When Christie’s New York announced in 2011 that it would auction off 1,778 pieces of jewelry from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor, the goods arrived at the building in plastic bins containing hundreds of jewelry boxes, each one individually labeled in Taylor’s handwriting. It took the actress 66 years (and seven husbands) to build her collection, and the $116 million that the sale brought reminded women everywhere that it pays to start collecting.
Departures asked former Christie’s buyer Russell Fogarty, a Beverly Hills–based dealer and the founder of the online estate-jewelry firm Beladora, how to build an auction-worthy portfolio.
When someone first comes to you, either through Beladora’s site or in person, and they have no prior knowledge of estate and vintage jewelry, where do you start? We say, “Let’s look at something that you’re going to wear frequently.” That’s usually going to be a pair of diamond earrings, a diamond ring, or a diamond pendant. Most people don’t start out thinking that they are going to be a collector, but after you purchase a few things, you sort of catch the bug.
You must have clients who come in and say, “I want to make a good, sound investment.” We don’t recommend that you start with something that you are going to keep in a safe-deposit box. I’ve never believed in buying jewelry, estate or otherwise, just for investment. You don’t look at estate jewelry the same way you would look at stocks or real estate. You buy it because it enhances your life.
There is a lot of talk now about the prices that certain stones are bringing at auction. There are people that will purchase gemstones as an investment and then literally put them in a bank vault. Over a period of time, they might do very well. Some things have skyrocketed in value, like natural pearls. But those are really the exceptions. If you go into it with the attitude of just investing— financially—it won’t be as joyful.
Signed versus unsigned jewelry. Should people really just go for the Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, and Tiffany pieces? They tend to be so much more expensive. We tell our clients to buy quality items that they are going to enjoy wearing. But if it’s signed, it’s going to be easier to sell in the future. And it’s going to cost more. For modern jewelry, it’s maybe 20 percent more than a similar item that is not signed. With period pieces, there is an even larger difference. There are a lot of incorrectly signed jewelry items in the market, so you have to work with someone who can recognize what is authentic and what is not. If it’s really high-end estate jewelry, you will also want to know if it’s numbered, if it has the correct metal marks, if it has French hallmarks or maker’s marks, and if it’s signed in the right places.
What are some of the most collectible pieces right now—those really special items? Some people focus on a certain period. They might love the retro era with its bold bangle bracelets or maybe the early 1950s, when Harry Winston was getting big. Some people just collect Cartier. And sometimes it’s the great modern designers, like James de Givenchy. Of course, the most collectible jewelry that is currently being made is by JAR, in Paris.
Beladora is at 332 North Rodeo Dr., no. 3, Beverly Hills; beladora.com.
Image Credits: Courtesy Beladora