Our guided tour of Sotheby’s started with wine tasting and was followed by a speech given by Kevin Ching, Chief Executive Officer of Sotheby’s Asia. Kevin joined Sotheby’s in 2006 after working both in private practice and in-house! Yes, he was a solicitor! He concluded his talk by joking that if we were bored by his colleagues’ talks, we could leave and start shopping immediately.
Yvonne Chu, Sotheby’s jewel specialist, gave the first very informative talk. She quickly transported us through the history of jewellery, from appraising the features of Egyptian jewels dating from 4000 BC to Roman-style pieces ranging from 700 BC to 2 AD to jewels owned by Queen Victoria in 1900s.
Moving on to selecting pieces to purchase, she noted that most consumers usually focus on the brand and craftsmanship; however, Yvonne recommended we look into three additional elements, which we could remember through the acronym “RDB”:
- Rarity: whether the diamond/gemstone is rare and from a well-known brand;
- Durability: gemstones differ in hardness; some need extra care if you wish to look after it for your generation; and
- Beauty: it is subjective, so different people will have their own aesthetic feelings.
Regarding the market trends of gemstones, Yvonne suggested investing in stones that are red, green and blue. She also noted that the combination of diamond and gemstones is currently trendy.
Yvonne concluded her talk by reminding us that the most important consideration when purchasing jewellery was to pick something we would like, as well as something we would wear.
Jessie Kang, Sotheby’s watch specialist, gave the second talk, in which she explained how to select the perfect timepiece. She provided us with her own acronym, “BPM”, to remember when making our decision. It stands for:
- Brand: brand recognition is important: the continuity of the brand’s history, whether the brand is locally and globally well-known; whether such brand has signature models;
- Production: whether it is a limited edition; and
- Movement: the watch movement. Some brands do not manufacture their own calibre (ie, the “movement”, is the mechanism of a watch, the small device inside the watch which makes it “move”). Some watch buyers/collectors prefer the watch brands that still make their own calibre. Others like more complicated products (eg, tourbillon).
After the talks concluded, I asked Jessie a few questions about tourbillons, as I have never owned one myself. For the uninitiated, a tourbillon (a French word that means “whirlwind”) is an additional mechanism of a watch escapement that aims to counter the effects of gravity by mounting the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage, to negate the effect of gravity when the timepiece (thus the escapement) is stuck in a certain position. By continuously rotating the entire balance wheel/escapement assembly at a slow rate, typically about one revolution per minute, positional errors are averaged out.
Despite the hype, I learned that tourbillons have been proven to be no more accurate than a traditional escapement on a wristwatch. While some saying tourbillons are “useless”, they are still common among the uppermost echelon in the watch market. Many Swiss-made examples start at around US$40,000 and price tags often break the six-figure barrier.
Jessie explained that tourbillons are still arguably one of the most difficult movements to make by hand. The tourbillon mechanism is tiny, weighing in at under a gram, and is usually crafted with more than 40 parts, finished by hand and made from lightweight metals like aluminium and titanium. They require a special set of tools and a lot of time to make. Many take more than one year, some even as long as two!
In spite of claims disavowing their utility, I still look forward to owning my own tourbillon watch one day!