Going, Going, Sold: What Really Goes On At An Auction House

Watches & Jewellery

March 14, 2017 | BY Jessie Ho

Christie's Hong Kong is the city’s most trusted for fine jewellery and antiques


Christie's Hong Kong Week Sale in 2016 (Photo: Courtesy of Christie's Hong Kong)

It’s not often that you’ll find invaluable, world-renowned treasures as the prizes in a high-stake competition, but that’s exactly what happens in an auction house.

Christie’s Hong Kong knows this better than anyone, having been the market leader of high jewellery auctions for 23 consecutive years. Over their history, they’ve handled some truly striking collections—like those of HRH The Princess Margaret, actress Elizabeth Taylor and the family collection of K’ung Hsiang-Hsi.

See also: Van Cleef & Arpels Unveils Multisensory Jewellery Experience In Hong Kong

But you don’t have to be a celebrity to try your hand at buying or selling at an auction house. The first step is as simple as getting in touch for a valuation. To break down the process, we spoke to Associate Vice-President May Lim, a jewellery specialist at Christie’s, to demystify what really goes on behind the scenes at an auction house.


Christie's Hong Kong Week sale in 2016 (Photo: Courtesy of Christie's Hong Kong)

What is the process of sourcing and valuation like?
Sourcing the item typically takes up the most time, about half a year, and occurs all around the world as well as locally in Hong Kong. For valuation, all of our specialists have years of appraisal experience so they can value jewellery as well as jadeite items.

What are you looking for when someone brings you a piece or collection to valuate?
We look for rare and unique items that our clients might be interested in.


A customer chats to a specialist at the Christie's showroom (Photo: Courtesy of Christie's Hong Kong)

What should people know beforehand when they bring you pieces/collections for a valuation?
Clients should trust our years of experience and expertise during the valuation. Christie’s is the world’s leading art business and has been the auctioneer of choice for rare jewellery for over 23 years. 

What is the most interesting piece you have ever valuated or sold?
I think the most memorable collection that we’ve sold in Hong Kong was the K’ung Hsiang-Hsi family collection. It brought in an astronomical US$14.6 million—the pre-sale estimate was only US$2-2.9 million. The auction room was so lively and the bids came in so quickly, the auctioneer couldn’t catch them all at the same time!

3428_4 copy.jpg

Jewellery from the family collection of K'ung Hsiang-Hsi (Photo: Courtesy of Christie's Hong Kong)

Where do you find the most unique pieces?
Our specialists travel all around the world—Geneva, New York, Taipei, Singapore, Tokyo, Bangkok, to name a few! We never know where the next great collection will come from. 

Christie’s holds a number of world record-breaking sales—what are some of the most memorable?
Besides setting world records, we’ve also broken our own. We set the record in 2013 for highest world auction price for a ruby necklace with a Burmese ruby and diamond necklace (87.78 carats) sold at HK$49 million. But then in 2015, we broke that same record with a 120 carats Burmese ruby and diamond necklace sold for HK$100 million.

spring 2015.JPG

The world record-breaking 120-carat necklace auctioned in 2015 (Photo: Courtesy of Christie's Hong Kong)

How does Christie’s find these amazing pieces or collections?
We have a team of 25 top specialists who each have an average of 20 years’ experience. We’ve also developed a thorough knowledge of the international market, along with worldwide connections to potential bidders. Plus, clients benefit from our longstanding experience in putting together the most attractive and carefully curated selection of jewellery.

Why should people bring you pieces or collections to auction?
The successful transition of art from consignor to buyer is of paramount importance to us. Whether you are looking to buy, sell, or build a collection, our international jewellery specialists can recommend the best strategy for your needs.

Christie’s is now accepting valuations of all high and collectable jewellery for their upcoming Hong Kong Week sale, taking place on May 30 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. For more information, see christies.com/hk or contact May Lim at +852 2978 9925 or hkjewels@christies.com

See also: 5 Reasons to Visit The World's Largest Jewellery Marketplace by HKTDC

Stay connected with us on our Facebook page.