Antique Trader: Finding favor in the fine jewelry market

By Antoinette (Toni) Rahn, Antique Trader

It’s a match made of gems and jewels for husband and wife business partners Seth Holehouse and Anna Lin, and John and Maria Saxon, owners of Fortuna.

The foursome work side-by-side to bring fine jewelry, from all corners of the world, to auction. Recently, Antique Trader caught up with Seth and John ahead of the company’s Spring Jewels Auction, slated for April 6. The two provide insight about their business operation, today’s secondary jewelry market, and three of the company’s principle strategies to good business.

The cover of the March 29, 2017 edition of Antique Trader, which featured an article on Fortuna.

The cover of the March 29, 2017 edition of Antique Trader, which featured an article on Fortuna.

Antique Trader: How did the leadership come together to establish Fortuna? How many years and in what manner has your leadership been involved in the jewelry industry over the years?

Fortuna Team: Fortuna was founded by husband and wife team Seth Holehouse and Anna Lin. Anna graduated from GIA and began her career in the early ’90s. She touched many facets of the industry, from wholesale and retail, to appraisal and sourcing. After marrying Seth, the two of them built a wholesale and retail business that involved sourcing investment quality jewelry and gemstones for high net worth clients in Asia.

We started Fortuna when we started to see how fragmented and risky it was for individuals to sell their jewelry. As Fortuna started to grow, John and Maria Saxon joined as partners, with skill sets that perfectly complimented Seth and Anna. John and Maria both came with a strong background in business development and operations. The two of them have played a critical role in helping grow Fortuna from a small team into a rapidly expanding global operation.

AT: Your no-risk approach to fine jewelry auctions is unique. What are the terms?

John Saxon: The terms are actually very simple and straightforward. After someone consigns their jewelry, our team of specialists will research, photograph, and market the collection to our buyers around the world. If the jewelry does not sell for the minimum price that they agree with, we return it to them with no fees at all.

Often times a client will have a few offers from local buyers before they come to us. We will put their jewelry into the auction with a reserve of their highest offer. It gives them a chance to make even more money, and if it doesn’t sell at auction they can still go back to their original offer. However, in most cases the item ends up selling for more than what they were offered in the first place.

AT: How many auctions do you conduct each year? What types and age of jewelry pieces do you bring before bidders?

JS: We have between four and five auctions per year. We feature all types of fine jewelry, from little Victorian brooches to big Art Deco diamond bracelets. We have a particular strength with signed jewelry from any period, and precious colored stones and diamonds. We focus more on quality than price point as well. We might take in a consignment of a $150 Retro ring in the Midwest, while at the same time be working on a seven figure private sale in Asia.

AT: Professional evaluations are a valuable service. We understand you offer free evaluations, regardless if the owner chooses to consign with your company. Is there a limit to the number of items evaluated, or the frequency, and could you tell us about your appraisers/appraisal process?

Seth Holehouse: We believe that unbiased jewelry valuations are immensely valuable for anyone looking to sell their jewelry. Because of the nature of our business as a public auction house, everything we do is very transparent. We are very honest about what we genuinely feel something is worth in the second hand market. If the client chooses to consign with us, we will work our hardest to get the most value for their jewelry. If they don’t want to consign with us, that is no problem at all.

Because we are only offering our opinion on what an item would be worth in the second hand market, it doesn’t require paperwork or detailed documentation like a normal appraisal that would be used for insurance purposes. For that reason, we have no limits or restrictions on valuations. Often times during the valuation process, we will advise the client on what they can do to get more value for their item. For example, we might recommend they have their diamond or colored stone certified, or help them repair a piece.

On the flip side, if a company offers free ‘appraisals,’ while also trying to buy jewelry, it is a huge red flag. Their goal is to buy low and sell high. People should always be cautious when there is such a strong conflict of interests.

AT: How would you describe the jewelry market today? What types of jewelry are more sought after?

SH: What we are seeing in America is that the generation of serious jewelry buyers is being replaced by a generation that values other things such as travel or experiences. The jewelry industry in America took a major hit in 2008, and while it has come back, it has changed a lot. We have a lot of clients coming to us saying, “I don’t really want my mother’s jewelry. I don’t wear fancy jewelry, and I would rather use the money to pay for my child’s education, or put a down payment on a vacation home.” There are definitely still a lot of strong collectors in the states, but not what there used to be.

In the past decade the Asian markets have become very dominant in the second hand jewelry market. We have been traveling to Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, etc. for nearly a decade, and we have seen major shifts over there.

Our clients have gone from wanting large D Flawless diamonds, to paying top dollar for a rare piece of Cartier Art Deco jewelry. We are continuing to expand into Asia, and we see the Asian market as a critical place for the next generation of serious jewelry buyers. We are very proud to have the ability to help a client in Texas sell their ruby ring to a private collector in Shanghai with no risk at all.

AT: What tips do you recommend for care of jewelry?

JS: It is important that if you have valuable jewelry, you keep updated appraisals. The best care you can have is to be insured when you lose your watch, or put your diamond ring in the dryer on accident and crack the stone. (We have heard it all!) Also make sure the appraiser inspects the prongs of your larger stones. Sometimes prongs can weaken and break, and your diamond can fall out of the mount.

Fortuna’s 3 Keys to Great Business

Integrity. No amount of money is worth sacrificing your integrity for. We genuinely believe that if you always do what is right and honest, everything will work out how it is supposed to.

Always doing what is best for the seller. We have built our business with the mission of giving people the opportunity to sell their jewelry globally, with no risk, and in a completely honest and transparent way. We have seen and heard so many stories of people being taken advantage of when selling jewelry – whether a jeweler switched their stones, or refused to pay them after a sale. Everything someone does, good or bad, eventually catches up with them. Our hope is to leave everyone with a positive feeling that we did our absolute best, to help sell their jewelry.

Do not be afraid of risks. We have had to learn to trust our instincts, and push the business in a certain direction even when others were running the opposite way. We first started going to Asia, it was very expensive and was a little frightening. We trusted our instincts though, and kept at it, and now it has become a major part of our business. Opportunity is often on the other side of the risk. People will give a lot of advice – do this not that – but at the end of the day you have to follow your own instincts.

Published in the March 29, 2017 edition of Antique Trader