Naval Bhandari, head of private sales Sotheby’s New York, reveals the surprising Sotheby’s Diamond Collection, in an exclusive interview with Arts & Collections.
Tucked away from the activity and excitement of their auctions, Sotheby’s London have a room few know of. In this sanctuary lies a treasury of jewellery with one real star: the diamond. And not just any diamonds: they are the best of the best set in unique modern settings, with unconventional materials including rubber, wood, marbled ceramic and Samurai sword steel.
Sotheby’s have diamond salons in New York and Hong Kong (launched in May) and also travel to their big name auctions around the world where their most discerning and wealthy clients are likely to be found. In essence, the collection is for those in the know.
A dazzling asset
Naval Bhandari, head of private sales Sotheby’s New York, has been a gemologist for 18 years. He says the diamond market is steadily growing, in both auction and private sales and presents the perfect investment opportunity.
‘Diamonds are very strong with the top end of the market doing really well. The big stones, D colours, flawless… there is such a demand for them. Diamonds have historically matched inflation, so it is a safe haven investment option. They have a confidence factor built in because they continue to increase in price.’
Recent auctions have seen incredible prices paid for large unset diamonds: The Sun Drop Diamond, a 110.03 carat pear-shaped fancy vivid yellow diamond sold for CHF 11,282,500 ($12,361,558) in November 2011 and The Beau Sancy, the 34.98 carat modified pear double rose cut diamond with a history of Royal ownership sold for CHF 9,042,500 / $9,699,618 May 15, 2012.
Bhandari says the demand for diamonds is worldwide and only likely to increase further.
‘The lack of supply has triggered a price fluctuation with prices going up considerably for both white and coloured diamonds. The large, rough diamond is not coming out of the ground for us to cut anymore. In terms of vivid blue diamonds, for example, we are talking seven stones in the last ten years. In that time they have more than quadrupled in price.’
Given the quick growth of colour diamonds, Bhandari says white diamonds are the next investment opportunity.
‘There is still room for growth for the best of the best white diamonds—the D flawlesses are a great place to invest in currently. The best white diamonds in value are £200,000-250,000 per carat. Blue diamonds are 10 times that, you are looking at £2 million per carat. So it is still easier to invest in whites.’
The collection shines
But the Sotheby’s Collection focuses on diamonds to wear, not to hide in a safe.
Launched in 2005 in partnership with the Steinmetz Diamond Group, the pieces are priced at US$50,000 to $20 million and beyond. Unlike most jewellers who will design a collection and then procure diamonds, they start with the diamonds and then dress the stone. Each piece is one of a kind, hand-crafted by their in-house European-trained artisans based in their New York workshop. They do 100 pieces a year, from vintage-style earrings to cutting-edge ebony bracelets and blackened gold necklaces.
But can they give your own diamonds the Sotheby’s treatment? Unfortunately not. ‘We comply with the Kimberley Process and UN resolutions so we need to know exactly where the diamond has come from. We only use diamonds we have sourced ourselves,’ says Bhandari. They will, however, happily adjust their collection to your taste and accept commissions.
Brilliance and fire
Of course it is not just scarcity which makes diamonds valuable; their beauty is what makes them lusted after, sung about and offered by well-to-do romantics around the world. Even working with them everyday, Bhandari has not ceased to be enthralled.
‘What makes them so attractive? This brilliance and fire. The break-up of white light. When you look at a diamond, blue and orange are the predominant colours. Blue calms your mind and orange excites your mind so it leaves you in a flutter. There are very few things in this world that can be perfect. A diamond is one of them. You can say it is a perfect stone when it has the correct crystal composition, cutting, symmetry, polish. One says perfect is not attainable, I do not agree. Our clients are the most discerning in the world and diamonds satisfy that quest for the best.’