The Value of Rubies

Rubies are among the most popular and historically significant gemstones used in jewelry—documented to have been transported and traded along the North Silk Road of China as early as 200 BC. Rubies have always been held in high esteem in ancient Asian cultures, and with the emergence of Western culture, the gemstone was often associated with medieval European royalty as a symbol of their wealth. With varying shades of red, rubies are still prized today for their hardness and vividness. The most in-demand rubies are among the most expensive gemstones.

Are Rubies Rare?

Some rubies are rarer than diamonds and among the rarest gemstones in the world. Large, deep red rubies of gemstone quality, for example, are very scarce, as are Burmese rubies. However, smaller rubies that have been treated or lab-grown are not rare at all. 

Fine Burmese Ruby and Diamond Bracelet (Lot 2087, November 2020 Jewels & Watches Auction)
Ruby and Diamond Swirl Necklace and Eternity Band (Lot 2070, 2071, November Jewels & Watches Auction)

Where Are Rubies Found?

Rubies have historically been mined in South Asia. For many hundreds of years, Burma — now known as Myanmar — was where most of the world’s rubies were found. Today, rubies from this region are rarer, but the gemstones are still mined in the area as well as in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Some rubies have even been found in the United States.  

Burmese rubies are among the finest and rarest stones in the world. Prized for their deep red color, the importation of the stone was actually banned in the US until 2017 to put pressure on the Myanmar government. The ban was lifted in 2017 and so the demand for beautiful jewels such as this Very Fine Burmese Ruby and Diamond Bracelet from Fortuna’s upcoming November Jewels & Watches sale, has been revived. The beautiful accessory has a cumulative Burmese ruby carat weight of 18.30 carats and is being offered Thursday, November 5th, for a starting bid of $20,000.

What Color Ruby Is Most Valuable?

The red color of rubies is caused by the presence of chromium in the gemstone, and it is the characteristic that affects the gemstone’s value the most. A ruby’s red shade can range from a vibrant red to deep red, and even orangey to purplish red. Rubies with the purest red color and no treatments command higher prices, while the most desirable rubies are those that exhibit a very deep red and slight purple tinge. This color is known in the industry as “pigeon’s blood” and is exceptionally rare and sought by collector’s worldwide.

What Are the Quality Factors in a Ruby?

While a ruby’s color might be the primary factor a collector considers when contemplating value, there are multiple characteristics to be aware of before investing in ruby gemstones:

  • Color: A natural, untreated, and deep color is most prized. Rubies that are too light or dark or have orange undertones do not command the same high prices, but they do have enthusiasts.
  • Size: Larger gemstone-quality rubies are higher in value than their smaller counterparts. Natural, untreated gemstone-quality rubies over 1 carat are already quite hard to come by, and can command high prices.
  • Inclusions: Any inclusions that affect the brightness of the ruby or are visible can significantly reduce value. While almost all rubies have some inclusions, fewer inclusions and less-visible ones improve value.
  • Asterism: Some rubies have a “star effect,” which can create a unique look and even soften the color. Depending on the cut and appearance, this can increase or decrease value.
  • Fluorescence: Rubies fluoresce and seem to “glow” in some light. This fluorescence can affect the way the ruby appears in daylight, and in turn, its market value.
  • Custom cut and recut: Rubies that have been commercially cut or native cut in the country where they were mined are worth less than recut or custom-cut gemstones sent to experienced cutters. In general, cuts that highlight the beauty of the ruby, minimize any inclusions and maintain as much size as possible are the most valued.
  • Origin: Burmese rubies are considered the most valuable. A small percentage of them are known to possess a deep, almost purple color known as “pigeon’s blood red” and have significant fluorescence, making them appear to glow even in daylight. Mogok and Sri Lankan rubies are also highly valued.

Selling and Buying Rubies

Whether you want to sell an heirloom ruby ring or purchase some fine pieces for your collection, Fortuna can help. Our auction specialists possess decades of experience evaluating ruby jewels and identifying key characteristics that can enhance its market value. As an auction house with fine jewelry sales all year round, we have had the honor of selling some of the finest ruby jewelry imaginable, and are especially attuned to the global market trends specific to colored gemstones.

If you’d like to sell a ruby, contact Fortuna Auction today for a free, no-obligation valuation. You can also browse our upcoming auctions to find some of the best one-of-a-kind pieces on the market.

Fortuna’s upcoming November Jewels & Watches sale includes a variety of ruby jewels in various price ranges, with more lots being added every week until the sale! Pre-bidding has already begun, but be sure to check in for more lots before the sale goes live, Thursday, November 5th, at 11 AM EST.

Ode to Opal, October’s Birthstone

Fortuna’s upcoming sale, October Jewels & Watches, promises to be one of Fortuna’s most exciting sales of the year. The sale will offer many one of a kind antique, designer pieces, and jewels with some of the most beautiful stones in the world. One particular stone that refuses to go unnoticed in this exciting sale is none other than October’s birthstone—the opal. While October is still a few days away, we simply couldn’t wait to share our love for the gorgeous stone.

Opals have been admired since ancient times. The ancient Greeks believed opals to possess the gift of prophecy and guard their owners from diseases, while Arabic legend held that opal contained lightning. Naturally, the stone has been used in jewelry for centuries and became greatly prized by royalty. Emperor Napoleon not only had opals in his crown jewels, but he also gifted a 700-carat opal to his beloved Empress Josephine. The opal became known as the “Burning of Troy,” as its colors danced like the flames of the fabled blaze. Queen Victoria also widely popularized the use of opal, wearing many opal jewelry pieces throughout her long reign.

The popularity of opals remains today, both among celebrities and royals alike. Taylor Swift famously wore opal jewelry on the red carpet for the Grammy awards in 2015 and again at Golden Globes this year. The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, wore lovely delicate opal earrings for what is arguably one of her most famous appearances: the announcement of her and Prince Harry’s engagement. For a stone that interacts so vibrantly with light, opals make great accessories for when there is going to be the flash of a camera, and this Opal and Diamond Ring from Fortuna’s upcoming October sale, is equally red carpet-worthy.

Opal and Diamond Ring (Lot 2084) from Fortuna’s upcoming October Jewels & Watches sale.

Opals are home to an optical phenomenon known as “play-of-color.” It occurs when light enters the stone, and the opal splits the white light into all the hues of the color spectrum. A single opal can have an almost unlimited number of colors reflected out of it. The allure of precious gemstones have captured humanity since their discovery, and it is not uncommon for stones to be thought of as possessing supernatural qualities. Because of the opal’s tendency to be multicolored, people believed they held all the virtues of every precious colored gemstone.

“There is in them a softer fire than the ruby, there is the brilliant purple of the amethyst, and the sea-green of the emerald – all shining together in incredible union. Some by their splendor rival the colors of the painters, others the flame of burning sulfur or of fire quickened by oil.”

-Pliny the Elder, ancient Roman philosopher

Geologists first traced opal back to Ethiopia as far back as 4,000 BC. Since then, Australia has become the main exporter of the beautiful stone accounting for 90% of the market share. The country is also home to the first discovery of the rarer, and highly desirable black opal. It is no surprise that opal is now recognized as Australia’s national stone.

Fine Black Opal and Diamond Ring (Lot 2083) from Fortuna’s upcoming October Jewel’s & Watches auction.

Upon first discovering the black opal, many believed the stone to be a fake, as they found it too beautiful to be natural and without treatment. Black Opals are the most valuable kind of opals due to their rarity and can be worth up to $10,000 per carat. They possess a dark or black body tone, resulting in the stunning contrast between the vibrant play-of-color against the dark. Black opals are much harder to come by than the more widely seen white opals, and even fewer are considered gem-quality or suitable for jewelry. Fortuna’s October Jewels & Watches sale is fortunate to boast a remarkable Fine Black Opal and Diamond Ring, with a starting bid of $19,000.

“In precious opals, there might be a dash of red here, a seductive swirl of blue there, and in the center, perhaps, a flirtatious glance of green. But each stone flickers with a unique fire and a good opal is one with an opinion of its own”

Victoria Finlay

Opals are undoubtedly an extraordinarily unique stone; light can never hit it the same way twice. Thus, if you’re fortunate enough to have one in your collection, you also possess an ever-changing piece of nature’s original art. The October birthstone is truly a wonder to behold and one of Fortuna’s favorite stones to photograph and auction.

Patek Philippe: Luxury Watch Manufacturer

Many of today’s luxury watch brands were founded hundreds of years ago by master watchmakers. Patek Philippe is one such brand, prized by serious collectors worldwide for the precision and artistry of its pieces.

Who Is Patek Philippe?

The Patek Philippe brand of watches was founded by two master watchmakers—Antoni Patek and Adrien Philippe. Their combined last names form the brand name familiar to collectors today. The company launched in 1851 when the first Patek Philippe watches were displayed at the Great Exhibition in London.

The Great Exhibition was dedicated to the most modern and exciting inventions of that era. Patek Philippe watches were innovative, with gadgetry and gears new to the world of watches. Today, Patek Philippe is still known for modernity as well as elegant styling and quality.

Patek Philippe Ref. 5040J-014 Perpetual Calendar in 18K Gold. Achieved $23,750 at auction.

What Are the Best-Known Patek Philippe Luxury Watches?

Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5712/1A - Fortuna NYC Fine Jewelry & Watch Auction
Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5712/1A. Achieved $50,000 at auction.

Patek Philippe has several watches prized by serious watch collectors:

  • Sky Moon Tourbillon: This piece has a sky chart, perpetual calendar, moon phases and retrograde chart. The case back features the night sky with beautiful detail. This watch is also stunning, with hand-engraved volutes.
  • Henry Graves Supercomplication: Named after the banker Henry Graves Jr., this watch has 24 complications, more than any other mechanical pocket watch. In addition to a perpetual calendar, moon phases, sky chart and other features, the watch has chimes, including “Grande sonnerie” and “Petite sonnerie” with carillon as well as twin-barrel differential winding and other functions.
  • Nautilus: First launched in 1976, this is one of the most sought-after Patek Philippe watches. The Nautilus was designed by Gerald Genta and has a unique curved octagon bezel, resembling a ship’s porthole. The dial is embossed with distinctive horizontal grooves. Its introduction contributed greatly to the rise of a new category of watches: the steel luxury sports watch. In Fortuna’s September 2018 Important Watches sale, Fortuna offered a Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5712/1A in Steel, one of Patek’s more complicated watches, with useful functions such as date, power reserve, moon phase, and sweep second indications. The watch achieved an impressive $50,000 at auction, doubling its starting bid.
  • The Grandmaster Chime: In 2019, this watch set the world record for the most expensive wristwatch after selling for about $31 million. It features 20 complications, a reversible case and two dials. This watch was introduced in 2014 as part of the brand’s 175th-anniversary celebration.
Patek Philippe Ellipse Gold Watch Ref. 3548/1. Achieved $6,875 at auction.

How to Sell a Patek Philippe Watch

When selling a Patek Philippe watch, there are multiple factors that can impact value, aside from working condition and material value. The rise of the vintage watch market combined with the storied, centuries-long brand of Patek Philippe has done wonders for the secondary market value of iconic Patek Philippe watches. Before selling your Patek timepiece, having a seasoned watch specialist inspect the watch first can make all the difference.

Fortuna has years of experience selling highly sought after Patek watches and is especially attuned to details that can affect value. Our watch specialists recognized this Patek Philippe Ref. 2526, pictured below, as being part of the first series of the reference—contributing immensely to its market value. Furthermore, the reference 2526 is widely considered to be Patek Philippe’s first automatic watch ever made, making it even more desirable to collectors. With the information uncovered by our specialists, this precious heirloom watch achieved $50,000 at Fortuna’s September 2018 Important Watches auction.  

Patek Philippe Ref. 2526 in 18K Gold With Bracelet

To get started selling your prized watches, fill out an online form or contact Fortuna at valuation@fortunaauction.com with details and images of the item for a free, no-obligation valuation. If you prefer an in-person valuation, you can email or call us during business hours at 212-389-9040.

If you’re looking for the perfect Patek Philippe timepiece, review Fortuna’s upcoming auctions. We carefully curate our selection of fine jewelry and luxury watches for collectors seeking rare finds. Our website even allows you to track lots so you can bid on the perfect piece once you find an item you like.

BVLGARI: Iconic Designs by the Italian Jeweler

Fortuna has always enjoyed the fortune of offering extraordinary jewelry pieces from the historic makers. For our August Jewels & Watches auction, we are excited to present multiple iconic pieces by Bulgari, the renowned luxury Italian jeweler. To commemorate the long history and successes of the brand, we decided to dive deep into its past and highlight some of their more celebrated designs.

Bulgari was founded in Rome in 1884 by the talented Greek silversmith Sotirios Georgis Boulgaris; his name was later Italianised to Sotirio Bulgari. In its early years, Bulgari was known for silver pieces that borrowed elements from Byzantine and Islamic art, combining them with floral motifs. Having latched onto jewelry style trends emanating from Paris, Bulgari continued to follow the lead of what was then the world’s jewelry capital throughout the first half of the century.

When Sotirio passed away in 1932, his two sons, Giorgio and Costantino—who each had a keen interest in precious stones and jewels—took over the business. The brothers undertook an extravagant remodeling of both the interior and the exterior of the Via Condotti store and formally changed the company logo to “BVLGARI,” an application of the traditional Roman alphabet. 

Bvlgari Serpenti Tubogas in 18K Rose Gold. Achieved $13,750 at auction.

As the 1940s came to a close, Bulgari introduced the Serpenti bracelet-watches, which were constructed using a technique called Tubogas. Tubogas literally translates to “gas pipe,” and is the descriptive name given to a type of chain formed from a pair of interlocking long gold strips wrapped tightly together. The core is then removed, making the now hollow piece remarkably flexible and lightweight. The edges interlock, requiring no soldering. While Bulgari’s first example was made in 1948, it took another 15 years before its goldsmiths fully mastered the technique, and made it one of the brand’s iconic designs. Even without the recognizable Tubogas look, the Italian jeweler has often incorporated flexible bands in many of their works, such as these vintage Bulgari accessories.

Enamored by ancient legends of the snake, a symbol of rebirth and vitality, Bulgari has reimagined its famous serpent in countless designs. Pictured below, LVCEA’s gleaming band also takes inspiration from Serpenti, with each interlocking element mimicking a reptilian scale. The LVCEA diamond encrusted ladies watch in 18K white gold achieved $11,250 in our August Jewels & Watches auction.

Bulgari Lvcea Ladies’ in 18K White Gold. Achieved $11,250 at auction.

Bulgari, always ahead of the curve, also began creating matching sets of jewelry and selling them as separate pieces. The Italian jeweler recognized the modern woman’s desire to decide whether she wanted to mix and match, giving her countless combinations to create different looks. These vintage Bulgari pieces from Fortuna’s August Jewels & Watches sale are sold separately but would be tremendously chic when worn together. By selling the accessories separately, Bulgari gave women the opportunity to accumulate the matching designs over time and added to the excitement of the jewelry shopping experience.

Vintage Bulgari necklace (Lot 2037), bracelet (Lot 2038), earclips (Lot 2039), and ring (Lot 2040).

Bulgari is probably most well-known for coining the concept of modular design, using bold and recognizable designs with clean shapes. These designs are devoid of excessive ornamentation and are instead composed of interlocking elements that can adapt easily to different sizes by simply removing or adding components. The most famous example of modular designs can be found in the Parentesi collection.

Bulgari Parentesi Bracelet in 18K Gold. Achieved $5,625 at auction.

The Bulgari Parentesi was introduced in the 1980s, and were an instant hit amongst modern women who sought jewels that were appropriate for both daytime and evening occasions. The modular Parentesi designs were widely inspired by the ancient city of Rome, where Bulgari is headquartered. The details found in Roman pavements and the travertine junctions used to link the stone blocks all incorporate the parenthesis-like shape from which the collection gets its name.

Bulgari has derived inspiration from the Eternal City in more than one fashion. The cupolas of the Roman landscape were able to grace their way onto women’s fingers in the form of bold colored gemstones with a smooth, domed cut—known as “cabochon.” Perhaps the most famous use of the cabochon by Bulgari is the Trombino ring—famously worn by Elizabeth Taylor.

Bulgari Pink Tourmaline and Diamond Ring. Achieved $10,000 at auction.

Like any innovative jeweler, the brand is constantly updating its designs and seeking out new inspirations. Bulgari has since come out with more rings that resemble the imposing design of the Trombino. The Bulgari Pink Tourmaline and Diamond Ring, pictured above, is set with a large cabochon pink tourmaline, standing proudly above round brilliant cut diamonds. The use of stones for their impact, rather than the intrinsic value of the gem, was a huge departure from the classical Parisian design that dominated the time and distinguished Bulgari as an inimitable creator in the jewelry industry.

Bulgari has never been afraid to make bold statements with their designs and they have faithfully brought back past designs in fresh ways. The brand has not only maintained relevance but continues to lead the jewelry industry, no less than 130 years since its inception.

Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon Limited Carbon Dial in 18K White Gold.

Fortuna is excited to bring to auction a rare timepiece and marvel of horological innovation: the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon Limited Carbon Dial in 18K White Gold. Conceived as a series of traditionally styled watches equipped with Ulysse Nardin’s proprietary mechanical movement and Anchor escapement, the timepiece is complete with an impressive tourbillon and 8-day power reserve, as well as unmatched craftsmanship and years of research behind the ingenious use of silicon in the movement. The carbon fiber dial adds a lot of depth and is nicely contrasted by the silver printing. The 44mm case also guarantees a handsomely grand presence on any wrist.

A closer look at the Anchor Tourbillon, the result of cutting edge innovation at Ulysse Nardin.

The real marvel behind the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon watch is the Anchor escapement, a marriage of the best of watchmaking past with the technology of the future. Made by dedicated watchmakers and nanofabrication engineers alike, the Anchor escapement consists mostly of silicon parts, an unconventional material in the world of luxury watch making, but its resistance to magnetism and ability to be manufactured to a level of accuracy only possible with nanotechnology makes it the ideal material for horologists.

Ulysse Nardin pioneered the use of silicon technology in the escapement of its mechanical watches, drastically improving the regulation system of how a mechanical watch transfers energy in equal doses from the mainspring barrel onto the balance wheel. Silicon is extremely durable, yet surprisingly lightweight, and its replacement of metal and jeweled parts in the escapement creates a very low friction environment, resulting in better precision and time keeping accuracy of the watch. Unlike standard metal movements, silicon parts also do not require lubrication or constant maintenance. Furthermore, one of the biggest advantages of silicon is how technology can be utilized to manufacture pieces to extreme precision. The Anchor escapement incorporates silicon blades with the thickness of 15 micrometers, roughly one-tenth the thickness of a human hair, owed entirely to the silicon micro-machining technology of DRIE (Deep Reactive Ion Etching). After 7 years of research and development by Ulysse Nardin in achieving this new anchor escapement, you can rest assured that you are investing in a watch meant to last lifetimes.

Originally debuted in 2015, there are only eight versions of the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon, featuring a variety of dials and case metals. Each model was released in extremely limited batches, with only 18 pieces ever created for each version. The present example is #13 of its 18 piece batch, with an 18K white gold case and carbon fiber dial, and originally retailed for $89,000. This luxury timepiece comes in classical design, housing innovative technology at the 6 o’clock hour marker, with the Tourbillon clearly visible. The Flying Tourbillon has no upper bridge to block your view, so you can be constantly mesmerized by the intricate mechanics which spin on its own axis for 60 seconds at a time. We hope the lucky buyer enjoys this horological tour de force for years to come.


The History of the Hope Diamond

Diamonds are one of the most prominent physical representations of wealth and value you can find. Crafted through very long-term natural processes, they often appear in imagery associated with the wealthiest of the wealthy, frequently even signifying royalty.

Easily one of the most recognizable diamonds in the world is the Hope Diamond, estimated to be worth roughly a quarter of a billion dollars. On top of its incredible beauty, the Hope Diamond carries an illustrious history that contributes significantly to its great value.

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Top 5 Jewels Offered This July

Fortuna will be hosting its July Jewels & Watches auction this Thursday, July 23rd at 10AM EDT. Part of their monthly auction series, the sale offers a broad selection of estate and designer jewels and iconic timepieces. A big part of the allure of auctions, is the multi-layered stories and the rarity that accompany the fine treasures offered. We have picked out some of our absolute favorites and rarer finds in the upcoming auction.

Lot 3001, 4.51-Carat Fancy Yellowish Green Diamond Ring (est. $120,000–$170,000)


Perhaps one of the most mystifying lots in the sale is this exquisite 4.51-Carat Fancy Yellowish Green Diamond Ring. Fancy colored diamonds are quite rare, given the very specific conditions that must occur for the color to develop naturally. For natural green diamonds, exposure to atomic radiation that is endured over millions of years is what causes the color—making green diamonds amongst the rarest of the fancy colored diamonds. The yellowish-green hue of this particular diamond is truly a natural marvel to gaze upon, and its even color saturation adds to its fine appearance. The Fancy Yellowish Green diamond is set in a rose gold band and surrounded by pink diamonds—yet another extremely rare fancy colored diamond, which creates a lovely frame around the center stone. This spectacular cocktail ring has an estimate of $120,000–$170,000 and is now available for bidding in our July Jewels & Watches sale.

Lot 2098, Cartier Evasions Joallieres Diamond and Cultured Pearl Earrings (est. $30,000–$60,000)


The Évasions Joaillières collection by Cartier introduced bold designs harkening to different exotic destinations and time periods. These subtle and elegant pair of Diamond and Cultured Pearl Earrings from the collection features almost tribal geometric patterns, and is meticulously set with over 500 round brilliant-cut diamonds, giving it a frosted look. The white pearls add an even more elegant touch. The chic accessories could easily be believed to have been crafted in France during the Art Deco era. And as such, the wearer will be transported to a literary cafe in Paris with an attitude as bold and brash as the women of the day. This fine accessory is currently retailed at the french jewelry Maison for $155,000, but is being offered at a starting bid of just $24,000.

Lot 2148, Tiffany & Co. Schlumberger Enamel and Diamond Bracelet (est. $30,000–$40,000)


When Jean Schlumberger was hired by Tiffany & Co. as a jewelry designer, he was expressly told to create as he normally would, and not to match his style to that of Tiffany’s. What followed was the eternal association of Jean Schlumberger with Tiffany & Co. and vice versa; both were elevated by the other. Schlumberger created designs full of vivid color and ripe with imagination. He remains one of very few designers allowed to sign his work at the storied brand.
His common use of colorful enamel created an incredibly bold look and his whimsical designs have been popularized by style icons, such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and more. One of the designer’s iconic looks involved rounded yellow gold “nail heads” bursting out of enamel. The design is present in this eye-catching Tiffany and Co. Schlumberger Enamel and Diamond Bracelet; only in this case, the gold protrusions are set with round brilliant-cut diamonds—a luxurious touch to an already glamorous accessory.

Lot 3002, Rolex Very Fine Diamond-Set Bracelet Watch with Concealed Dial (est. $58,000–$70,000)


This circa 1940s Rolex Very Fine Diamond-Set Bracelet Watch with Concealed Dial is emblematic of a bygone era of glamour and fashionable soirees. The diamond bracelet itself is a masterfully crafted, entirely made with high quality diamonds of IF clarity and D-G color. Artfully concealed at the center of the bracelet is a petite watch, powered by a vintage Rolex Precision movement. Despite being decades old, this fine collectible shines just as vibrantly and certainly makes an extravagant addition to any evening attire. The piece will be offered for an estimated $58,000–$70,000.

Lot 2085, Kashmir Unheated Sapphire and Diamond Earrings (est. $21,000–$23,000)


One of the rarest pieces offered this July is undoubtedly the Kashmir Sapphire and Pink Diamond Earrings (est. $21,000–$23,000). Kashmir sapphires are the most coveted sapphires in the world due to their exemplary color and clarity. The natural blue color of Kashmir sapphires is often described as “blue velvet,” and few sapphires come close to the quality of that of the Kashmir. The stones get their name from the region bordering India and Pakistan in which they are found, and their extreme rarity gives Kashmir sapphires an almost mythical allure within the industry. While only the center sapphires in each earring are certified as originating from Kashmir, the surrounding sapphires are purported to be from the same mines given their striking similarities. The ultra-rare earrings are further accented with white and pink diamonds—making them truly extravagant.

Billie Holiday’s Diamond Watch Comes to Auction!

Fortuna is excited to auction a piece of American music history in our July Jewels & Watches sale—a dress watch owned by none other, than Billie Holiday. The Art Deco diamond-covered watch is set on a platinum bracelet with a silvered dial with Arabic numerals, and promises to be one of the most coveted pieces from our exciting sale.

Billie Holiday Fine Diamond Watch in Platinum

Billie Holiday was one of the greats, her contributions to jazz and swing music are as important vocally as they are socially. Billie, born Eleanora Fagan, had all the odds stacked against her since childhood. Born as the illegitimate child of two African American teens in Philadelphia in 1915, Billie would fight off every adversity imaginable. Her father left her and her mother when she was very young to pursue a career in jazz, so she was left to be raised by her mother and grandmother. Billie was moved to Harlem, New York at just 14 where her mother worked in a brothel, and Billie suffered as a victim of sex trafficking. Both she and her mother were subsequently sent to prison.

 Billie Holiday at Downbeat, NY (1947). Courtesy of William P. Gottlieb collection at the Library of Congress.

Upon her release, Billie began singing in Harlem nightclubs under the pseudonym Billie Holiday, taking her name from the actress Billie Dove, and Clarence Holiday, her presumed father. Billie’s life was enshrouded by a cloud of mystery and even today, long after her death, much is wondered about the acclaimed singer. Just as we have never been able to confirm her paternity, we cannot confirm some of her closest relations. Her watch seems to be gifted by a benefactor or patron to her career, and although it is engraved with “To Billie From David 1938,” nothing is known of her relationship with this David. But what is clear is that he knew Billie at a pivotal time in the singer’s life.

 “Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last 20 years.”

Frank Sinatra

Just one year later, Billie recorded the song “Strange Fruit,” one of the most moving and haunting songs of our time. Originally a poem about the horrors of lynchings in the American South, the song was brought to life with Billie’s emotive voice. Billie debuted the song at the historic, Café Society, the first truly integrated nightclub in the country, where black and white guests were treated equally, no matter who the performer. And it was quite possibly the only popular venue in America in which the song could be performed and sympathized with. As the song became a feature of Billie’s performances nationwide, it placed Billie and its creators in the crosshairs of the Federal Government. And despite being banned from multiple radio stations and even refused by Holiday’s label, Columbia Records, Billie Holiday’s delivery of “Strange Fruit” captured the American people and forced them to confront the reality of racism against Black folks.

“Holiday doesn’t sing songs; she transforms them.”

William Dufty, co-author of Lady Sings the Blues

The song remains as prevalent as ever today, being played at Black Lives Matter protests around the country and being sampled on a Kanye West’s track, “Blood on the Leaves.” Three-time Grammy-nominated artist, Betty LaVette released a cover of the song last month citing the current focus on racial tensions. And just last week, Paramount won the rights to the film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” what promises to be a blockbuster biopic on the singer’s life.

Portrait of Billie, wearing her iconic gardenias and posing with her dog, Mister. Courtesy of  William P. Gottlieb collection at the Library of Congress.

At first sight, this watch may be simply a beautiful piece of jewelry, masterfully crafted. Yet, it symbolizes so much more. Billie wore this watch at the height of her career and during America’s Jim Crow era. It was no easy feat for an African American woman born into poverty at the beginning of the twentieth century to find herself wearing a diamond watch as an adult. But unfortunately, the glamour and riches that Billie enjoyed as a singer was fleeting. While on stage, Billie was doused in diamonds, yet she died with mere pennies in her bank account—highlighting the discrepancies in fortune available to African American women in show business at the time.

However, Holiday left more behind than her meager estate; she left a legacy of talent and gumption that few singers that followed could match. Her accomplishments were not just made in spite of racial biases but by fighting them head-on. Billie was just as vocal about racial injustices off the stage as she was on, denouncing the death of her father to unequal treatment received in a hospital and the hypocrisy of being invited to sing in white nightclubs but never to dine in them.

Billie Holiday’s heart-rending voice in “Strange Fruit” has became the battle cry for racial equality and its impact has reverberated in the decades following. For her admirers who cherish not only what Billie Holiday has done for music and jazz, but also her stand against racial inequality, her diamond watch will be a true treasure, commemorating an era of American history—tarnished by civil injustices and full of boundaries being freshly broken.

Bidding Advice for First-Time Bidders

A uctions attract many people looking for the opportunity to own and collect exquisite, designer pieces. If you are a first-time bidder at a jewelry or watch auction, navigating the ins-and-outs might not be super obvious, but it is actually quite simple. There’s a common misconception that auctions are only for a niche group of people, but we here at Fortuna are trying to change that notion. The thrill of taking part in an auction should be for everybody and we are happy to share some tips as to how you can get started.

What are the Different Ways to Bid & Their Advantages

You may be used to seeing auctions in movies and TV where an exclusive group of people, all in their best-kept suits, eagerly battle to be the first to hold up a paddle. At Fortuna, there are actually multiple ways to bid besides bidding on the floor. Each method comes with its own set of advantages, and we are happy to help find the right way for you.

Online bidding is perfect for beginners who are new to the auction process. You can bid from anywhere in the world on your computer or your mobile device, and can even leave bids before the auction goes live. Leading up to the auction, you will also receive instant notifications if you have been outbid on a lot. We also offer the chance to watch a video live stream and click-in your bids in the moment. The online bidding process is simple, and one of our experts would be happy to walk you through it if you’re not particularly tech-savvy.

Phone bidding is recommended for extremely high-value lots. When the stakes are high, you want to make sure you have the specially trained eyes and ears of our phone bidders on the floor to keep you constantly informed. Phone bidders have to be ready to make split-second decisions so we recommend having a good idea of what you’re willing to spend on each lot ahead of time. Many people who bid with us would like to keep anonymous, and phone bidding is the perfect way to bid like you are in the room, with no eyes on you. Another perk of phone bidding is the lack of work on your part; you don’t have to free up your day to make sure you don’t miss your lot, all you have to do is answer the phone.

An absentee bid allows you to leave your highest possible bid ahead of time. The auctioneer will bid on your behalf during the live auction, increment by increment, up until this maximum amount. If nobody bids against you, you will win your lot for the lowest allowed bid. This form of bidding is perfect for those who have a set budget for a particular lot and do not want to overspend. They also take precedence over all other kinds of bids during a live auction, meaning that the auctioneer will honor the absentee bid first, even if an online or phone bid comes in for the same amount. Absentee bids are also ideal for those that find that neither the location nor time of the auction is convenient.

While in-person bidding is currently suspended due to the global health emergency, we recommend anyone who wants to feel the high-paced thrill of a live auction to view our livestreams on the day of the sale either on Facebook or our website.

Are There Specifics to Know Ahead of Time?

Typically, new bidders with any auction house will need to submit a valid form of photo ID and credit card information in order to be approved for bidding. The reason for this extra measure is to confirm the bidder’s seriousness in buying at auction, and ensure that all bidders are participating under the fairest conditions. Imagine how frustrating it would be if you realized you were competing against a fraudulent bidder for the same lot! This information usually takes time to process so it is best to do so at least 24 hours before the sale. This, however, is a one-time action. Once you are registered and approved to bid in your first sale, you will be automatically approved to bid in all future sales

If you have already been pre-approved for a past auction with Fortuna, registering for an auction is as simple as a click of a button or just showing up on the day of a sale and receiving a paddle. (Floor bidding is currently unavailable due to the statewide response to stunt the spread of COVID-19.)

Leading up to the auction, it is a good idea to decide exactly which lots you intend to bid on, for a number of reasons:

  1. If you plan on bidding on multiple lots, we advise bidders to calculate in advance how much they plan on spending in total, with buyer’s premium included. For a refresher on our buyer’s premium schedule, click here.
  2. Depending on the value of the lot, the bid increments may vary. If you want to spend no more than your absolute maximum for a particular lot, it is best to familiarize yourself with the bid increments ahead of the sale—especially since they can range from $100 to $10,000.
  3. If you don’t intend on watching the sale from start to finish, it’s best to have an idea of the lot numbers you are interested in. The auctioneer typically moves through the sale at a rate of 1 lot per minute, so you can generally mark a reasonable time to check in on the progress of the sale.

If you want to be sure about every detail of an auction house’s process, you can always contact our office with your questions.

Is There A Limit To What You Can Bid On?

You can bid on as many items you want during a single auction. If you have online bids exceeding $50,000, it is likely our office might ask you to provide a bank reference prior to the sale.

Experienced bidders will tell you that it is important to set an overall budget for yourself so you don’t spend more than anticipated. Keep track of what you have bid on already, so you do not accidentally bid more on additional items—especially if you are reaching your limit for the auction.

Remember to also take into account additional costs, aside from the buyer’s premium—such as local taxes if applicable, and online fees for bidding platforms other than Fortuna’s app or website.

Should You Research Prior to the Auction?

Absolutely! You should always learn about the jewelry on sale to make the most informed bids at an auction since all merchandise is sold as-is. Read about an item’s details in the online catalog, visit the showroom during exhibition dates or schedule an appointment to preview. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for our social media and blog posts, which always give a closer look at our jewelry and watch lots. If you can’t come to view your desired lot in person, you can always email condition@fortunaauction.com to request more information or photographs. Our specialists want you to bid confidently and encourage all questions about our offered lots.

Sign up to Bid at an Upcoming Fortuna Auction

If you’re planning to bid on a sale, take the first step and evaluate the selection of future auctions. Should you find an item that interests you, contact a Fortuna specialist in-person or online to help you view the selection and prepare for auction day.

The Art of Traditional Diamond Craftsmanship

Learn about the beauty and lost art of traditional diamond cutting with one of the jewelry specialists at Fortuna. In the modern age, diamond cutting has been perfected with advanced machinery and a rough diamond can be transformed into a faceted stone with optimal brilliance. But how did the master jewelers and diamantaires in the age before mechanized tools accomplish such a feat? Watch the video to appreciate the skill and patience required to create a diamond the traditional way.

Types of Antique Diamonds

Diamonds that have been cut in the traditional way might not be as brilliant or scatter light with the same vigor as modern diamonds, but they are heavily appreciated for the craftsmanship behind them and the warm, subtle glow they give off. In fact, their market value has steadily increased and continue to be heavily sought after. Here are some of the main traditional diamond cuts used in antique jewelry:

Single Cut: One of the oldest diamond cuts, the single cut dates back to 1300s. It possesses a large table (or top face), and octagonal girdle (which refers to the defining edge that shapes a diamond). A single cut diamond usually has 18 facets—almost a quarter of the facets seen in the modern round brilliant cut diamonds.

Rose Cut: The rose cut dates to the 1500s and was especially common during the Georgian and Victorian eras. It features a flat bottom with a dome-shaped crown, with triangular facets rising to a single apex—thus, resembling the shape of a rose bud.

A Victorian brooch featuring a center old European-cut diamond, surrounded by old mine-cut diamonds throughout. (Fortuna September 2017 Fine Jewels)

Old Mine Cut: Diamonds with this cut are somewhat similar to today’s cushion-cut. They possess a squarish girdle with gently rounded corners, and have a high crown, a small table, and a large, flat culet (which refers to the pointed bottom of diamonds). The old mine cut dates to the 1700s and was most prevalent during the 1800s.

Old European Cut: This diamond cut is considered a subset of old mine cut diamonds, but are distinguished by a circular girdle, instead of a squared one. Like the old mine cut, it possesses a high crown, small table, and a noticeably flat culet. With 58 facets, it is the precursor of today’s modern round brilliant cut. The Old European cut was heavily used in jewelry of the Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Nouveau eras.

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