Site Review | Professional Jeweler

November 22, 1999

The site resulting from a $45 million partnership between super e-tailer and venerable auction house Sotheby's launched Nov. 19, attempting to grab the disposable income Amazon shoppers once spent solely on books and CDs. The site brings together art, collectibles, coins and stamps, wine, furniture, memorabilia, jewelry and timepieces into one venue and allows consumers to bid on pieces ranging from $100 to $100,000.

As in its auction catalogs, Sotheby's shows the low and high bid estimates for each lot. Also reminiscent of Sotheby's pre-sale romancing, the site's entry page calls attention to several desirable (and in some cases over-the-top) pieces for which shoppers can currently bid – at the time of the launch, a Harry Potter book inscribed by author J.K. Rowling, the Barry Halper Legendary Baseball Collection and the Austin Powers "Shagmobile" (a psychedelic VW Beetle from the movie).

Within each category, the site highlights "featured auctions" of interesting pieces and further breaks down items into subcategories. Once you register for a user name and password (and give your credit card number using the site's secure server – they won't let you in without it), you can look at pictures of lots and place a maximum bid for an item. As in live Sotheby's auctions, there's a reserve and 10% buyer's premium. You can look at the "bid history" for each item or get recommendations for other pieces you might like. When searching for items, you can use a keyword search engine or sort listings by price, end date and category.

Detailed buying guides discuss appreciation and value, assessment of a piece's condition and useful terms to know when looking at lots – definitions of carat, karat, cultured pearl and synthetic for jewelry, for instance. A list of books on related topics links – not surprisingly – to titles.

Sotheby's also plans to start selling on its own Web site,

- by Stacey King