Site Review | Professional Jeweler

February 7, 2000
Sotheby's Sotheby's

Jewelry is just part of the show at Sotheby's new online auction Web site. Launched Jan. 11 with 5,000 items listed for sale, the site doesn't put jewelry center-stage at all. Instead look for an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, due to be auctioned online this spring for an expected $4-$6 million. The copy was printed the evening of July 4, 1776, just hours after being approved by the Continental Congress by a printer whose shop was around the corner from Independence Hall. It survived the British occupation folded and hidden inside a picture frame and, the auction house hints, is a fine investment. When last sold in 1991 at Sotheby's, it fetched about $2.4 million.

By comparison, the jewelry, furniture, paintings and other items, listed via a menu on the left side of the screen, seem, well, dull. Visitors to the jewelry page can choose among a variety of categories including bracelets, brooches, necklaces and unmounted gemstones. Click on a category and you'll find jewelry listed by the amount of time left in the online auction, with those ending soonest listed first. There's a photo of each item, an expected sale price and information about the seller mostly jewelers – whom Sotheby's calls "Internet Associates."

The goods are described in mostly material terms, listing carat weight, cert numbers and color and clarity grades. The silver section is more informative, supplementing a Monteith silver bowl (made during the reign of James II and once owned by William Randolph Hearst) with essays on how 18th-century silver was made, what's available in the market and the care/restoration of silver. One interesting tidbits: few pre-18th-century English silver pieces survive because Oliver Cromwell and Charles I ordered it broken down and melted during the English Civil War to finance their campaigns against each other.

That sort of information helps make the difference between treasures and "stuff" and is the reason Sotheby's uses its site to offer classes such as "Understanding Jewelry," taught by an in-house expert. It makes you wish there was more said about the jewelry offered.

Visitors may also register to bid, view a calendar of upcoming live auctions, view online versions of Sotheby's catalogues and learn the sale prices of items previously listed.

- by Mark E. Dixon