Sotheby’s opening extends appetite for diamonds in Dubai

An upcoming sale at Sothebys in Switzerland of the world’s most expensive earrings, previewed in Dubai, showed the passion for jewellery in the Middle East

Suspended in a glass case in Sotheby’s new exhibition space in Dubai are two coloured diamonds – one blue, one pink.

Named the ‘Apollo and Artemis Diamonds’, the diamonds were gifts, given for the birth of a son and a daughter, explains Clarisse Mariotti, who works in the jewellery department of the auction house.

With the children now grown, their mother has decided to put the earrings on the market, and in doing so, bringing to sale what could be the most important earrings ever to appear at auction.

Offered separately as individual lots, ‘The Apollo Blue’ will be presented with an estimate of US$38 to 50m, and ‘The Artemis Pink’ is estimated between US$12.5 to 18m. Though both sold at auction in Geneva in May, the fact that they have made the journey to Dubai ahead of the sale speaks to the weight that Sotheby’s has given the city in terms of its importance for their customer base.

“It was really our clients who wanted this space – there was a demand and appetite there,” says Katia Nounou, Director and Head of Office of Sotheby’s Dubai.

“They kept on asking us, we thought instead of constantly acquiring hotel rooms and conference rooms we should have a space of our own so we can do all these events – from previews of sales to educational events, to panel discussions.”

As well as fine art, jewellery is a big focus for the auction house, says Nounou.

“We have a huge jewellery buyer client list here, due in part to the proximity to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which typically are countries from which there are many important buyers.”

“The 1970s saw a massive growth from buyers in the Middle East,” comments David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery.

apollo artemis blue pink diamonds
The Apollo and Artemis blue and pink diamonds, estimated to be the most expensive earrings ever offered at auction

“Which means that we are starting to see sellers from the next generation.”

One of the highlights of his job, he says, is giving estimates for pieces whose owners had no idea what they inherited. For Nounou, it is seeing a potential customer being educated about the stones.

“We had a recent educational event in the space here in Dubai, and watching the women be taught how to look at diamonds through a loop – they were so excited.”

Though Bennett sees little difference in tastes according to region, apart from an appetite for affordable jewellery in New York; for Nounou, the evidence is on the streets.

“We see a tendency to wear their big statement pieces here, as often women feel more comfortable wearing those kinds of pieces here rather than London, or New York. As a result, the bolder, flashier pieces tend to sell very well.”

When the stones finally come to auction, they are being sold in a very different landscape to the past. Bennett indicates that the number of telephone bids has risen exponentially, as well as online auctions.

While he doesn’t see the physical auction waning any time soon, noting that in Geneva the evening auction is very much a social event – Bennett stresses the importance of small educational spaces like these in increasing knowledge around fine jewellery. 

“The company has taken a major step forward in something I’ve put forward for ten years,” he says. “Our plans are ultimately to increase the understanding of jewellery and bring a new level of knowledge to what is already a very sophisticated buying market.”