Mrs. Jones is a longtime devotee of the auction market. It is great fun to find, investigate and procure a valuable treasure from anywhere in the world. People always ask me how I do it so, here are a few simple tips I put together for your next trip down the auction aisle.
1. Do the Research. There is no way around this. You must know what you are buying and you must decide what you think the piece is worth. Auction houses always give an estimate. Decide how far over that estimate you are willing to go. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of bidding, it happens all of the time, you don’t want to have buyer’s remorse. Go to every viewing and as many auctions as you can to learn the ropes. Look at the jewelry, try it one, study the catalogs and see what is selling and what isn’t. When you try on the jewelry, make sure it is comfortable, that it can be sized if need be, etc.
2. Get to Know the Specialists. Most auction houses have specialists. They should be knowledgeable in their field and able to tell you in detail about the quality and condition of each piece of jewelry in the sale. Only buy from reputable auction houses. Always ask for condition reports.
3. Look for Quality, Design and Craftsmenship. Look for ‘signed’ pieces or pieces that carry a maker’s mark. Signed pieces have a trading value in the marketplace beyond the components’ value. Know your market, know what’s hot and what’s not. Always buy the best example that your budget will allow.
If you are not buying for quality and design, look for the creative alternative. Jewelry throughout time eternal has been remodeled and recycled. Get creative! Can the piece be transformed into something really special? How much would be cost to make it look better than it already does? Can it actually be done? Just because you envision it does not mean makes sense or is affordable. The key to transforming a piece is to do it well, to make it look better than it did before. If you are buying for components, make sure you don’t overpay.
This John Rubel coral, turquoise and diamond brooch mounted on 14k gold was sold by Sotheby’s in 2006 for $20,400.
4. Know the Fees You Are Responsible for Before You Buy. There are buyer and seller fees. Know them all before you buy or sell. The auction houses nickle and dime you with those fees and they can really add up. If you are buying, you will be responsible for the hammer price plus a buyer’s premium, usually 25% of the hammer price. The buyer’s premium will vary depending on how expensive the item it, where the auction is being held and who is holding the auction. If you don’t pick the item up right away, there will also be transportation or shipping fees, insurance and if you let the piece sit with the auction house, storage fees.
5. Buy What You Love. If you are buying for yourself, buy what you love. There is nothing sadder than jewelry being locked away in a safe for years that no one wears. If you don’t like it, you won’t wear it. If possible, try it on before you purchase to make sure it is comfortable, etc. Loving, wearing and living with your jewelry should last a lifetime.
Victorian lava cameo bracelet (available now on 1st dibs). This bracelet is very similar to one of the first pieces I bought at auction. Sadly, I sold the piece almost immediately to a collector and never got a photo of mine.
Tell me your auction story! I have many – some good, some bad, some ridiculous!