We all know diamonds are a girl’s best friend. But what can they do for your investment portfolio? Jewels have the advantage over many other investments in that they can be worn for almost every occasion, and they look gorgeous. But buying jewellery is a famously risky business. As Harrogate-based specialist Susan Rumfitt — a regular expert on The Antiques Roadshow — says: ‘The problem is that the terms “jewellery” and “investment” don’t really go well together.’
So jewels might not give you a guaranteed return on your money. But then again, what does in these difficult days? The joy of jewellery as an asset class is that you can choose a really beautiful piece that you love; you can wear it, admire yourself in the mirror, enjoy other people admiring you wearing it, and when it comes to the crunch (unless your ex has run off with your life savings) you’ll probably never want to sell it anyway.
But if you do end up selling, is there any way of beating the odds? Well, diamonds and art deco pieces tend to hold their value, and the markets for these are fairly steady because demand is constant. Alternatively, items from collections that have belonged to famous names are ‘always going to attract attention when they come on to the market’, says Rumfitt. For her, the collections of Elizabeth Taylor, the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Margaret and a certain Mrs Jayne Wrightsman — a New York socialite and patron of the arts, now aged 96 — all spring to mind. If that’s what you’re after, keep an eye on the big auction houses — they are the most likely to be entrusted with the sale of prestigious collections.
Antique pieces tend to be a safer bet than newer ones. You still have to watch out, though. Just because things are ‘antique’ doesn’t mean they are always valuable. The Victorian age saw the first mass-produced jewellery, meaning that many old pieces cropping up for sale are not worth much because they lack rarity value.
Once you’ve decided that investing in jewellery is for you, how do you go about it? Starting at the top, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams all hold regular jewellery auctions. Many of Sotheby’s sales — at least the ones where the significant (and significantly priced) jewels come up for sale — are held in Geneva: but what’s a quick hop from London City Airport when you’re in search of sparklers? You can always have someone bid on your behalf, but that’s not nearly as exciting as doing it yourself.
These great auction houses might sound intimidating, especially when it comes to price points. That’s not surprising: after all, when their sales hit the news it’s usually either because the prices are record-breaking or the items in question belonged to someone hugely famous, or both. Granted, one of the lots at their next Geneva auction of ‘Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels’ is the ‘Blue Moon’, a ginormous 12.03-carat blue diamond, estimated at £23-£36 million. (Incidentally, if you do have millions to spend on jewellery, coloured diamonds are a good route to go down, says Rumfitt). But not everything for sale comes with such unimaginable estimates attached.
An amethyst and diamond ring in Christie’s Jewels and Watches sale on 11 November in London, for example, is expected to fetch £1,500-£2,000. And if you’re thinking of a pre-Christmas shopping trip to New York — as we all do — then £4,000 could bag you a pair of 18-carat gold, platinum and diamond ear clips at Sotheby’s there in December.
And the famous international auction houses are not the only option in this game. Regional auctioneers are often a good bet for truffling out interesting investment jewels at reasonable prices. Fellows, established in 1876 in Birmingham, and Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury are both good bets.
The drama of the auction room delivers a particular adrenaline rush, but it’s not the only way to buy jewels. There are many reputable dealers who can offer specialist advice. In London, Lucas Rarities specialises in rare period jewellery, focusing on art deco styles which offer lots of bling for your buck. The antique dealers Wartski, experts in fine jewellery, and Fabergé have a more old-fashioned feel: not for nothing do they hold royal appointments from the Queen and the Prince of Wales; they were also a favourite of Jackie Onassis.
So are antiques the only way to build up a jewellery collection that will hold its value? The short answer is no: Susan Rumfitt argues that it’s important to include new designers to make a broader portfolio. But can you tell today what might be collectable in the future? Not really; your best bet is to have a look at the younger up-and-coming designers, and simply choose something you like. If you’re lucky, in a few years time you’ll find yourself with something worth a lot more than you paid for it.
Jessica McCormack is one young designer who counts Rumfitt as a fan. Her first sale was to the pop star Rihanna, and her designs have since been worn by Madonna and Carine Roitfeld, former editor of French Vogue. Her pieces will almost certainly hold their value. So if you’re lucky enough to catch a young designer before they become a big name, bingo! The annual jewellery exhibition at Goldsmith’s Hall is a good place to spot new talent with exciting ideas.
Pieces made by established artists, current or past, are also a promising addition to any jewellery portfolio. The likes of Picasso, Salvador Dali and Anish Kapoor have created their own jewellery, much of which is highly prized. If this is what you’re after, Louisa Guinness’s gallery in Conduit Street, Mayfair, is the place to look. Rumfitt says the work of Man Ray, the surrealist painter and fashion photographer, might also appeal. But as with the antique sector of the market, rarity is vital for investment value. ‘Jewellery made in limited editions, and that has individuality, is key,’ she says.
One of the challenges of investing in any category of jewellery is to force yourself to differentiate between potential good investments and things that you (or your other half, if you’re thinking about her Christmas stocking) would want to wear. If you’re lucky, the two will be one and the same. But as Rumfitt says, ‘buy something that you really like, that you can wear and appreciate. If you choose something that’s more of a work of art, you can look at it and enjoy it. Then if it does increase in value you have a double whammy. The problem is that tastes change so quickly’.
The fickleness of fashion is always going to be an issue if you want your jewellery to earn its way. This is never going to be the safest form of investment, but careful research based on sound advice will make your purchases more likely to be rewarding if you ever decide to sell, or when they eventually pass to your heirs.
Either way, they are guaranteed to give you more pleasure to own — and to attract more compliments — than a dusty old bundle of stocks and shares.