With Valentine’s Day around the corner—thanks to two of the area’s top auction houses—you can find a truly one-of-a-kind piece of estate jewelry, which also happens to be a big trend.
“Most jewelry buyers we see buy jewelry as a gift, either for themselves or for someone else,” says Lynne Arkin, a specialist in fine jewelry at Bonhams in San Francisco. “Jewelry is the one item that is traditionally, and currently, given to mark holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, or to mark life’s milestones, such as birthdays, anniversaries, births, and, sometimes, ‘just because.’”
Rhonda Harness, director of Michaan Auction House’s jewelry department, explains that a lot of people—when they hear the term “estate jewelry”—think that it means “antique” and it is set at very high prices only. “That’s just not the case,” she says. “The jewelry we get comes from all places; there are top-tier luxury brands, but we have categories—such as young designers without name recognition yet—and the prices aren’t out of the realm for most people.” Of course, the auction house also offers big name designers at big-time prices.
At Bonhams, the auction house regularly offers single and/or collections of antique and period jewelry, signed and unsigned, from the Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Retro, and Moderne periods. Arkin says, “We see all types of jewelry, including extremely rare and signed pieces, such as the Bulgari Trombino ring, which Bonhams sold in 2013. It’s a 5.30-carat cushion cut, fancy deep blue diamond, and it sold for $10,258,059—setting a world record of $1.8 million dollars per carat.” She says the house also offers “classic and contemporary diamond and gem set jewelry by Van Cleef and Arpels, Cartier, Buccellati, Tiffany, Boucheron, Harry Winston, Schlumberger, T.B. Starr, Marcus & Co., Oscar Heymen & Bros, David Webb, and many more.”
Bonhams also acquires entire collections from noted jewelry collectors, most recently from Barbara Taylor Bradford, Margaret N. Stiegele, and Nancy Johnston McNear. Arkin continues, “We sell highly sought-after mid-twentieth century jewelry by Georges Braque, Marisol, Haraldo Burle-Marx, and others who worked during those years.”
At Michaan’s, Harness sees a lot of jewelry collectors walking through the doors, as well. Great items can be found for those who collect pocket watches, antique rings, or any of the top-tier designers. The auction house will also work with a client to help him or her find a specific color, brand, or type of antique or contemporary design.
Estate jewelry isn’t just for women. According to Harness, in the popular media we are seeing more men wearing jewelry, and this is influencing the strong interest that many men have in acquiring jewelry for themselves. She says, “Men’s jewelry is really popular. I always have 10 to15 percent of my sales focused on men, with watches, of course, being big sellers. They love antique cufflinks, too. Segment rings have also been very hot.”
There has always been a significant population of men who buy and collect watches. According to Arkin, Bonhams regularly acquires men’s jewelry in the form of cufflinks, rings, and watches. “There are serious watch buyers and collectors among men, and there is even a cufflink society for those who collect cufflinks, which come in a surprising variety of materials and subject matter,” Arkin says. “These collectors don’t necessarily wear cufflinks often, but their collections reveal the interest men have in this type of gent’s jewelry.” Tie pins are another popular collectors’ item.
Since the auction houses hold estate jewelry sales on a weekly basis, it’ll be easy to find a last-minute Valentine’s Day gift that is very special and thoughtful, whether you’re a man or a woman.
Keith Loria is a freelance writer who has written about everything, from baseball to corporate mergers, to healthcare and entertainment. Recent interviews include actor William Shatner, heart-surgeon pioneer Marc Dedomenico, and Pez Candy CEO Joe Vitttoria. Keith is also a family man with two daughters, Jordan and Cassidy.