At Los Angeles Jewelry Buyer, we are often asked about the option of selling estate jewelry and watches via an auction house. In some cases (such as when the item is truly extraordinary and there is plenty of time to wait), auctions are worth considering.
But in many (if not most) cases, the amount of money that you will receive from an auction house, after commission and fees are deducted, is similar to the cash amount you would have received by selling your item immediately to Los Angeles Jewelry Buyer.
For those who wish to explore the option of selling estate jewelry or watches at auction, we will cover in this article the top auction houses which specialize in fine jewelry and luxury timepieces.
Top Auction Houses for Jewelry & Watches
As you probably know, everything imaginable can and is sold through auction houses, from Old and New Master paintings to vintage cars, jewelry, collectibles, and old coins. To sell the world’s highly valued luxury goods, an auction house needs to have access to both the valuables and the clientele who might be interested in buying them.
Selling fine jewelry and expensive watches at auction is a carefully coordinated dance that involves bringing the luxury goods to the attention of the proper audience, one that will have the greatest likelihood of bidding on a particular lot.
Any list of top auction houses for expensive watches and jewelry will necessarily contain some of the oldest and most established firms. These older houses have had many years, some even centuries, to cultivate their client bases—both sellers and buyers. Even with advent of the internet and online auctions, there is no substitute for carefully constructed network of people who buy and sell luxury assets.
Founded in London in 1744 by bookseller Samuel Baker, Sotheby’s is the fourth oldest auction house in the world, and has always been a leader in the auction world. Now with ninety locations in forty countries, Sotheby’s was one of the first auction houses to recognize the importance of being a global presence—they were the first to hold auctions in Hong Kong and the former Soviet Union.
Sotheby’s boasts 250 auctions each year, with sales in over seventy categories, including fine wine, international real estate, furniture, Old Master paintings, and of course, jewelry and watches. In addition to their global presence, Sotheby’s also offers BIDnow, a service that allows clients to watch auctions live online and place bids in real time from anywhere in the world.
With a deeply established client base all over the world, Sotheby’s is certainly one of the most successful auction houses of all time. Total earnings for 2013 topped $5.2 billion.
Christie’s has been the world’s top auction house for many years. Another global presence, Christie’s now has over eighty offices in forty-three countries, and a network of buyers and sellers that is unparalleled in the auction world. Founded in 1766 by James Christie, the storied auction house has sold fine and decorative arts, including jewelry, collectibles, and wines, for prices ranging from $200 to over $100 million. In 2013, sales topped $6.18 billion, an all-time auction house sales record that included the sale of Francis Bacon’s modernist triptych, Three Studies of Lucien Freud for $142.4 million—the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction.
Auctioning jewelry and watches has long been a mainstay at Christies. Their watch division, Christie’s Watch Shop, not only offers some of the most important watches in the world, but now does a significant part of its business through Christie’s Private Sales, connecting collectors with specific watches outside the traditional auction format.
Jewelry sales are also moving into the 21st century for Christie’s. With a philosophy based on accessibility to art buying, Christie’s is expanding its online-only auction platform, with over forty online-only sales last year. Over forty percent of buyers in these sales were new to Christie’s, showing that their relentless pursuit of the all-important client base successfully continues into the future.
Bonhams is a traditional British auction house, with offices in New York and Los Angeles. It is privately owned and one of the oldest and largest auctioneers of fine arts and antiques. Bonhams is known for its expertise in high-end items, especially automobiles, and has established itself as London’s most important jewelry auction house.
The firm has achieved record prices in diamonds, colored stones, and even a world record in 2013 when a fancy deep-blue diamond sold for $9.2m. Thanks to recent mergers with specialty auction houses, Bonhams has also claimed market leadership in sales of watches and clocks.
With connoisseurship and expertise in dozens of specialty areas, Skinner appraises and auctions fine objects of value from every time period and culture, including extraordinary jewelry and gemstones. Skinner has sold fine antique, estate, modern and artist-designed jewelry at auction in Boston since its earliest days and their fine jewelry experts are well respected in the jewelry industry. Skinner jewelry auctions have often achieved record prices, including a record $43,200 for a Van Cleef & Arpels “Angel Hair” Necklace.
The estate jewelry auctions at Skinner regularly feature the work of famous jewelry brands and designers, such as Cartier, David Webb, Tiffany & Co., Schlumberger, Verdura, Edward Oakes, and Lalique. In the past, Skinner has also auctioned off jewelry creations from famous artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, John Paul Miller, Margret Craver, and Norma Kopley.
Established in Geneva in 1974, Antiquorum is the only auction house on our list exclusively dedicated to selling modern and vintage timepieces. Their relatively short history has been spent successfully cultivating a thriving collector’s market for timepieces worldwide.
Already established as the leader in selling wristwatches at auction by the 1980s, Antiquorum pioneered the “thematic auction” dedicated to a single subject. Their first such auction, “The Art of Patek Philippe,” marked the 150th anniversary of the prestigious watchmaker, and led to many sales records.
Antiquorum was also one of the first auction houses to offer full online services, and continues to lead the industry in online, real time bidding, as well as in access to catalogues, sales results, and watch databases.
Heritage Auctions is the world’s largest auction house dealing in collectibles. A mere child compared to the other houses listed here, Heritage was founded in 1976 in Dallas TX and specializes in coins, Western art, jewelry and watches, and rare books and manuscripts. Even though Heritage has offices all over the world, nearly half of the revenue it generates is from internet sales. Thanks in part to their huge internet presence, earnings for the year 2013 were nearly $917 million.
The fact that Heritage Auctions gets three times as many website visitors as Christie’s, and nearly thirteen times as many as Sotheby’s, may speak more to what they sell rather than how they sell it, but the numbers are impressive. The big, established auction houses have sensibly taken notice and expanded their internet sales as well.
While not as prestigious as the other auction houses listed here, Heritage could be worth considering if you are trying to auction off fine jewelry or watches valued under $10,000.
To bypass the wait, fees, and commissions associated with selling your valuable estate jewelry and watches, contact Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers today for a free consultation. We have an exclusive resale network that includes many of the same collectors who purchase items at these famous auction houses.