Humphrey’s Diary July 2011

The year to date has been a successful one with a record turnover reported in our year-end figures at 31st March, which has provided our 58 investors in Dazzling Capital, the EIS backed scheme initiated by the formidable William Sporborg and his two sidekicks, the irrepressible bloodstock adviser Simon Marsh and the urbane Christopher Holdsworth Hunt, with a satisfactory return to date of some 14% from the first 17 months trading.

Although the retail market has been patchy, day-to-day dealing has been consistent and we have had our successes particularly in the area of individual stones, with one particular deal leading to a record month in May since the company became fully independent.

January as always provided a relatively quiet start, with the action focusing on Florida at the end of the month, first with the annual Naples Winter Wine festival where I auctioneered for the tenth consecutive year at what is now America’s leading charity wine auction. There was no sign of recession on Florida’s west coast as we raised a staggering $12m, taking the tally raised to date to over $90m for local children’s charities. A good deal of fun was had at this three-day extravaganza and a good deal of sweat was expended on stage by the auctioneer (see illustration). The sale was followed by three days at the Miami Antiques Show, an annual pilgrimage where we can catch up with a lot of trade friends from across the Atlantic, replenish the stock and enjoy a bit of beach life.

The following month saw my two girls and me head back to Florida to exhibit at the Palm Beach Jewellery Show for the first time. Our stand looked pretty handsome and we not only made some sales but also some good new contacts, one of whom has invited us to Texas in the autumn with our stock to undertake a trunk show for the grandes dames of Austin and Houston. Ten gallon hats are already on order.

March heralded my first ever visit to India with a fortnight in Rajasthan in the company of Johnny Greenall, a latter day Wilfred Thesiger with his slavish devotion to the travel book, and his gorgeous pouting wife Laura. The trip was utterly spellbinding and a huge success , as we made our way round the loop of Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodphur, punctuated by an unforgettable stopover in Ranthambore national park where we stayed in Sherbagh Camp, squired but the impressively moustachioed old stoic Yusuf Ansari. Happily we had a fantastic sighting of a strapping young male tiger and left there in a haze of euphoria, before embarking on a crazed shopping pilgrimage which has meant that my offices are now harbouring scarves, pashminas, throws and goodness knows what other treasures.

The month of April was really given over to pre-Royal wedding hysteria and we managed to loan an impressive amount of stock to a bevy of youthful beauties, all keen to compete with the likes of Victoria Beckham and Pippa Middleton. Our Guest of the Day award went to Gerry Farrell of Sladmore Gallery fame who not only managed to blag the seat next door to David Beckham himself but almost cadged an invite to his lunch with Elton John at the Ritz. Top schmoozing!

Three different auction highlights dominated May, with the Geneva sales providing an interesting insight in to the current market for high end jewellery at auction. Sothebys again served notice on Christie’s that they are determined to win back ground they had consistently lost in this particular venue over the last decade with an impressive catalogue and an equally impressive total of SFr79m, but it is worth noting that Christie’s still returned a very fair sale total of SFr69m from a distinctly average catalogue. It seems the international buyers’ hunger for jewellery remains unsated at all levels.

I went straight from Geneva to the Hotel du Cap in Cannes to auctioneer at the amfAR Cinema Against Aids evening which traditionally brings down the curtain on the great Filmfest, and once again the enthusiasm for spending ludicrous amounts of money on lots of questionable investment merit continued unabated. Kazaks, Serbs, Russians and Americans vied with each other to impress the night’s host, the Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein, whose reputation is rivalled only by the size of his tum. He seemed pretty pleased when we managed to find a buyer happy to spend $500,000 on a set of tennis with Prince Albert and lunch with him and his gorgeous blonde squeeze Charlene Wittstock, and a second one prepared to match the bid when the Prince offered a repeat. I can only imagine they were probably hoping to spend a little time poolside with the statuesque South African ex-swimmer after their sporting excursions on court. My own highlight was selling a dress modelled by Gwen Stefani, but as I failed to locate a photo of the two of us on stage, I thought I should just show you the new friend I made at the previous year’s party instead.

The third auction worthy of mention was the Cura Ball, organised by Astrid St Aubyn and Mia Woodford on behalf of three fabulous UK charities tackling the horrors of cancer and teenage diabetes. In one well-attended evening in a marquee that matched our hosts Richard and Zoe Benyon’s Englefield home for size and opulence, over £600,000 was raised, a staggering total in today’s climate and lesson to all fundraisers to show what two determined girls with an eye-watering work and persuasion ethic can produce (helped, it has to be said, by seductive amounts of blonde hair and cleavage).

The last month here in the office has been interrupted by a furious amount of gym training on my part prior to a second crack at the George Frewer memorial race at Newbury. Sadly I and my partner, the Paul Webber trained Kristallo, failed to repeat our third place of the previous year but we had a great spin round in second place following the perfect form of the delectable Alice Plunkett of Channel 4 fame, until horse (slightly unwilling) and jockey (definitely unable) found the last three furlongs beyond them. Nevertheless, it was a tremendous thrill in front of some glamorous support (see photo) and we managed to raise over £5,000 for Centrepoint thanks to some very generous American sponsors. At the suggestion of wife and trainer, retirement from the saddle is now being considered. AP McCoy will no doubt be sleeping that bit easier.

On the commercial front, June saw Christie’s have their highest ever grossing jewellery sale with Hong Kong now taking over the mantle as the world’s leading auction venue. Their catalogue yielded over $90m with some stupendous prices being paid for high quality diamonds, and there is no doubt which part of the globe is now driving prices in our sector. Happily I can report that we have recently invested in two major stones, one over 10.00cts and the other over 6.00cts, so here’s hoping the market stays in our favour before Rupert Murdoch brings the world as we know it to a shuddering halt.