Curious Trends with Auction Jewelry

6/29/2013 7:00 AM
By Jennifer Hetrick Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

WYOMISSING, Pa. — Jewelry at auctions has been taking on increasing interest recently, especially costume jewelry. It has more attention-grabbing and unique appeal than most traditional jewelry seen for sale in auction settings.

“We do extremely well with jewelry right now, even costume jewelry — it doesn’t have to be 14-carat gold jewelry or sterling silver,” auctioneer Dick Henry of Wyomissing, Berks County, Pa. said about trends in the auction market lately. “We have had a lot of attention paid to costume jewelry nowadays.”

Henry teaches auctioneering courses at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Berks County, Pa., as a way to help share the art and expertise of auctioneering on the local level.

“A lot of the students I have who go through the auctioneering course have collections of certain things,” Henry said. A considerable number of his students sign up for classes because of their strong gravitation to specific types of items sold at auctions.

“We’ve had students that are into jewelry, precious metals, ephemera and vintage toys,” Henry said. “It’s kind of interesting because that usually leads them into a really strong background and education in certain areas, and they end up getting their auctioneer license and doing really well because they can identify effectively.”

Helping others to become successful auctioneers is something Henry has a zeal for when he isn’t organizing and hosting his own auctions.

“One of the biggest parts of being an auctioneer is product knowledge,” Henry said about the passion of his students leading to achievement in their work. “To know products and values really (well) is a great asset to an auctioneer.”

He sees the value of keeping his eyes on the increasing interest in jewelry at auctions, and teaches his students about this as well.

“Sterling silver and gold jewelry always attract a lot of attention, no matter what,” Henry said.

Any jewelry classified as remotely vintage has a tendency to catch the curiosity of those scoping out jewelry selections at auctions, too.

“Years ago, a tray of costume jewelry might sell for $5 or $6,” Henry said. “But today that same tray of jewelry could sell for anywhere from $40 to $80.”

An auction in Pennsburg, Pa., a few weeks ago, boasted some of this success in higher pricing.

“We had 30 to 35 trays of jewelry, and they did extremely well,” Henry said. “Not every one of them brought in $50 or $60, but several of them did. We had a gemologist appraiser look at them; we do that if we see jewelry that may have gold or silver value to it.”

He said he likes to have jewelry tagged and announced at auction with its specifications after being identified with whether it contains diamonds, rubies or other precious stones and metals.

Henry regards Pennsylvania Auctioneers Association Administrator Kim Hemingway in high esteem, as she is also a graduate gemologist with training through the Gemological Institute of America, based in Carlsbad, Calif.

“Costume jewelry is strong at auctions, but it also really depends on the maker’s name, advertising, its condition and wearability,” said Hemingway, who resides in Perkiomenville, Montgomery County, Pa.

“Condition is huge, especially with estate jewelry in the case where repair costs may be a considerable factor to weigh,” Hemingway said. “Wearability is important, too. Whether a bracelet has a six- or seven-link chain can make a big difference in comfortability, and not having a piece of jewelry flopping around as you move plays a part.”

Hemingway said she has noticed that jewelry pieces that are more petite, eye-catching and not too clunky are attracting serious interest from buyers recently.

“Marketing and advertising photos of the jewelry well is integral also so that you’re doing justice for your consigner, and even the way jewelry is displayed at an auction has an influence,” she said.

Hemingway noted that getting good identification so that advertising is accurate and represented well in publications is sometimes a more difficult part of her work, when she is preparing for auctions in which jewelry is one of the many items up for bid.

She has seen costume jewelry selling sometimes at $3 per piece or $5 per tray, and on other occasions, a glimmeringly unique collection grouped together can sell for $25.

In some instances, Hemingway said she’s witnessed a tray of jewelry sell for up to $500, usually in the circumstance of one or two people bidding back and forth against each other because there’s something in the jewelry’s mix that they adamantly want.

“I personally like costume jewelry because it has more whimsy and more character,” she said. “There is some really fun stuff out there.”

Some women might be less inclined to wear a diamond tennis bracelet because of worrying about damaging or losing it, Hemingway said, but with costume jewelry, there is usually less stress about those possibilities since it’s generally less expensive, so it’s easier to enjoy wearing it.

Carved wood and painted enamel costume jewelry are just a few unique styles within the wide array of variety that Hemingway has glimpsed in her auctioneer work.

“There’s a good amount of people who don’t understand the difference between fine jewelry and costume jewelry,” Hemingway added. “Do your homework, look at marks and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

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