Wenhao Yu, Sotheby’s deputy chairman for jewellery in Asia, sits down with JNA to talk about various initiatives to expand the auction house’s reach in the Asian market.
Sapphire and diamond ring
A pair of sapphire and diamond earrings
A 10.64-carat fancy vivid purplish-pink internally flawless diamond ring
Jadeite brooch by Anna Hu
‘Dunhuang Pipa’ necklace by Anna Hu
‘The Spectacular’ 88.22-carat oval diamond
Demand for valuable jewellery pieces remains solid in Asia, according to Wenhao Yu, deputy chairman for jewellery in Asia at Sotheby’s. The challenge however lies in meeting the needs of a more discerning clientele through multipronged strategies.
JNA: How did the fine jewellery sector perform in 2019?
Wenhao Yu: We continue to witness high demand for rare jewellery pieces among Asian collectors. In 2019, demand was strong for exceptional colourless diamonds such as an 88.22-carat oval brilliant diamond, which fetched US$13.8 million at one of our auctions. Rare, top-quality fancy colour diamonds are still highly sought after, with the blue, pink and yellow variants being the most popular. Red, green and violet diamonds are also favoured by connoisseurs.
Signed pieces by leading jewellery houses also performed well. The market is likewise transitioning from traditional jadeite jewellery pieces to more modern designs as demonstrated by young collectors bidding on such items. Outstanding private collections are continuously preferred.
The main challenge is sourcing. The supply of top diamonds and gems is declining but there is also the constant need to create surprises season after season to impress our increasingly sophisticated collectors. That’s where Sotheby's strengths come into play. Leveraging our extensive global network and specialists' in-depth knowledge of the evolving market, we are well-positioned to assist clients with both their buying and selling decisions.
JNA: Do you see these trends continuing in 2020?
Yu: The jewellery market in Asia has seen exceptional growth over the past three decades and we expect the growing interest in and demand for top-quality offers to continue. Distinguished private collections will remain popular in 2020. Jewellery is now widely recognised as a wearable form of art and not just an ornament. Collectors are paying more attention to high-quality designer jewellery pieces.
JNA: How do you plan to further grow the Asian market?
Yu: Asia has great potential. Our goal is to better engage with an ever-expanding audience and keep extending our reach through a number of initiatives. Educational programmes attract a younger and more diverse clientele. We aim to share world-class expertise on a wide range of topics from jewellery appreciation to jewellery collection through lectures, sessions and exhibitions. Last December, Sotheby's supported the first major exhibition in China of antique European jewellery, gold boxes and objects of vertu spanning four centuries. It was aimed at cultivating interest in antique western jewellery among Chinese collectors. We also want to promote jewellery for generations. Passing down jewellery through generations is still a relatively new concept in Asia. It's an area that we are keen to grow. We will also continue to place emphasis on jadeite jewellery, which has a strong following in Asia, and bring this category to the international arena. Modern jadeite jewellery designs catering to younger buyers is a rising trend.
Another directive is to foster innovation through partnerships and collaborations. We constantly identify talented jewellery designers in the region to work with us.
We also aim to make strides on the digital front. With our improved online auction engine and new digital tools, it is now easier for our clients to bid and consign with us online. We foresee continued growth in the number of online-only sales and a higher level of online bidding at our live auctions.
Social media is another important client-engaging platform for Sotheby's. Jewellery is among the most followed category. Over the last two years, 25 per cent of the best-performing posts on our Instagram account were jewellery-related.