Heritage Auctions' Inaugural Chicago Sales

June 28th, 2017

Heritage Auctions, Chicago, Illinois

Photos courtesy Heritage Auctions

When Dallas-based Heritage Auctions announced late last year intent to open an outpost in Chicago, jaded survivors of the city’s auction scene can be forgiven if some shrugged, rolled their eyes, and wondered “What next?” We’ve seen them come and watched some go. The most newsworthy exit came after Sotheby’s bought Leslie Hindman’s thriving auction house in 1997 and took over her site at 215 West Ohio Street. By December 2001 Sotheby’s was gone. In 2003 we wrote in this publication about the return of Hindman as head of her own auction house, back to the Ohio Street address. Several moves later, it’s been nothing but expansion and success for Hindman.

Fast forward to January 2017 and the opening of the newest satellite auction for Heritage in Chicago, again at 215 West Ohio. If only walls could talk. Chicago already supports several well-established auction houses that hold regular sales. All enjoy thriving trade with international bidders, and most, if not all, operate on several bidding platforms. All are individually owned, and a few are family businesses. Some are specialty houses that cater to long-established niche markets. Two have satellite auction houses, and all are longtime Chicago and Midwest institutions, each with a persona that Chicago and midwestern collectors know. Each is service oriented (some more than others), and all are open and accessible to the public. Most significantly for area consignors and bidders—when/if a customer wants to see a principal, he/she is local.

On its website (www.HA.com), Heritage states that it “auctions almost 300,000 individual lots per year, significantly more than any other major auction house.” In business for decades, the company has grown from a primary involvement with coins and numismatics to the juggernaut that it is today. The company buys outright, advances loans, advises on estates, and more. Based on the 17th floor of an office tower in Dallas, Heritage Auctions offers everything from free appraisals to estate planning, museum and corporate art services, consulting on trusts and estates, and advice on liquidating the same. Some 40 departments, each staffed, cover the gamut from animation art to Texas art, U.S. coins, wine, sports collectibles, real estate, and so on. In addition to recent expansions of sites, the company also takes theme auctions on location, such as sports memorabilia to the O’Hare area in Illinois.

The top price in jewelry was $300,000 for a 6.26-carat pear-shaped diamond in a platinum ring setting with tapered diamond baguettes. The Chicago director of jewelry for Heritage Auctions, Ruth Thuston, told us that the difference between this lot and the dollar runner-up was color and clarity. This stone is D color and VVS1 clarity.

Top lot in luxury accessories was this Hermès matte white Nilo crocodile bag that went to an American private collector for $68,750. Skins came from albino crocs and were processed in a proprietary method. The bag sold slightly below its estimates.

Chicago is the newest satellite, joining Dallas, Beverly Hills, Palm Beach, Manhattan, San Francisco, and Houston. Overseas it’s France, Germany, Hong Kong, and Spain. A senior level managing director is based in New York City, as is the director of luxury accessories. Senior and assistant directors for fine jewelry—those not attached to satellite cities—are in Dallas. The catalog for a first Chicago sale listed eight department specialists, only one based in Chicago. Roberta Kramer is managing director in Chicago.

Within the past year or so, Heritage has been on a mission. As Chicago awaited word on the nature of goods for the first sale, large and expensive ads in color began appearing. On January 13 a full-page ad in the front section of the Chicago Tribune headlined, “What are YOUR Treasures Worth?” followed by dates for free walk-in appraisals, promising “Immediate Cash Advances for Qualified Consignments” and inviting readers to “Meet a Selection of World-Class Experts Specializing in 40 Categories.” At the bottom, past sales with whopper prices were featured. January 22 had two quarter-page ads for American art in Dallas, plus a pitch for consignments to a spring sale of illustration art, no location provided. January 29 brought a full-page ad in the front section touting a May 5 New York City sale of modern and contemporary art. The lead-in of the ad was “Consignments Wanted” in typeface larger than the name of the auction house. A third-page ad for collectible sneakers plus urban art and objects (“The Future is Now”) appeared on April 30, and another on June 11.

Louis Vuitton vintage trunks have become treasured classics. This example from the 1940s, covered in the LV classic monogram, sold for $15,000.

Here is a rare 35 cm Matte Feu alligator Birkin bag with palladium hardware that fetched $40,000. From 2014, it measures 14" x 10" x 7". Wear it and you will be noticed! It’s orange. According to Conn, “We always do well with matte bags because there aren’t as many.”

Conn told us that bags worn at runway shows are always a hit. This Hermès shark Bolide bag (full catalog description is “Hermès 45cm Blue Nuit Togo Leather Shark Mou Bolide Bag with Palladium Hardware”) from the men’s 2016 runway sold for $13,125 (est. $16,000/20,000). Though it got a lot of attention at preview, at sale time men apparently weren’t buying into the aesthetic of the cut leather shark face stitched onto the bag.

An ardent Chicago fan, Conn favored this circa 2013 Hermès shiny blue alligator Kelly pochette bag with palladium hardware in what she calls “Cubby blue.” Unlike traditional bigger, blockier Kelly bags, the pochette (translation: pocket or clutch bag) measures 8½" x 5" x 2½". Its color is vivid and electric. It brought $36,250.

Featured on the catalog cover, this circa 2016 Hermès Stromboli (go figure) bag with sterling hardware and in pristine condition sold for $38,750. Covered with cactus-color alligator skin and complementary color feathers, it photographs as appearing larger than its 5½" x 5½" x 3" true size.

By June 23 and 25, having shuffled and beefed up its corporate communications department, Heritage paid for full-page ads highlighting the June sales, which were held June 26-28. The ads also announced intent to give back to the community through an online auction benefiting PAWS Chicago, a popular no-kill shelter.

When sale time came, Ruth Thuston handled fine jewelry, and Barbara Conn handled luxury accessories. In the end, over 990 lots of jewelry realized $3,123,153 (with buyers’ premiums). Luxury accessories, with 657 lots, hit $2,052,756. Heritage’s first summer luxury sale was deemed a success, and within weeks the website touted a repeat. Summer 2018 will feature sales on June 11, 2018, for jewelry, and June 12, 2018, for luxury accessories.

“We had 1321 worldwide bidders in the luxury sale,” Conn told us. She did not spot any clear trends but noted that “in the U.S., many are trending to buy smaller bags.” For example, “the Kelly 35 cm bag is moving to the 28 cm range, and instead of the classic 35 cm Birkin [both by Hermès], people are looking at smaller Chanel bags.”

Serious collectors, she added, tend to be brand specific. A Chanel fan will buy bags, jewelry, accessories, and anything Chanel across the board. Ditto for Hermès, Louis Vuitton, etc. As to the future of collecting luxury, “It’s only getting bigger,” she said. “As a Chicagoan, how could we not be here? We are in a world-class city!”

Modern and contemporary fashion jewelry also figured in the sale. With an estimate of $11,000/15,000, the very au courant 33½" long Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra necklace in 18k gold with turquoise stations sold for $40,000.

This 10.17-carat radiant-cut diamond in a platinum ring setting with smaller diamonds became the next-to-top lot in the jewelry sale when it brought $93,500.

It may not look all that impressive, but this Art Deco 18" long necklace of natural pearls by Cartier with a platinum clasp gained “a lot of interest and a lot of bidding,” said Thuston. Estimated at $4000/6000, it soared to $35,000.

Jewelry specialist Ruth Thuston said, “We had a beautiful sale with a lot of excitement. Chicago is a great place for consignments; people like to bring their jewelry in to be evaluated.” She noted that the trend to designer pieces continues and that natural pearls are in demand far more than cultured pearls. Finely worked and unusual antique pieces are sought after, while buyers are looking at “bigger and bolder” pieces.

“What buyers like in jewelry is so subjective,” Thuston mused. “There are really no more trends. People buy what appeals to them.”

These days, it seems that luxury mirrors the antiques market in general.

As for Heritage Auctions moving into Chicago, those in the trade we talked with shrugged their shoulders. No one panicked; such is the nature of business. Apples and oranges. In the city of big shoulders, there’s room for everyone.

According to Thuston, the unusual combination of demantoid garnet and diamonds, platinum topped with gold, and 18k gold made this $11,875 dragonfly brooch, circa 1900, irresistible. With the market for pins somewhat soft, the result above its $6000/8000 estimate proved that buyers seek the rare and unusual.

This Arts and Crafts boulder opal, multi-stone diamond, and gold pendant necklace by F. Walter Lawrence also has demantoid garnets, sapphires, rubies, citrines, and pink tourmalines set in 18k gold. Chain length is 30½". The catalog included a few paragraphs on the artisan by  jewelry historian Janet Zapata. The necklace brought $16,250.

Originally published in the September 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest

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