auctioneer presiding over a bid for a necklace
Benoît Repellin at the sale of the 118ct Bulgari sapphire necklace in May © Phillips

Auction house Phillips is launching a new series of jewellery sales in Geneva. Geneva Jewels Auction: ONE is at La Réserve Genève hotel on November 6, and is planned as the first in a continuing series of twice-yearly live jewellery auctions in the Swiss city, in May and November — matching the schedules of rivals Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Phillips will stage a live sale of precious Art Deco objects from a private collection on the same day, with a separate online sale on November 1-9.

“Geneva being the main centre for auctions for luxury, for watches and jewellery, it makes sense to hold sales here,” says Benoît Repellin, worldwide head of jewellery at Phillips, which previously held twice-yearly jewellery sales in the city, between 2005 and 2010. “Obviously, it follows our very strong presence of watches. It’s the natural evolution of our department.”

The launch comes on the back of a period of growth for the company. Phillips held 10 jewellery auctions last year, compared with three in 2018. The total value of jewellery lots sold grew 185 per cent between the first and second halves of 2022.

Founded in London in 1796, the auction house specialises in 20th-century and contemporary art, design, editions and photographs as well as watches and jewellery.

It achieved its highest-ever annual sales total in 2022, realising $1.3bn across all categories — including $227mn from its watch department, which has held live auctions in Geneva since 2015 (the company does not release departmental figures for jewellery). Sotheby’s and Christie’s also announced record sales totals last year, of $8bn and $8.4bn, respectively.

1920s Gérard Sandoz vanity case
1920s Gérard Sandoz vanity case

Phillips currently stages two live jewellery sales a year in Hong Kong, launched in 2016, and two in New York, where it has a longer history of selling but has held regular auctions only since 2018 (as well as online auctions).

It achieved its highest price for a jewel to date with the HK$26,828,000 ($3,425,936) sale of a Bulgari necklace with a 118.35-carat sapphire and diamonds at the company’s new Asia headquarters in Hong Kong in May. This Jewels & Jadeite auction had a sell-through rate of 93 per cent by value and 91 per cent by lot, which Repellin says shows demand from clients.

Repellin joined Phillips from Sotheby’s in February 2022, as head of jewellery for Europe with a remit to develop a strong presence in the continent. He added two jewellery specialists to the team in Geneva, and then stepped up as interim worldwide head of jewellery for the second half of last year — an appointment that was made permanent earlier this year.

Repellin says Phillips has distinguished itself by focusing on jewellery more than gemstones. “We’ve seen in recent years other houses focusing on stones, which obviously is very important and interesting, but we’re lacking also some focus on the jewels,” he says. “Quite a few clients have mentioned that as well, saying Phillips was very good at bringing jewellery collections to the market and not only stones.

“It’s [about] finding the balance, having some stones that are still important for Geneva — clients expect it from a Geneva auction — but having these private collections that can really reflect the evolution of jewellery over time and the specific era when they were made.”

Cartier, enamel and gem set vanity case, 1920s
Tiffany & Co, Onyx, enamel, rock crystal, jade and diamond desk timepiece, 1920s

The sale of precious Art Deco objects from a single owner collection will feature 126 lots, including bejewelled minaudières, lighters and cigarette cases by leading houses. A Tiffany & Co onyx, enamel, rock crystal, jade and diamond desk timepiece from the 1920s is expected to fetch SFr60,000-SFr100,000 ($67,000-$111,000), while a 1920s Cartier enamel and gem-set vanity case carries an estimate of SFr40,000-SFr60,000.

Phillips will take highlights from the collection, and from Geneva Jewels Auction: ONE — which will include signed pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels and Mauboussin — to Paris, London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taipei. It will then stage a presale exhibition for both live sales and the online auction at Hotel President Wilson in Geneva between October 31 and November 5.

The single-owner Art Deco collection is being presented in collaboration with the online platform Understanding Jewellery, whose founders — former Sotheby’s colleagues David Bennett and Daniela Mascetti — will give talks in five of the cities in which the pieces are being shown ahead of the auction.

Grogan Art Deco desk timepiece
Grogan Art Deco desk timepiece

Presentation of the jewels will reflect Repellin’s desire for his department “to be different”, although details are still being finalised. He says he has received feedback during previous exhibitions that Phillips has “a dynamism and energy that is different — it’s a younger vibe”.

Attracting younger jewellery buyers is important to Repellin. He says most buyers are aged over 45, so there is a need to “renew the clients” participating in sales. The department is already attracting a new demographic: 28 per cent of winning bidders in the Hong Kong sale in May had not participated in a Phillips auction before.

Phillips’ Geneva office has been the subject of some unwanted attention, however. In late 2021, the watch department sold a rare Omega Speedmaster Broad Arrow watch, for SFr3,115,500 ($3.4mn), which media reports have since alleged was a fake. Omega has said in a statement that the piece, which it bought for the Omega museum, is an “assembly of mostly authentic Omega components, commonly called a ‘Frankenstein’ watch”, and that it and Phillips had been “the joint victims of organised criminal activity” in this incident. It said an internal investigation had identified three former Omega employees and that it would be pursuing criminal charges. A Phillips spokesperson said the auction house did not offer watches unless it was “100 per cent satisfied about their authenticity” and that “representatives of Omega saw the watch before they purchased it”.

As for its next steps in jewellery sales, Repellin is working on a business plan but declines to disclose projections. “The ambition is really growth and to keep our specificity,” he says.

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