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The idea of jewellery as investment is a global one: Lisa Hubbard

The senior adviser to Christie's jewellery department on the wealth retention capacity of jewellery

Lisa Hubbard. Photo courtesy Saffronart
Lisa Hubbard. Photo courtesy Saffronart

Lisa Hubbard, senior adviser to Christie’s jewellery department, believes jewellery makes for good investment. With her years of experience at Sotheby’s and now Christie’s, Hubbard should know.

Prior to her talk at the Saffronart conference, “The Timeless Legacy Of Indian Jewels", on 6 October, Hubbard shared her insights with Lounge. Using examples of auctioned items, she illustrated how this most personal of the decorative arts can appreciate over time. The trick lies in knowing what to look for, and, equally, careful due diligence. Auctions, unlike retail, are a fine source of rare and high-quality gemstones and signature pieces with a rich provenance, she says.

In 1993, the 78.54-carat Archduke Joseph diamond sold for $6.4 million (around Rs42.4 crore now). Nineteen years later, the same colourless diamond came up at a Christie’s auction and sold for a staggering $21.5 million. But while white diamonds never go out of fashion, the effort, Hubbard recommends, should be to acquire a rarer pink or blue diamond. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What should the checklist be for wise investments in jewellery?

You have to look. The more you see, the more polished your eye, the more interesting your taste. You have to be willing to invest a certain amount of time learning. All the information is available on the internet, in the hands of a salesperson you trust, in museums and at auction houses. Beyond that, try to find things distinguished from other things—so brand is important, whether contemporary or jewellery of the past; it should be something someone put their name on because that’s an extra stamp of approval and increases confidence. Find something in great condition.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but you want to buy the best that you can afford. If it’s a diamond, then you can either buy an off-colour, imperfect diamond or one that is smaller but of good colour. Of the two, the better quality will at least hold its value, if not appreciate. Rarity, provenance, style, signature—these are things that you should tick off as you look. And then you have to learn self-discipline. But there are no short cuts.

Do you believe jewellery makes for good investment?

The idea of jewellery as investment is a global one. It is a tangible, transportable asset with value around the world. And that is why people have tended towards gemstones more than jewels, because all jewels are not popular in all periods of time, but I am yet to find a period that did not love emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. I don’t talk about jewellery as an investment that pays you a regular dividend. It is a generational hold that can make a lot of money. I think of it more as wealth retention.

The definition of jewellery is much wider than personal- use trinkets...

Yes, conventionally we think about the core—a pair of earrings, a ring, a bracelet. But if you look at the best collectors and collections, they tend to come from those households where the husband is just as interested as the wife, or is interested in jewellery beyond just giving her a few things to wear. That’s when there is much more depth and breadth to the collection. Take the Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII): He was absolutely fascinated by jewellery and, as a consequence, before they were married, he gifted the future duchess (Wallis Simpson) beautiful pieces from Van Cleef & Arpels.

What is your take on modern jewellery and its future?

People are too casual these days, which is a problem for jewellery designers. Nobody dresses up any more. So how do you create something that is important and goes with today’s lifestyle? Fortunately, lifestyles in India, the Middle East and Asia are different from the US. Weddings are still a major reason to buy jewellery. There are still very grand lifestyles, so jewellers are not completely on their knees yet.

Sure, everyone still wears jewellery, but it has become generic and I suggest you don’t buy that if you are interested in investment because while it might be fun to wear, it has no timelessness.... I really have no idea where jewellery is going, but I do know there will always be people looking for things no one else has.

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