British-American actress Elizabeth Taylor collected jewels with historic provenance

Date: 17 Feb 2016

Bumblebee Design

Tim Corfield, senior expert at fine and decorative art advisory firm Corfield Morris, says ‘there is a lot of jewellery in the world and most of it is not very good’. 


Who has the best jewellery collections?

Historically the greatest collections have been created by royal families and Maharajahs, but one of the most famous of recent times was that of Elizabeth Taylor, and her collection is worth talking about because she followed some of the key rules for investing. She never bought anything ordinary, and loved pieces with historic provenance.


How do you make a good jewellery investment?

Building a great collection and making a sound investment require care. As someone once said to me ‘there is a lot of jewellery in the world and most of it is not very good’.  As in all areas of art and antiques the trick is to buy the good, preferably the best you can afford. Diamonds, for example, can be traded as any other commodity but once they have been included in a piece of great jewellery, the value of the piece can greatly exceed the value of the stones. It becomes part of a work of art. As with a piece of art a lot depends on who the designer was. Many people collect vintage Cartier pieces for example. But the history of the piece can also add greatly to its value. Great jewellery is often very romantic and the story of its life, and its previous owners important. If you want your jewellery to be a good investment, make sure you buy at the right price. Expert advice can be a good way to start. Many great pieces go through auction, and with experience this can be a good place to buy. However, the uninitiated are often unaware that you have to pay a twenty-five percent ‘buyer’s premium’ on top of the eventual winning bid of anything you buy at auction. Similarly, when selling, you will typically be charged ten percent by the auctioneer. This means that a great piece of jewellery bought at auction, and subsequently sold at auction, needs to be a long-term bet if you are to recover these costs.


Can people make a living out of jewellery investment?

Not easily. For private individuals, successful investment strategy requires a high degree of expertise, which can take a life time to acquire. If you have the funds available it is all too easy to buy pieces, the trick is to be able to sell them for more. This requires access to the retail market which most people don’t have.


Tell us about unusual jewels and how people wear them.

In the Victorian and Deco period many makers created what are known as ‘convertible’ jewels. These make a piece far more versatile so that it can be worn in different ways. For example a tiara, hardly and every day item, could be broken down into several separate elements, perhaps a broach, and a pair of earrings, and even sometimes a necklace. 


What else is important for UHNW clients to know when investing in jewellery?

Think of it as art not just an amalgam of high value materials. Don’t be blinded by the glitz and PR of the big brands creating jewellery today.