This year, 75% of Christie’s auctions will take place online. Violaine d’Astorg, director of the jewelry department in Paris, who is passionate about this format and whose last sale was a record breaker, tells us more…
Sandrine Merle. In Paris your sales are 100% online. In December 2021, the last one fetched €10 million…
Violaine d’Astorg. It even surpassed the legendary sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s collection in 2011 at $9.5 million. How could I have ever imagined that? The sale also broke the record for a jewelry sale (catalogued or online) in France as well as the world record for online sales in general. For the sake of comparison, my first digital sale in 2019 made $5,9 million. And between the two, a Fouquet necklace with a rectangular aquamarine in the center sold for €980,000, more than double its estimate ($380,000). It had not been seen since an exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the 1980s and is featured on the cover of a landmark book on Art Deco.
S.-M. Isn’t it frustrating to follow a sale like the Fouquet necklace from behind your computer?
Violaine d’Astorg. True enough, I’d always imagined my world record in a crowded, overheated room, with an auctioneer bringing down his hammer… Especially since Christie’s auctioneers are big names! Instead, I attended the Fouquet auction from behind my computer, while online with the seller. It was very moving.
S.-M. Are some sellers still reluctant to go digital?
Violaine d’Astorg. No because they understand it’s the ideal format to showcase their jewelry. You can use more photos than ever to present the pieces – front, back, ¾ and the item actually being worn. You can also see the hallmark and the signature where applicable. Above all it means unprecedented worldwide visibility, with a phenomenal pool of buyers. Thanks to social networks like Instagram, we can even reach those who do not receive the catalog. Buyers no longer need to travel the world to see and pay for a $40,000 piece of jewelry, and of course nothing is affected by Covid. In my last sale, I had 10,400 new IP addresses connected from 38% different nationalities. In the end, 64 of the buyers were foreign. That’s saying a lot…
S.-M. So in your opinion, online sales were what all these buyers were waiting for.
Violaine d’Astorg. Buyers from Russia, China and the Middle East have fallen in love with this tool, which has suddenly given them total independence. Thanks to the photos, they can fully understand the jewelry. And contrary to some people’s fears, they don’t get bored of the coveted piece because the sale lasts 12 days instead of a few minutes in the hall. Online, they can click and click again, they can slug it out… Just before the closing, there’s a 3-minute extension for each new bid. Believe me, online sales get people going just as much!
S.-M. How have the cards been reshuffled between Hong Kong, New-York and Geneva?
Violaine d’Astorg. The Paris jewelry sales are now 100% online. In Hong-Kong, New-York and Geneva, alongside online sales, we still have great events – unmissable occasions where buyers and sellers from all over the world physically meet. That’s where you’ll find the star jewels, the historical pieces like the pair of bracelets that belonged to Marie-Antoinette. Our sales are very much complementary to that.
S.-M. You were afraid of losing sight of the human side of your job, but that’s not how things worked out…
Violaine d’Astorg. Paradoxically, it’s quite the opposite. Thanks to digital technology, the average age of buyers has decreased and since they know how to use What’sApp, Zoom, Teams, they call me more. This means they get more and more personalized service: if you saw me during the exhibitions before the sales (which remain physical), I have become a real personal shopper, all day long I try on bracelets or tiaras, drape a necklace on a tall brunette, or place rings on the delicate hands of a young blonde. I also organize a photoshoot to show how to wear vintage jewelry today. It’s quite a production! The jewel then has no more secrets for the buyer, he is reassured. For now, I’m happy with this format, I wouldn’t want things to return to the way they were before.