Buying Jewellery at Auction

jewellery auction

Buying at jewellery auction is contentious for some people. Second hand jewellery may not be appealing.  Truth be told, jewellery offered at auction is sourced from a variety of channels; be it from private individuals whom are selling their jewellery  in order to release capital; new and barely worn jewellery ceased by the police and offered at auction, and unsold back stock from major and minor jewellery retailers.

In my time working at an auction house, I have seen some amazing jewels pass through auction. Jewellery of interesting provenance,  personal effects of social and historical significance and I have to mention great deals available for valuable for diamonds.

Whatever your position on purchasing second-hand engagement rings, wedding rings and other jewellery at auction; it is a valuable place to purchase antique and vintage, and designer jewellery for a fraction of the price, saving up to 50 % versus buying new at retail.

 Bidding at Auction

Price achieved at auction is dictated by many factors – namely trending fashions, gold price etc. Most notably governed by the amount of competing bidders on the day. Technological advances have created additional channels for bidding at auction, therefore competition is on a local and global scale.

Items are listed referred to as ‘lots’ – there may be one, two or a collection of jewellery items offered in one lot.  A catalogue of the auction is published with photographs, accompanying descriptions of each jewellery item and presale estimates –  a price range prediction of what the jewellery might realise. The lowest estimation is usually the reserve – the price the consignor or vendor is not willing to sell below.

Bidding increments – depending on the estimate of the item- bidding goes up in increments of £5, £10, £20, £50, £100, £1000.

Auction houses charge roughly 20- 25 % (inclusive of VAT) buyers’ premium of your total purchase/bid price. Usually on items over a ten thousand pounds, the percentage is roughly 10- 15%. If a jewellery item is new or from a VAT registered vendor, an additional 20 % VAT shall be added to your total bill.

     pound icon         OLD-  £ your bid +±20 % buyers’ premium+ postage fee = total cost

                                  NEW- £ your bid +± 20 % buyers’ premium+ 20 % VAT + postage fee = total cost


Ways to Bid

bid-paddle-150x150 (1)

  •  Bidding in the room On the day of the auction, you may opt to attend the auction in person – this is advantageous as you can fully assess the mood of the saleroom.  You shall be registered and given a paddle number – a reference to identifying who you are when bidding.
  •  Telephone bidding – Upon your request, a member of staff  (of the auction house) shall ring you when  your  ‘lot’ or jewellery item is scheduled  to be offered.  One experiences the auction vicariously. Bidding activity is relayed to you by the staff member and bids on your behalf when prompted by you.  I would advise setting a budget, as one can get carried away with the fast pace and pressure of the ‘theatre of auction’.
  • Bidding Online –  You may to bid online via the online auction platforms (listed below) which host a large selection of auction houses from around the world  
  • Absentee Bid  –  You fill out a commission bid form indicating  the lots and the maximum amount you are willing to bid up to.

NOTE : On top of your bid price, you have to factor in buyers premium (a percentage inclusive of VAT you have to pay on top of bid price which an auction house charges). New jewellery offered at auction and jewellery from VAT vendors carries an additional 20 %VAT – an asterisk or similar icon will clearly mark these items.

Online Platforms to Bid – Auction Hosting Websites

These are selection of online auction marketplaces which host specialist and general auction houses from around the world. Specifically, live and timed jewellery occur on a weekly and fortnightly basis. For the privilege of bidding live on these platforms, there is an additional charge 3- 3.6% (including VAT) on top of your total bid price and buyer’s premium. UK based platform, hosts a majority of auction houses from the UK, including USA, Europe and South Africa.   Scandinavian based platform hosting the leading international auction houses (eg. Christie’s, Sothbey’s, etc.) and other notable UK  and European auction houses. Additionally offering items fromantique and vintage dealers from around the world. based in the UK and USA. Host a comprehensive list of auctioneers and galleries in the USA, East and West Europe, Middle East and Asia. based in the UK  and USA. Host a large selection of auctioneers from the USA, Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. based in the UK. Hosts auctioneers in Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

        pound icon   –  £ your bid + 20 – 25 % buyers’ premium+3 – 3.6% fee+ postage fee = total cost

                     –  £ your bid +20 – 25 % buyers’ premium+ 20 % VAT + 3 – 3.6% fee+ postage fee= total cost


Viewing Times

Usually  jewellery on offer is on view at the weekend and three days before the sale day. Most jewellery auctions are held on a weekday. This is an opportunity to handle the jewellery  and assess general condition of the piece. To see if the photograph is true representation the jewel.

If however you are not able to view the items in person, you may request a verbal or written condition report – An in-house jewellery specialist shall assess of the different components of the jewellery piece. eg. Is the diamond or gemstone a beautiful stone (i.e bright and lively, no fractures or abrasion)?  Are there significant scratches on the gold of metal? Can the ring be resized etc?


Usually items are shipped to you at a cost of around £20 for Royal Mail registered post-  insured for up to £2500. Items of above value are despatched by courier e.g .Fedex, UPS or other local couriers. Alternately, you may also collect the items in person.

Going once, going twice…Happy Bidding!