BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Super-premium jewelry auctions are attracting sparkling bids these days despite the world's economic slump."Human beings have liked fine jewelry and art for thousands of years," says David Schick, who follows Sotheby's ( BID) for Stifel Nicolaus. "Four to eight weeks of bad financial markets don't mean people will stop wanting nice stuff." Sotheby's, Christie's and other auction houses are all reporting solid jewelry sales for 2011, with some famous pieces set to go under the gavel in the next few weeks. For instance, Sotheby's expects to sell the 110-carat Sun-Drop Diamond -- the world's biggest top-quality pear-shaped yellow diamond -- for up to $15 million next month. Then, Christie's will put 269 jewels from the late screen legend Elizabeth Taylor's collection under the gavel in December, with the pieces expected to fetch more than $30 million in total. "The latest figures show that jewelry auctions are going very well," Schick says. "I'd say it's one of the best categories in the auction segment right now." Significant sales over the past year include: ¿ The 24.78-carat Graff Pink diamond ring, which Sotheby's sold at auction last November for $46.2 million -- believed to be the highest winning bid ever for a single piece. ¿ The 14.23-carat Perfect Pink diamond ring, which fetched $23.2 million in a Christie's Hong Kong auction last fall. Christie's says that's the most anyone in Asia has ever paid for jewelry. ¿ A 1960s Bulgari two-stone ring that Bonhams sold last month at a London auction for $3 million -- the highest jewelry bid the 218-year-old firm has ever gotten. The ring, which Bonhams had only expected to fetch about $1.1 million, paired an ultra-rare 3.78-carat blue diamond with a top-grade 3.93-carat white diamond. Such sales have helped boost profits to record or near-record levels at major auction houses. Sotheby's net income for all sales -- jewelry, art, etc. -- rose 48% to $127.2 million during the second quarter, the latest period for which data is available. CEO Bill Ruprecht called the results "the best quarter in Sotheby's (267-year) history." The company didn't break out jewelry sales, but has previous reported selling $182 million worth of jewels during 2010, more than double that of 2009.
Privately held Christie's doesn't report quarterly earnings, but said in February that its 2010 jewelry sales hit a record $426 million. That's up 56% from 2009 and some 8% from a $395 million previous record, set in 2007 before the global economic meltdown. Schick says jewelry auctions are booming not only because rich people always want expensive things, but because many buyers see fine goods as a good investment hedge in today's shaky times. "There are lots of concerns about debt and inflation and the long term, but jewelry has always been a good store of value," he says. Experts say jewelry auctions are especially booming in China, where newly wealthy entrepreneurs are snapping up top pieces. "Hong Kong is an important sales center for us these days," says Chrissy Banner of Bonhams, which opened a branch there in 2007 and now holds two Hong Kong jewelry auctions per year. "We're seeing quite significant growth in the Asian market." But she adds that super-premium pieces from famous jewelers like Bulgari or Cartier are selling well everywhere. "It seems like many of our wealthy customers are insulated from the economic downturn," Banner says. "Even if they lost money in the stock market, they don't seem fazed."
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