Your cheat sheet to navigating auctions

Ahead of Christie's Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence auction in New York on June 19, during which nearly 400 diamonds, coloured stones and bejewelled objects from the Al Thani collection will be sold, we speak to three experts on how to buy jewellery at auction.

Vickie Sek, chairman of the jewellery department, Christie's Asia

Know your objective: Are you buying because you love collecting, or as an investment? Acknowledge the difference before you bid on a piece, because only then will you know how much you're willing to spend.

Learn about the piece's provenance: Provenance is the history of ownership. It can include auction houses, dealers, or galleries that have sold an item. A lot of the time, if a piece was worn or owned by royals, socialites or celebrities, its estimated auction price will skyrocket. Do your research and know what you’re getting for your money.

Research the gemstones: It’s important to verify the source of an auction piece's gemstones. Look up their origin, including the suppliers and mines they came from. During the preview, examine each jewel's colour, clarity and saturation, as well as any treatments they may have had over the years.

Paul Redmayne-Mourad, head of sales for the jewellery department, Bonhams Asia

Buy what you like–not what’s trending: If you buy from the heart, a) You will get more use from the piece you’re buying and b) if and when you come to sell the piece, there’s a high chance that you’ll find a like-minded buyer versus buying something that’s “hot” now.

Attend the auction preview: This takes place in the run-up to the sale. Make sure you see the items in and, when appropriate, on the flesh. While you’re there, take full advantage of the auction specialist’s knowledge and experience. Remember that you’re talking to a passionate expert. They are a walking encyclopedia and better than any Google search.  

Get a grading report: Ask for and study a copy of the piece's certification and make sure it comes from a reputable laboratory, such as the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) for white and coloured diamonds and AGL (American Gemological Laboratories) for coloured gemstones. Large international auction houses insist on reports issued by these laboratories.

Yvonne Chu, deputy director and jewellery specialist, Sotheby's Asia

Buy the best you can afford: Go for quality rather than quantity. Always buy quality pieces that you love and would definitely wear.

When buying via an online auction, look at photos from different angles for relative scale: Buying online is challenging because you often don’t get to see the pieces in person. Look through the various photos from various angles to make sure you know how big (and beautiful) the piece actually is.

Go through all the lots before placing your bids: Go through the whole selection that's on offer before placing your bids to ensure you don’t miss the more attractive lots towards the end.

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