Bonhams Brings the World’s Best Jewels to Hong Kong

Graeme Thompson, Director of Jewellery for Bonhams, Asia

The largest collection of ‘best-in-class’ coloured gemstones from around the world will be showcased at Bonhams Hong Kong on May 31, as part of its forthcoming Rare Jewels & Jadeite auction. The carefully curated selection of gemstones – titled ‘The Jewels of the World Collection’ – has been chosen based on their exceptional quality, rarity and beauty.

The selection includes Colombian emeralds, Burmese rubies and sapphires from Kashmir and Ceylon, jewels which continue to be in the spotlight. It will also include gemstones from a number of other important regions that produce gems which are equally as beautiful and as rare. These regions include Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Mozambique, Brazil and Australia.

“As part of our first sale of 2017, we are delighted to present some of the rarest and most beautiful gemstones the world has to offer. The increasing popularity of natural coloured gemstones has been driven by growing demand around the world and interest in them is now widening to newer areas,” says Graeme Thompson, Director of Jewellery for Bonhams, Asia. #legend spoke with Thompson and got a fifteen-minute masterclass on the jewellery market.

A 18.00 carat ruby and diamond bracelet, to sell for $2,300,000-$2,800,000

Compare and contrast Bonhams with Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Bonhams is the third largest international auction house, and although considerably smaller than both Christie’s and Sotheby’s, what we can say— to put our marker in the sand— is that we have more than 60 specialist departments, which is more than both of them. We offer something different. ‘Jewels of the World’ is not just another auction, we have put together an auction and a masterclass, which shares the intimate knowledge we have as specialists, and an ability to understand the market by making informed decisions. I don’t see any other auction house doing that, so that gives us a handle and allows us to grow. We also sell more jewellery lots than Christie’s and Sotheby’s and that’s not a bad thing to be able to shout about.

A precious Guanyin jadeite and diamond pendant, to sell for $5,200,000-$6,800,000

Jade. I don’t understand it. How can we access and understand that market?

There are very few stones that are specific to only one market, but jade is one of them. It’s specific only to Asia, and it runs in the blood of many Asian collectors. It’s probably the most complicated stone to understand. The smallest difference in colour or translucency can make the biggest difference in price. Poor quality jadeite will always get a premium in the western markets, whereas fine jadeite will only get a premium in Asia. Western markets do not understand jadeite, and what they do understand of it you pretty much can’t sell in Asia. There is also irony. If you look at 1920’s Cartier pieces where they were using Jade, it was always pretty poor-quality jade. Now that has flipped itself on the head, as we can offer those pieces in Asia because it’s by Cartier and it’s from 1920, which builds allure and adds value.

What’s the newest, coolest stone we should start collecting?

We predicted 2016 would be the year of the coloured gemstone and that’s definitely happened. We’ve extended that further to do jewels of the world, so we’re not just still talking about coloured stones, but really exceptional stones from regions outside the traditional sources of Colombia, Burma and Sri Lanka. Now we’re looking more at African rubies, African sapphires, spinels, Padparadscha sapphires, tsavarite garnets, even Tanzanite, really exceptional examples from these newer regions. They are becoming incredibly important sources of coloured stones and the brands are using them more than ever before.

Of the big stones, I think emeralds are the most desired right now. Emeralds have seen the biggest price increases of all the gemstones in the last five years and that certainly seems to be continuing. And let’s not forget the colour of emerald, specifically Colombian emerald, is not dissimilar to jadeite, so it’s very, very popular here in Asia and we’re offering very fine emeralds that are rare because of their lack of treatment. Some have very small amounts of oil, and some no oil at all. So that’s what we’re focusing on.

These step-cut emerald and diamond earrings, weighing 10.91 and 10.26 carats, are expected to sell for $3,80,000-$4,800,000

Can you explain oil / non-oil to the amateur?

You know that 95 per cent of gemstones are heated, right?

I do now.

The same happens with emerald, but you can’t do it without oil. If you heat an emerald without oil it will explode. So, when they come out of the ground they get put into vats of oil and they suck the oil into the stone. Now that’s a perfectly acceptable treatment for an emerald, similar to heating rubies and sapphires. Only a very small percentage of emeralds have no oil whatsoever. It’s just expected they will be oiled in one way, shape or form, so a ‘no oil’ emerald is one of the hottest things in the market now.

We’re being told Spanish wine is the new niche, yet none of us know anything about it outside of rioja and sherry — what’s jewellery’s Spanish wine equivalent?

I think maybe a spinel. Spinels are very unknown but they are beautiful, beautiful gemstones. A spinel is similar in its composition to diamond, it’s a cubic crystal structure, so deposits of them are actually found near diamond deposits, which come to the surface of the earth during eruptions. The Imperial British Crown has a stone referred to as the Black Emerald but actually it’s a spinel. We sold the Hope Spinel in London and we hold a world record price for a spinel. It was two years ago, a 50-carat spinel, in the Hope collection alongside the blue diamond, in the same display case together. Another would be Alexandrite, which is an incredible stone; in daylight they are green, but in incandescent light, they turn red. They actually change colour. We’re trying to find one to include in this collection. These things are very rare.

A central antique cushion-shaped ruby, to sell for $2,750,000-$3,000,000

Any detail about any one item you’d like to share pre-auction?

I think this Kenyan ruby is super, super rare. It’s such an exceptional gemstone, chromium rich and over 10 carats. I’m very much a gemstone specialist and I can look at this and say ‘wow’. Another in the world doesn’t exist like this, it really doesn’t. This one glows, it’s just exceptional, lovely proportions. If I had a spare quarter of a million I would buy it. It’s an extraordinarily rare stone. But you have to understand stones to be able to look and appreciate.

Learn more about the collection here, and don’t forget to pre-register to attend.

Bonhams’ Rare Jewels & Jadeite Auction will be held on May 31, 2017 at 15:00 HKT
Suite 2001, One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty
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