Jewelry and watches intertwine with contemporary works of art at fairs and auctions
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London’s Frieze Art Fair always draws the big and the good of the gallery world, but this year’s event is also firmly stamped in the diary of jeweler Cindy Chao. On October 11, her bespoke aquatic coral earrings will be auctioned off at the Art of Wishes charity gala, the proceeds of which will be donated to Make-A-Wish, the charity that helps make wishes come true. children with serious illness.
Chao’s jewelry will share the auction block with works by contemporary artists, including Jenny Saville, known for her paintings of nude women, and Kaws, the American graffiti artist. The earrings will be the only jewelry in the live auction.
Chao’s inclusion in the event, to be held at the Natural History Museum, highlights the trend of cross-collecting in both cultural spheres – where jewelry appeals to art collectors and vice versa.
Batia Ofer, the billionaire London art collector and founder of the Art of Wishes, believes that contemporary art and jewelry “definitely exist side by side”. Ofer says that, unlike traditional buyers, she doesn’t buy jewelry because of the value of the stones. “I look at the craftsmanship, what inspired the jeweler and how he combined the materials and colors,” she says. “There is so much creativity in the process. “
The earrings created for the association by Chao, whose company in Shanghai employs 12 people, bear witness to this. Set in a mixture of sapphires, emeralds and diamonds, they are inspired by a painting by Mark Rothko belonging to Ofer. “It makes the story more meaningful,” Chao says. “The collaborative journey was a conversation through art.”
Although they have never met in person, Chao and Ofer have mutual friends, most of whom are art collectors. “A common thread with my clients, besides being successful in their own businesses, is that they have a strong artistic aesthetic in terms of collecting – be it painting, sculpture, wine,” says Chao. “It’s a very sophisticated level.
Chao’s earrings have an estimated retail price of between £ 160,000 and £ 220,000, but the connection between jewelry and art is not found only with the big ticket items.
Since 2020, Phillips Asia has been running a series of cross-category online auctions called Intersect, where contemporary art, watches and jewelry are sold in a single auction.
Lots are cheaper than at a live auction, and many works of art are edition prints – with pieces by Kaws, Banksy, and Yayoi Kusama particularly popular. The September Intersect grossed over HK $ 30.7 million ($ 3.94 million), beating the March Intersect sale by 46% with all lots sold. Sixty percent of buyers were from Asia and just over 40 percent were under 40. Half of the buyers were new to Phillips.
The success of Intersect, says Graeme Thompson, global head of jewelry at Phillips, reflects changing tastes, especially in Asia where jewelry is seen as a luxury lifestyle offering inspired by art. and contemporary design (at Phillips, half of jewelry buyers in the world buy in its other categories, predominantly contemporary).
Buyers in Asia are increasingly making their money in tech, finance and cryptocurrency, Thompson notes, and have money to spend on luxury goods. These assets are seen as “a store of wealth and certainly something they derive pleasure from,” he says. “They are a topic of discussion and tell a story. You can show them to your friends. This is particularly relevant for buyers of luxury assets today.
Intersect jewelry reflects art. “It’s a bit colorful – which resonates a lot with our buyers, especially art buyers – and, more importantly, the jewelry is easy to wear,” adds Thompson. “It doesn’t have to be a black tie, chandelier-type jewelry. It can be for a chic lunch restaurant that looks great and has a fantastic piece of jewelry to go with an outfit.
Sotheby’s also credits the Asian market for paving the way for cross-collection, the result of a logistics accident. Sotheby’s Hong Kong groups its auction categories into two seasons, while Europe and the United States have separate departments, often with their own separate auction calendars. But the Hong Kong auction house found that mixing Indian ink paintings and contemporary art with jewelry worked surprisingly well.
“People thought it was so much fun,” says Patti Wong, president of Sotheby’s Asia. “Collecting today must be fun. It can’t just be: “Let’s read tons of books, dig deep and attend every museum exhibit.” “It’s more of an experience – we try to make collecting a much more part of the lifestyle, with a pleasure of discovering other categories all the time and discovering new things.”
This opening works in both directions. In May, Sotheby’s became the first major auction house to accept payment by cryptocurrency for a work of art (Banksy’s Love is in the air), which inspired Wong to extend the payment method to diamond purchases. In July, a 101.38-carat diamond was purchased this way for HK $ 95.1 million – the highest price for any jewelry or gemstone purchased with cryptocurrency. The buyer, Wong notes, would never have bought jewelry at auction before.
Contemporary developments are reflected in cross-collection sales. The Art of Wishes auction will feature a non-fungible token for the first time; while many lots have been chosen to highlight the social issues. Ofer says that Rashid Johnson Untitled Anxious Red recalls last year’s protests against the murder of George Floyd, while the inclusion of Chao is important because it helps raise awareness of the stigma some people have attached to Asians after the emergence of Covid.