To Buy or Not to Buy

By Penny Brittain

I was quite surprised whilst speaking with a young friend recently, to hear her talk about her experience of buying a piece of jewellery at auction. Having worked in and around the auction world throughout my career, I may well have become inured to the difficulties and I imagine for many the buying experience is pretty straightforward and presents no great problem.

Not so I gather! I heard the words, daunting, intimidating, scary, from a most savvy City highflyer who I doubt is seldom daunted by anything.

I am intrigued and decide to investigate the auction scenario through the eyes of an auction novice. To set the scene I too have decided I would like to buy jewellery - a diamond bracelet due to come under the hammer shortly. I have seen a picture in the catalogue, I like what I see and along with the printed description there is an auction estimate. All very easy and helpful.

Unlike buying online, I feel it a necessity to examine and handle the piece for myself and to try it on to make sure it sits nicely on my wrist. I checkout the viewing days and times, and set off to the saleroom.

Parking is easy (for this example we are attending a well- known provincial saleroom) and I head for the main doors and Reception. There is a lot of activity and footfall around me but no actual signage to tell me where to go. Ahead is a pair of swing doors so following the flow I find myself in a large purpose built saleroom well laid out with a rostrum and banks of glass display cabinets. Around the cabinets is a throng of people viewing the jewellery and I stand towards the back of a three-deep row of people patiently waiting my turn to view. It doesn’t happen, a little more thrust is needed and indeed a bit of an elbow and a push is required to move forward. Success, standing in front of the counter I ask one of the viewing ladies if I can view the diamond bracelet. ‘What lot number?’ she enquires. I don’t have a catalogue so don’t know the lot number. She offers me a counter copy of the very well-illustrated catalogue with a request to return it once I have looked through it. Armed with the lot number I catch her attention eventually, but this takes time and I am beginning to feel a little hot and cross. I notice a lot of dealers viewing the lots systematically making notes on scruffy bits of paper and a few private buyers looking to buy for themselves.

Having satisfied myself that I like the bracelet I decide I would like to check out some details particularly the provenance, a possible date and if I am likely to buy it for the guide price. There is no one available to come out and talk to me but there is a possibility that someone might be free to take a call later and I leave the saleroom feeling somewhat frustrated. I have however registered my interest I have my bidding number and an approximate time when my lot is due to be sold.

Later that evening I call a jewellery specialist friend and ask for advice as to price and I am advised it’s a good buy at the estimate £600-800 but not to forget the buyer’s premium which will add a further 22% plus vat to the hammer price. So if I am successful the total price to pay would be £758.40 (£600 plus 22% buyers premium and vat on the premium).

Overnight I make the decision to ring the saleroom and ask if I might book a telephone line so that I can bid on the phone. I think it will take the pressure off the event and prevent me from getting carried away when bidding. I am advised that someone in the saleroom will call me five lots ahead of the lot and an approximate time to expect the call. With the advent of online bidding the auctioneer aims to sell around 100 Lots an hour.  I am also advised that they will do what they can to get through to me but if unsuccessful I must accept responsibility if I miss my lot.

I am surprised to feel butterflies as the designated time approaches. When the call comes I can hear the auctioneer selling in the background. The bidding starts pretty close to my ceiling, they complete the bidding in the room and then I am asked if I want to bid. A slight hesitation I have one bid in hand will it go on, I bid and hear the gavel go down to the phone, I am successful.

Phew yes it was a bit of a marathon. It took up the best part of a day and in a world where we can source and buy anything at the press of a key it does seem a bit labour intensive. But I am really pleased with my buy I am confident that I have paid a good price and less than retail and if ever there should be a query regarding authenticity I can return it to the saleroom.

So here are a few handy tips to help the auction process for you -

  • 1. Satisfy yourself by viewing the sale and handling the lots you want to buy.

  • 2. Check for damage or old repairs and with jewellery, stone settings and clasps.

3. Ask staff questions.  They are knowledgeable and will fill in information where they can.

4. Fix a price you are prepared to pay and establish an approximate time it will be sold.

5. Find out when the lot needs collecting and being paid for.

6. The saleroom can usually arrange transport and if necessary export overseas.

7. Prior to the sale register to bid and you will be given a unique bidding number.

8. If you are unable to attend the sale book a telephone line or bid online yourself.

9. On sale day leave plenty of time to park missing your lot can be very annoying.

10. Take plenty of wrapping for breakables.

11. Don’t leave saleroom purchases in identifiable saleroom bags on view in the car.

12. And finally if buying good jewellery get it insured!

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