On The Square

Saying Yes to Auction

By Bidsquare

Sep 09,2015 | 12:00 EDT

The old adages about buying an engagement ring – that the groom-to-be should walk into his neighborhood jeweler and pick out the biggest ring he can buy with two months’ salary, that it should be a round brilliant cut solitaire on a platinum band, that it must be brand new because no one wants to wear “someone else’s ring” – are getting rather tired, don’t you think?

For many, buying a ring at auction is a somewhat mysterious or even intimidating proposition. Others have simply never entertained the thought. We would like to shine some light on auctions, particularly our triannual Important Jewelry sales here in Chicago’s West Loop, as the ideal place to make this important purchase. Unbeatable value, a full range of style options, the possibility of owning and wearing a true antique: these are a few of the reasons we suggest including an auction house in your search for an engagement ring.

A ring for every taste and budget. Antique or contemporary, classic or off-beat, unsigned or designer: each category was represented with numerous examples in the Leslie Hindman Auctioneers April Fine Jewelry sale. Above, a smattering of our favorites sold between $1,600 and $40,000.

Every item purchased from a retailer, from clothing to cars, has been marked up from its wholesale price. This is simply how the retail sector works. Despite the universality of this business model, buyers are often surprised to learn that jewelry is no exception to the trend. To illustrate it, we decided to do a little investigative journalism. “Shopping” for a 1.50 carat round brilliant diamond of good quality, i.e. ~H color and ~VS2 clarity, at the Jewelers Center building in downtown Chicago, we were quoted $10,000-12,000 and $12,000-15,000 as a guideline at two separate retailers. Subsequently, at a certain esteemed jeweler on Michigan Avenue, we were hard pressed to find a carat and a half for anything less than $29,000. Of course in the latter case, the ring would come in a very lovely little robin’s egg blue box. It’s undeniable that paying a brand premium makes for a very pricey piece of jewelry!

We suspect that few first-time buyers realize their “brand new” stones did not necessarily go straight from the mine to the fingers of their betrothed. In fact, the majority of diamonds available for purchase today have already made the rounds, so to speak; some began their lives as antique cuts and were later recut when modern tools could make them more brilliant and uniform. Some were pulled from diamond pendants or brooches to be given a new look in a modern ring setting. In short, the chance that a retail diamond has been worn by someone else in some form is much higher than most would think.

While some women are opposed to wearing “someone else’s ring,” we have a different take on this quandary: an antique ring that is 100 years old, for example, has likely already been the symbol of at least two different love stories in its lifetime. Why not make yours the third? We suggest that you take it upon yourself to give it a new lease on life as part of your engagement narrative. Diamonds are, as they say, “forever”.

One carat or two? At left, a 1.10 carat round brilliant cut flanked by two smaller round brilliant cuts sold for $4,500 in the most recent Leslie Hindman Auctioneers Fine Jewelry sale; at right, a 2.12 carat round brilliant cut with tapered baguettes sold for $8,125. Both are perfect choices for a classic, timeless ring at two different price points.

Anyone who has ever browsed Leslie Hindman’s Chicago previews or flipped through our catalogues knows that our jewelry auctions certainly do not lack in variety. In any given sale cycle, we see a considerable range of engagement rings, from antique colored stones in intricate Edwardian settings to contemporary diamonds with pavé halos and bands (and every variation in between), with prices ranging from several hundred to several hundred thousand dollars. There really is something for every taste and every budget. And better yet, something unique. Perhaps one of the best reasons to shop at auction is the possibility of finding something truly extraordinary. With an antique piece, the ring most likely won’t be spotted on a dozen other fingers every day. Furthermore, looking at the designs of the major brands in the industry today, it’s clear that everything old eventually becomes new again. The cluster rings of the Victorian era have become today’s halo motifs; the ever-popular baguette cut diamonds of the Art Deco era have remained a feature of contemporary ring mountings. In short, contemporary designers are constantly finding ways to revive and reinvent the styles that have been in place for hundreds of years. So why not get an original piece rather than the newer imitation?

Wedding sets old and new. At left, a platinum engagement ring containing a 1.13 carat old European cut diamond is inscribed with the original wedding date of July 4, 1933. At right, a contemporary take on the traditional solitaire: 1.49 carats with a pave diamond band and matching wedding band. Both lots were featured in the Leslie Hindman Auctioneers April fine jewelry sale and sold for $3,500 and $5,000 respectively.

Once you’ve decided to try the auction route for this important purchase, there is a strategy for walking away with the ring you love. Online auction catalogues become available about three weeks before the sale. There you can view high-resolution photos of each lot and request more information, such as ring size, diamond characteristics, additional photos, etc. (Here are some tips to help you search for your engagement ring at the auction.) During the week before each sale auction houses typically open their doors to the public for a preview, and we will happily take you through the options in person if you are in the area. Come auction day, it’s wise to log in to Bidsquare with a few choices: if one item exceeds your budget, you can fall back on another.

Included in the Leslie Hindman Auctioneers September Important Jewelry sales are a selection of engagement rings of all varieties and price points. Pick out that once in a lifetime purchase - browse and bid now!