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  • Harry Fane

Action again.....at last

Sotheby’s NY curated a clever auction with Michelle Smith’s estate this week..this is where the action is now: Intelligently curated auctions. Whereas in the past, the auction houses were renowned for their great pool of knowledgeable experts, now their expertise lies in packaging.. they take in property, package it attractively and then market it across the globe. The effect is clear. They find clients who are willing to pay whatever is required to secure the pieces on offer and most often, for prices that could never be achieved by art dealers in their galleries. Generally, art dealers work on past prices whereas the auction houses set future prices.. if something was worth $ 500,000 based on prices achieved in past sales, and then something comparable reaches $ 800,000 at auction, a new pricing structure is established...and so the wheel turns..

But sometimes the prices achieved at auction just do not translate. If you had visited me last week, you could have bought this beautiful pair of Cartier gold & diamond bracelets (circa 1945) for US $ 80,000.


Sotheby’s sold an identical pair in their auction this week for $ 120,000. If I had quoted such a price, my clients would have fled, thinking I had finally lost the plot. A similar price was paid at the same auction for this intricate pair of gold link bracelets by Van Cleef & Arpels from (circa) 1975...that seems extraordinary. Just gold, not a diamond in sight, and not that 'vintage'.


The trend continued with another pair of Cartier bracelets (one not even signed) from (circa) 1949. These were ‘turbo gas’ gold bracelets hung with multiple gold beads. I wasn’t sure about

them. Cartier were masters at dimension but these seemed ‘off’.. neither big enough nor small enough. I found a necklace of the same design from 1949 which might have been more successful. Regardless, this pair reached a dizzying $ 130,000.00.



But, is it dizzying?? After every auction stretching back years, whenever strong prices are achieved, the telephone lines hum with expressions of shock.. ‘they must be mad’ is the usual refrain referring to the buyers.. but look back now at those prices, which were considered insane back then, and they look positively cheap!

Whilst this is true, today more and more people who have more and more money have access to the auctions. The big Houses reach every corner of the world. When something wonderful (& vintage) by Cartier is offered, for example, it generates great interest and there are many, many people who want a piece of that story.. Hence, ever-increasing prices...

It is totally understandable. It’s fabulous when someone says ‘that’s a beautiful bracelet you have on,’ and the wearer can answer ‘yes, it’s was made by Cartier, Paris in 1949’. People go ‘Wow! Really?’. They are instantly enamored.. That’s the ‘wow’ factor...and the ‘wow’ factor is expensive

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