“It’s quite an operation”: behind-the-scenes at a Monte-Carlo jewellery auction

Monte-Carlo Meeting

The latest Artcurial jewellery auction is an array of Cartier necklaces, six-figure rings, and Monaco residents queuing-up to get their hands on them. But what does auctioning millions-worth of jewellery actually look like? 

There are places in Monaco where a single step can take you back in time. One such place is the Hôtel Hermitage in Monte-Carlo. Here, the Belle-Époque – those thirty years that made Monte-Carlo the gambling capital of the world – still lives in the stained-glass domes and gilded stuccos. 

In the viewing room of the Hôtel Hermitage, however, guests are concerned with another kind of dream of luxury. Below the gilded ceilings, hundreds of jewels, from gold cuffs to diamond and sapphire sets are exhibited in velvet-lined glass displays. To the newcomer, the necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings are as dazzling as the crown jewels. 

How do you transport jewellery worth millions?

Behind such an impressive scene is an intricate security network that starts long before the auction week. “All the jewellery that is consigned in Monaco is first sent to Paris to be photographed and is then exhibited for Artcurial’s Parisian clientele,” explains Louise Gréther, Director of Artcurial Monaco. The lots, which have a combined worth of several million euros, are transported to the French capital thanks to a specialised transport company.  

The jewellery doesn’t actually stay in Monaco overnight

After the jewellery has been photographed and exhibited in Paris, the lots travel back to Monaco. During the auction week, jewels are on show from Sunday to Tuesday, and they are auctioned off on Wednesday. Despite Covid-19, Louise Gréther says that all has gone smoothly, apart from a last-minute 7pm curfew that forced Artcurial to move back viewing hours by an hour. 

Every evening during the auction week, the transport company takes the items away to a secret location, bringing them back the next morning. “The jewellery doesn’t actually stay in Monaco overnight – actually I have no idea where it stays,” admits Louise Gréther. “Moving the items back and forth is quite an operation. It requires an awful lot of concentration, because we cannot lose or damage any pieces. They have to be packed correctly every evening. For our staff, the manual labour involved is extraordinary,” says Louise Gréther.  

Who owns this jewellery?

The highlight of this year’s Artcurial jewellery auction is the “property of a lady” collection, which includes a 1925 Cartier necklace with coral beads sculpted “à la chinoise”, a Cartier choker made out of 12 diamond-encrusted panthers and a yellow diamond ring worth between 380,000 and 420,000 euros. “All the pieces in the collection were bought by a man for his wife,” explains Louise Gréther. “He had fabulous taste, you can tell that every piece was offered with great passion and love for her.”  

Let the bidding begin!

At the 2pm Wednesday auction, bidders are fighting over corsage clips. Some wear jewellery that is almost identical to the pieces on display. A few lots in, a buyer joins the bidding half-way through, announcing a sum much above the estimated price of the item. Within a few minutes, a Cartier clip in the shape of a turtle and a “tousled” lion with emerald eyes by Van Cleeef & Arpels go for just under 5,500 euros each. Another clip by Van Cleef & Arpels – this one is flower-shaped and dates back to 1968 – sells for 13,650, three times its estimated price. 

At 5pm, eyes are back on the property of a lady collection. A Cartier rosary necklace with a removable cross sells for just over 44,000 euros. Then come the Chinese bead necklace, sold for 104,000 euros, the panther necklace – the hammer falls at 110,500 – and the yellow diamond ring – unsold. 

>> READ MORE: Monaco’s auction houses adapt, as Covid changes buyer habits