felt much more confident than the day before as I already knew the place.

I arrived late due to the traffic but it wasn’t an issue as the auction room always stays open. People can come and go whenever they want.

The room was far from being full so I easily found a seat and started to follow the auction.

Christies 10

The procedure was the same for all lots:

1. After describing the lot, the auctioneer announced a suggested opening bid.
This bid must be low enough to be immediately accepted by one of the bidders, generally about 45% of the lowest estimation.
Each jewel’s lot was displayed on a big screen but wasn’t physically present in the room.
But if you attend a painting or furniture auction, the lots are generally displayed in the room. However, people can’t have a close look at them.

2. Then, other buyers submitted higher bids.
Only people who had registered and created an account beforehand can bid, as some verifications need to be done.
There are 4 different ways to bid:
-in person with a paddle
-online with Christie’s LIVE™
-by telephone. A member of Christie’s calls the person from the salesroom before the auction on the concerned lot starts and bids on his/her behalf. There is a danger of dropped calls and bad connections.
-by absentee bid. If a person isn’t able to attend an auction, he/she can place an absentee bid and Christie’s will bid on the lot for him/her. The person only needs to submit his/her maximum bid online or by fax.
I noticed that most of the bids where done by telephone or online. The reason is that prominent collectors often prefer to bid anonymously.

3. The highest bid won the sale.
This bid is then called the hammer price. But the hammer price isn’t the final price the buyer will pay as it doesn’t include the premium and the VAT.
The premium is a percentage of the hammer price charged by the auction house to cover administrative expenses.
It was interesting to see that some lot didn’t reach the low estimation when some others went far beyond the high estimation. But for my novice eyes, it was pretty unpredictable to guess which ones won’t and which ones will.

At the end of the auction, I stopped at the cafe and ordered a tea (with milk of course!). I was surprised that I wasn’t asked to pay. I guessed that it was free for “potential buyers” but I’m not sure and didn’t find any information about the subject.

Christies 4

When I went back home, I went on Christie’s website to check the result of the sale.
The sale of the jewels had reached the amount of 9,167,925 pounds (hammer price + buyer’s premium)!
But I noticed that some lots were missing in the list of the sales, the lots for which the final bid hadn’t reached the minimum estimation, like my favourite lot.

Christies 7

This is how I leant that there is one exception when the highest bid doesn’t win the sale. It’s if the seller has set a reserve price and it hasn’t been reached. In that case, the lot remains unsold.
The reserve price is a way for a seller to protect his/her interest by being ensured that the lot won’t be sold under a certain price. It can never exceed the low estimation of the lot.
I’m very happy that I finally had the occasion to attend an auction at Christie’s and seized it. It was an amazing experience that I recommend to live at least once. However, if you don’t have the time, give priority to the viewing as you will have the opportunity to approach unique objects.

For my part, I might come back to attend a “magnificent” jewels auction if the opportunity arises.

Monday-Friday: 9:30–16:30

8 King Street
St James
London SW1Y 6QT

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