Collecting Guide

Buying Jewelry

Auctions provide an easy and efficient way to buy jewelry. You are welcome to visit a Christie's pre-auction viewing to examine and learn more about the jewelry on offer. You can try on the jewels and consult a Jewelry Specialist about your choice. Check our Auction Calendar to find dates and times of a Christie's pre-auction viewing near you. Please also visit How to Buy for further information about buying at auction.

We recommend that you speak to a Christie's specialist before purchasing a piece of jewelry, so that the following factors can be discussed:

Signs of wear on an older piece are expected. They often underscore the authenticity of antique jewels. More extensive wear may require minor work, such as retipping worn prongs to secure the stone. Always bear in mind that any alteration, repair, or change of use of a jewel may affect the integrity of the piece. Detailed condition reports are available upon request.

A well-made piece of jewelry is as beautiful in the front and the back. Like the lining of a couture dress, the reverse of a jewel provides perhaps the best clue to good craftsmanship. Look for a light and regular mount that uses the minimum of metal, with a smooth and careful finish. Check the flexibility and suppleness of articulation so that the jewel 'sits' well.

The basics of successful design are a good use of color, balance of materials and attractive proportions. A piece should also be practical and wearable.

Gemological certificate
Today this is almost a prerequisite to the purchase of any important gem. This document describes the exact nature of the stone. The value of colored stones may also depend on their geographical origin. It is important to note that some laboratories are more internationally recognized than others.

Precious metals are rarely used in their pure form in jewelry, but are mixed with other metals to produce a more suitable alloy. The hallmark is the most obvious clue to the quality of the metal in a jewel. Look for hallmarks on clasps, tongue pieces, inside shanks or discreetly stamped elsewhere on a jewel.

Maker's marks
In some cases, these provide further evidence of a manufacturer's identity. They take varying forms, usually including the initials of the maker and an identifying symbol.

The value of a gemstone hinges on its basic identity such as beauty, rarity, quality, and provenance. Quality is determined by the degree of the famous '4 Cs'—Color, Clarity, Cut and Carat. For more on the 4 Cs, see the Diamond Guide. See also gemological certificate and hallmark.

An illustrious history of ownership always adds a premium to the value of a jewel. Without the provenance, the diamond eternity ring given to Marilyn Monroe by Joe Di Maggio in 1954 would have been worth approximately $3,000. Celebrity ownership ensured a price of $772,000 at Christie's New York (1999).

Owning a signed jewel is always an advantage as this provides further proof of quality and authenticity. Signatures only consistently appeared after World War I, and even today a jewel of exquisite craftsmanship and value may not be signed. Signatures can be engraved or stamped directly onto the jewel. They are often accompanied by a number (the design or archive reference.) Preeminent jewelers have presented their pieces in signed cases since the end of the 18th century.

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