Jewels and jewelry have constituted kings’ ransoms and motivated murderous coups.
In peacetime, they’re desirable as investable assets, but more for beauty than intrinsic value.
“[We] always recommend clients buy jewelry to wear and enjoy, rather than specifically for investment purposes,” says Jean Ghika, director of jewelry at Bonhams in the UK and Europe. “However, some clients are attracted by the fact that jewelry is a tangible asset that may grow in value.”
For that reason, National Gemstone, a U.S.-based dealer, suggests investors place no more than 15% of a portfolio in jewels and spend at least $10,000 on one or two high-quality gems.
At Bonhams, fine jewelry pieces sell for at least £5,000 ($7,754). In September 2011, the auction house sold a Bulgari diamond and blue diamond crossover ring for £1.9 million. So there are multiple entry points for new and seasoned buyers.
Several factors make jewelry and gemstone investing sound. There aren’t many pieces outside of private collections, and the stones are a finite resource. Plus, the global economic situation is making gems more attractive. Clients are putting their money into tangible assets at a time when bank accounts yield very little interest. In uncertain economic times, owning jewelry is comforting because people can see and feel their investments.
What to buy
“Signed pieces from the best jewelry houses—Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron—rarely lose their value and often appreciate over time,” says Ghika. There is also strong demand for art-deco jewelry. A Cartier art-deco diamond necklace sold at a Bonhams auction in 2010 for £264,000.
Natural pearls are another sound investment, commanding prices often ten times over the presale estimate. That’s because they take years for oysters to produce, and compiling a strand matched for colour, size, skins and lustre can take decades.
And then there is the king of gemstones: the diamond. Commercially promoted as a girl’s best friend, diamonds are one of the best-known and most sought-after rocks.
For diamond jewelry, Ghika recommends buyers use a “loupe magnification device to examine a piece for any marks, solder work or repair, and to check there are no stones missing.” It’s best to consult expert appraisers.
Any loose diamonds should be certified for clarity and colour. “Steer clear of anything that’s not certified from a reputable laboratory,” she says. “It’s better to buy a smaller stone that’s better quality rather than a larger stone of lesser quality.”
The same holds true for coloured stones. Some of the most desirable coloured stones in the marketplace are the rare ones: Kashmiri sapphires, Columbian emeralds and Burmese rubies.
However, in July 2008, the U.S. government banned the import of Burmese rubies in response to unethical mining conditions. Rubies imported into the U.S. before the ban, however, can still be legally bought and sold.
That’s all the more reason to obtain internationally recognized gemological laboratory reports confirming the origin of stones. Such labs include the International Gemological Institute, headquartered in Antwerp, Belgium and the American Gem Society, based in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The report will also indicate if the stone has been treated, which lowers its value. “For example, a sapphire can be heated in order to clarify the inclusion (a fragment, liquid globule, or pocket of gas enclosed in a stone) and enhance the colour,” says Ghika. A similar-looking, untreated gem will command more value at auction.
If you’re looking for a quick return, jewelry is not the answer. But if you’re looking for long-term appreciation— and if it’s something you love—you may find it constitutes a good investment in the long term.
- Diamonds naturally attract grease, and any solution with high alcohol content will dissolve grease and clean the stone. An old wives’ tale suggests gin, but surgical spirits are safer and more cost-effective. Warm, soapy water is also a good substitute.
- The lustre on cultured and natural pearls dulls if perfume or hairspray gets on them. Wipe them with a silk cloth after wear.
- Emeralds are more fragile than sapphires, rubies or diamonds, so take care not to knock them. They should not be immersed in water.
- Ultrasound cleaners are now readily available and come with copious instructions.
- With any intricate jewelry, ask a specialist’s advice on cleaning.
Buying & selling tips
Diamonds are categorized by the 4 Cs: cut, colour, clarity and carat weight. The best diamonds are white and free from natural inclusions. Diamonds are priced on a non-linear scale, so a stone just over one carat will fetch far more than one that’s 0.99 carats; a two carat stone is worth considerably more than twice a one carat stone due to rarity. However, it’s generally better to purchase a slightly smaller stone of better colour and clarity than a larger stone that’s poorer in those areas. look for diamonds certified by the Kimberley Process, which is designed to prevent conflict diamonds from entering legitimate trade.
Rubies, sapphires and emeralds are the major valuable coloured stones. Higher quality stones have well-saturated and even colour, and are more transparent. They’re also free of cracks, chips and inclusions that break the surface of the stone.
Pieces from the art-deco period with signatures from the big houses—Cartier, Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chaumet—are most popular. Pieces by these houses from the 1950s and 1960s are still available, and are more affordable than antiques. Also look for jewelry by more contemporary makers from the 1960s and 1970s, such as Andrew Grima, John Donald and Stuart Devlin. The market is uncertain, so always consider wearability first.
Antique jewelry can still be found for as little as £150 ($233). Damage or past repairs can impact value considerably. Buyers should ensure stones are original and all settings are secure. Pieces from the Victorian period tend to be readily available; those from the Regency or Georgian period, less so. A piece will command a higher price if it comes in its original, fitted case.