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Affordable Jewelry & Watches

Mary Ann Brown | June 16th, 2013

Antique Jewelry & Gemology

When a press release arrived broadcasting the news that “The Mid-Market Struts Its Stuff in Rago’s Big $1.8 Million April Auction Weekend” after we had decided to feature affordable jewelry at auction (hovering around $1000 and under) this month, it seemed the planets had aligned to support the theme and give it substance. There are beautiful, even unique and rare, objects available in good supply for collectors and dealers to buy. Auction houses that held jewelry and timepiece auctions in early spring, Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, New Jersey, Jones & Horan in Goffstown, New Hampshire, and Freeman’s in Philadelphia, offered good examples of affordable jewelry. Other notable auction houses conduct salon-type sales that feature pieces in this niche market for “the rest of us” to wear, collect, or gift without breaking the bank. Among them are Bonhams, Leslie Hindman, and Doyle New York.

This lady’s 18k rose gold, diamond, and enamel pin and pendant watch set with original hunting case decorated with a stylized orchid panel enameled on the front planchet has a pin in 14k yellow gold with a matching decoration. George Jones said the enamel pansy decorations were in need of repair. He elaborated, “Enameling tends to increase price dramatically if the enamel is hard enamel and in good condition. The enamel on this particular piece has some damage to it, and it’s obvious that this watch, to be really presentable, will have to undergo some repair work. To do enameling properly, and in the style that it was originally done in, is very, very expensive. So most enamellers now use a method of soft enameling. And there is quite a bit of difference between the original hard enamel and the later-applied soft enamel. This is as an example of an enamel piece that has tremendous potential for bringing much more money in the future, once the enameling is…properly repaired.” The pendant watch sold for $700 (est. $500/700). Jones & Horan.

These four gold pins and one gold brooch represent an affordable jewelry lot in the Jones & Horan horological sale. George Jones said, “We generally have a pretty good selection of gold and interesting jewelry in our watch sales to accommodate the spouses of many of the watch collectors.” This group consists of one 18k gold and hardstone cameo brooch, a 14k chrysanthemum pin, a 14k three-flower pin, a 14k enameled flower pin with a pearl center, and a 14k flower pin with scrolls and a pearl center. The lot sold above the high estimate for $1000 (est. $500/800). Jones & Horan.

Jones and Horan

A telephone interview with George and Patty Jones of Jones & Horan Auction Team revealed that their company deals with a large range of prices and that selling affordable timepieces is important to their success. George said, “Not everybody can buy watches that sell in the $10,000 to $1 million range. There are huge collections out there of many hundreds, if not thousands, of watches in each collection…and filtered in amongst those—yes, they will have some watches [that have] ten, twenty, $30,000 of value—but the real market for these watches is very, very strong. We still have newcomers coming into the field. They’re collecting these types of watches, which we’re very, very grateful for, and they are just as excited about these watches as the gentleman who goes out and buys some fine wristwatch for $120,000.”

Patty reminded me that the April 28 sale “was totally non-reserved—which I think gave it a little extra enthusiasm. There seemed to be kind of a nice buzz there. And a lot of things did go below our low estimates, but a lot of things fetched quite a bit more than our high estimate.” Jones & Horan does not charge a buyer’s premium, a feature that draws customers to its auctions.

According to Patty, “the consignors were pleased. As you probably know, the more sophisticated consignors know that some items will do very well and some items will not do very well, but they look at the overall picture. Our consignors were very pleased when they looked at it from that viewpoint.”

Patty focuses on the business end of auction house matters. She explained that an unreserved auction can create quite a stir. “We had a lot of participation from international buyers. Our phone bidders were very active. It was busy the whole time…it made for an exciting auction—because you didn’t know what was going to happen.”

George shared his thoughts and vast knowledge about the timepieces that sold at the sale and elaborated on the objects that accompany this column. He is just as happy to sell in this price range. He said, “Every auction house likes to brag—and so do we, I guess, about the big sales—when you sell a hundred, a hundred-fifty, a $180,000 item…but the mainstay of the business is not that type of watch, not for us. The mainstay of the business is just as I laid out for you [in the example pictured in this column]. And these watches, these are where we grew from—handling all these rare old watches. So, we plan to…stick with them as long as we exist as Jones and Horan, that’s for certain.”

When I remarked that it sounds as though they like working equally hard for their consignors and customers, he replied, “You have to. It’s a very fine line an auctioneer walks between the seller and the buyer, and he’s got to do due diligence to be extremely ethical with both parties in all cases. And that’s how you build your clientele both in buyers and people who consign to you over many, many years. It’s no good to have a client just for one shot…you want to have that client for many, many years. If it’s a consignor who’s consigned everything, five years from now you want him to be referring you to a friend of his who’s also built up a collection. So, what goes around comes around.”

George said that this philosophy has “worked for us. We don’t have the five- and ten-million or twenty- million-dollar sales that the big auction houses have. Everything’s on a much smaller scale, but it’s been wonderful for us. And even a sale like this—three-quarters of a million dollars for a one-day sale of this type of pocket watches—is a wonderful day for everyone. It’s a wonderful day for our consignors; our buyers are very pleased; and we, as the auction house, are very pleased with everyone on both ends of the spectrum.”

This man’s fine 14k gold pocket watch chain is just over 12" long, with a 1" fob extension. George Jones commented on the current market for watch chains in good condition. “A good, clean chain that isn’t worn through in the links is generally very much in demand and will bring a pretty decent premium over gold. In many instances, we’ve seen chains bring sometimes between thirty and fifty percent over gold value, and in some cases, where you have a really unusual or large chain, they will bring sometimes double what the market price is for gold because they’re very few and very, very desirable. If a man has a very expensive watch, he doesn’t mind spending a thousand, two thousand dollars on a nice chain to display it on.” This example, in excellent condition, sold above the high estimate for $900 (est. $600/800). Jones & Horan.


Sarah Churgin told me that although “garnets are not a tremendously expensive stone,” this Bohemian garnet fringe necklace, 18" long with a 3½" pendant, circa 1880, was “very pretty and did very well…The trend we saw on the strange macabre stickpins back in December [2012] where very little of it was precious material” continues here. With rose-cut garnets on foil in floriform and star clusters in gilt metal or gilt silver, the necklace sold above high estimate for $938 (est. $600/800). Rago Arts.

Rago Arts

Rago Arts’ April 21 sale was also unreserved and had lots of activity on line, in the room, and on the phones. Sarah Churgin, department head of jewelry and silver, reported in a phone conversation that “the auctions in April were really affected by the changes in commodities. The market dropped significantly between ten days and two weeks before our sale…There was an enormous drop, so that had an impact on things that were commodity-driven. And as it’s been going at ‘the lower end of splendor,’ as Ulysses [referring to Ulysses Grant Dietz, Newark Museum curator] would like to say, the material has more merit for its commodity in some cases than it does for its art…It’s good news for somebody who inherited a forty-pennyweight charm bracelet back when gold was $300 or $400 an ounce, but a year and a half ago, it was selling for $1800 per ounce. So, the short-term memory is that it was higher.”

She continued, “The results were within the presale range, which is not so bad when you take everything into account. Some things did peculiarly well, and some things continue to trend as we expected.”

Churgin explained the challenges that auction houses face when they’re having a sale: “Doing an auction is balancing the tightrope of your responsibility to the bottom line as a business.”

This circa 1910 Art Nouveau diamond “bleeding hearts” brooch in enameled gold with a pendant hook on the back sold for slightly more than $1000 but is worth mentioning because it was, according to Churgin, “[A] small piece of jewelry…that came to $483 per pennyweight or more than ten times the gold value.” The 7/8" brooch by Krementz, Newark, New Jersey, realized $1063 (est. $200/300). Rago Arts.

Sarah Churgin, the jewelry and silver specialist at Rago, thought this 19th- and 20th-century 22-piece collection of stick pins “did well because they were beautiful examples” of subjects including skulls, masks, dogs, and insects. They were made of different materials, including gold, silver, and metal. The group sold for more than twice the high estimate of $300/400 for $813. Rago Arts.


This circa 1900 platinum and turquoise ring sold within estimate for $250 (est. $200/ 400). Freeman’s.

Freeman’s

Freeman’s May 6 fine jewelry and timepieces auction featured over 100 lots from the timepiece collection of David S. Landes. Three items that sold under $1000 accompany this column. According to Freeman’s publication International View (Spring/Summer 2013), “Landes [is] a Coolidge Professor of History and Economics Emeritus at Harvard University, and author of Revolution in Time, an in-depth and superlative look at the history and measure of time.” The highlights of the sale are worth exploring in International View or in the archive of the sale on the Web site (www.freemans auction.com).

Freeman’s post-sale press release reported that 91% of the lots sold and that “the auction drew interest from around the world as both private collectors and institutions vied for jewelry and timepieces spanning three centuries.” If you can’t go to a Freeman’s sale, the live auctions can be viewed and heard on line, and the energy is palpable.

This 1¼" round silver, diamond, and mother-of-pearl miniature portrait pin, accented by a petite rose-cut diamond surround, displays French hallmarks and sold above high estimate for $1000 (est. $500/700). Freeman’s.

This lady’s 18k yellow gold Bigelow, Kennard & Co., Boston, pocket watch, with a circular open face, featuring a blue Roman numeral dial and outer Arabic numeral minutes dial, was also from the Landes collection. The case displays foliate chasing with a portrait of a dog and is engraved “M. R. Lyman, Portsmouth, NH.” The cuvette is signed by the maker. It sold above the high estimate for $938 (est. $500/700). Freeman’s.

“And Now For Something Completely Different”

In the interest of balancing things out, let’s jump on the seesaw to experience the expansiveness of the jewelry market with a brief report on Sotheby’s Geneva May 14 sale of the jewels of the international screen legend Gina Lollobrigida. Proceeds from the sale go to a cause heralded by Lollobrigida, who said in a press release: “Jewels are meant to give pleasure, and for many years I had enormous pleasure wearing mine. Many people tried to persuade me to sell them, but for a very long time I was unwilling. What changed was seeing a little girl called Sofia suffering from a disorder, which could only be helped by stem cell treatment—treatment which she is unable to receive in Italy. Selling my jewels to help raise awareness of stem-cell therapy, which can cure so many illnesses, seems to me a wonderful use to which to put them. It is my hope that the Italian parliament will approve this ground-breaking treatment, so that children and adults in Italy should have free access to it without having to travel abroad at great expense. It now gives me great pleasure to see that these jewels will create a legacy, which will live on after me and continue to do good.” Her jewels will do that to the tune of nearly $5 million! (Presale estimates were $1.9/3.2 million).


Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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