While it remains the auction capital of Asia ("Jolie Gems, Warhol, Wine Lure Billionaires to Hong Kong"), the big houses solicit clients from all over the region by taking items on tour. For Bonhams, the typical circuit starts in Beijing and moves on to Shanghai, Taiwan and Singapore before heading back to the city of towers and mountains.
The market is there. In Hong Kong and Singapore alone, the current average wealth of an individual is $150,000, according to the 2012 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, with 41% of wealthy Asians 45 and younger, according to Accenture's 2012 report. What are these folks doing with all that money? Why, shopping, of course. And for glamour, the auction houses aren't a bad place to do it.
“We hold cocktail parties. We take our clients out to lunch," says Graeme Thompson, a jewelry expert with Bonhams, like the serpent to Eve.
Thompson says he loves his job. He gets to travel around the world, sourcing items for both private and trade clients in Asia. And his clientele is growing, as the demand for fine jewelry rises for investment purposes or simply to wear the stuff.
What works in Asia? “Signed pieces,” he says. “Van Cleef, Cartier, Harry Winston, Graff. Branded jewelry with heritage. These generally tend to be European brands that have a long story.” And, of course, jade.
Popular among Asians are gemstones, not to be confused with the core precious stones, such as diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds. One example: the demantoid garnet. Its name means having a diamond-like luster, and the stone occurs in green to emerald green. It sells well in Asia, Thompson says, particularly the Russian stones from the Ural mountains. The garnet’s shades of green are akin to jade's, yet like a diamond it can disperse light.
Best of all, viewings are open to the public. So even if you can’t afford what’s on display, you can always take a look and see what the future might hold for you.