A Feast for the Eyes

As an avid jewellery enthusiast, I was most excited to visit the Hong Kong gallery of Sotheby’s on a chilly November evening. We had a superb turnout on the night with more than 50 members of the Law Society attending this event, encompassing an introduction to fine jewels and timepieces by Sotheby’s in-house specialists and a display of auction items.

To my delight, on display was more than delectable jewels, but timeless watch pieces from renowned makers such as Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, precious jadeite, charming vintage pieces from the Golden Era and most importantly, a free flow of red and white wine (simply to warm one’s chilly soul).

The event kicked off with a warm introduction from Sotheby’s. We were then taken “back in time” to the Egyptian era 4000 BC, where jewellery was mainly in the form of collars and crowns symbolising power and wealth. Popular gemstones at that time were carnelian, amethyst and turquoise. We then transcended into ancient Roma, where the use of brooches for holding togas and amulets were common amongst the royalty and commoners. Such pieces were infused with designs of animals and coiling snakes, dotted with sapphires, emeralds, jet and pearls. Later, during the reign of Queen Victoria, who was renowned for her fashionable taste, jewellery was all the rage across Europe. The roaring twenties then brought the rise of Art Deco, introducing fresh concepts such, as geometrical shapes, abstract designs, cubism, modernism and oriental art into jewellery. This was also the time when established houses started making their mark, such as Cartier, Van Cleef Arpels and Boucheron. The wearing of wristwatches was also popularised, including amongst women. During World War II, there were widespread embargoes on gemstones, and jewellery pieces were simplified to metal pieces adorned with symbols of patriotism. Post war, people celebrated with bright coloured jewellery; and diamonds solidified its position as the most sought after gemstone.

Whether for personal pleasure or investment, one should select and purchase gemstones based on three factors – rarity, beauty and durability (and obviously, the amount of cash one can spare). Rarity depends on supply and demand. For example, amethyst was a precious stone amongst the Egyptians, but its value depleted considerably when a huge source was later discovered in Africa. Beauty is more subjective. What may project beauty in one’s eye may not in that of another. And lastly, durability. Diamonds are the most durable and hardest element on earth. It is also a very stable stone and can endure heat, cold and various household chemicals. This is also one of reasons it is so sought after in the market.

On the night, of the many pieces on display, what caught my eye was the iconic Cartier “Panthere” diamond, sapphire and emerald ring and a white gold, diamond and emerald encrusted Frank Muller automatic “No.105 Master Double Mystery” wristwatch, all “dream” pieces any girl would want to own. Naturally, one would assume that auctions are reserved for the wealthy and exclusive, but in recent times, auctioneers, including esteemed houses, such as Sotheby’s, have begun to cater for a more modest market. The pieces mentioned above, are just a fraction of the retail price (notably, deduction will be given for wear and tear). But most pieces are in mint condition, and if you’re lucky, there may even be a lovely story behind the piece you acquire…

Jurisdictions: 

Mayer Brown JSM, Senior Associate