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Buyer's Guide: Luxury goods

Ben Smith
Ben Smith

There are few finer things in life than treating yourself to a luxury. Think; sipping an Aperol spritz on a veranda overlooking the Italian coastline; a pamper weekend in a Cotswold spa hotel; or the purchase of a fine handbag, treasured for a lifetime.

These are things we experience, and they provide something to aspire to, to aim towards in life and then provide us with a thrill when we do get them.

But where to start? I can’t help with the Aperol spritz – it’s an overrated drink in my opinion anyway – but you’ve come to the right place if you want to know about buying luxury goods. Here we’re concentrating on jewellery and handbags…

Research

There’s an old saying that to be forewarned is to be forearmed – well you might not be about to head into battle, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to know as much as you possibly can about what you’re thinking about buying.

If it’s diamonds you covet, then learn about clarity, carat and colour (more on this later); a fine pair of shoes, then read up on the latest styles and sizes. You’re here reading this so chances are, you’re savvy shopper considering buying at auction, with high hopes of finding that perfect item. Then you also need to go in fully informed on the prices luxury goods go for. That way you know what’s a reasonable price to bid.

Equally, set yourself a limit. Again, assuming you’re shopping here at William George, consider using the maximum bid function on the lot you’re after, that way you can set your budget and not get carried away in the heat of the moment.

Remember, factor in the extra costs of the buyer’s premium, VAT (if applicable) and delivery charges, though often in our luxury auctions you’ll find this last one has been covered by the seller. These are all added on after the hammer has fallen so remember them and don’t realise after the event.

Jewellery

When buying jewellery, many people’s first thought is what metal? Gold and silver have been the mainstays of precious metals for millennia – add to that platinum, palladium, white gold and even rose gold and there’s plenty to consider.

Platinum and palladium, which has seen a huge price increase in recent years, offer the colour of silver without the trouble of tarnishing and are both more durable than gold.

Silver is the cheapest of the precious metals but is no less beautiful for it, though it will tarnish over time. Make sure you buy sterling silver – this is 92.5% silver mixed with an alloy to make it more workable. You’re unlikely to find jewellery made of pure silver because it’s too soft to work with.

When buying gold, you need to consider what carat (sometimes shortened to ct, kt or k) you want – this is likely to be dictated somewhat by your budget – but you need to know what you’re getting:

24 carat gold – this is pure gold, excellent for investments, less good for making jewellery because it’s too soft.

22 carat gold – about 91.6% gold. A stunning yellow colour but very soft, so unlikely to have a stone setting. More likely to be a wedding band or something similar. Because of the low alloy content, it’s more expensive

18 carat gold – contains 75% gold with a mix of alloys to make it stronger and more durable. Certain metals are also added to create white or rose golds. 18ct gold is much more visibly gold than the lower carats but that comes at a price.

14 carat gold– is about 59% gold, giving it that warm yellow colour but at a more affordable price.

9 carat gold – at 37.5% gold this is the lowest content but that makes it the strongest and most durable.

Diamonds

A girl’s (not just girls) best friend but also a seriously desirable precious stone – and they don’t come much more precious than this. When buying diamonds, there are three things to consider, collectively known as The Four Cs: cut, colour, clarity and carat.

Cut: This is much more complicated than you might first expect. It isn’t simply the shape of the diamond but refers to the way it refracts light back at the viewer which is determined by the symmetry and internal proportions. Thankfully, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) provides a handy grading system: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor.

Read more on the cut of diamond

Of course, you need to consider shape as well. The traditional Round Brilliant provides a classic look and is the most popular shape but there is also Princess, Emerald and world more. The less traditional shapes can be cheaper but may also appear larger so might be something to consider for people on a budget.

Colour: The most desirable diamonds are colourless, so the closer to colourless it gets, the pricier the diamond. There’s a strict grading provided by the GIA, which is lucky because for many grades it’s near impossible to tell the difference with the naked eye.

It starts at D, colourless, and runs alphabetically through to Z, which is visibly coloured. Ideally, you want a diamond graded D-F, which are colourless, or G-J which are near colourless.

This is considered the second most important C of buying a diamond, so read more on diamond colours.

Clarity: Most diamonds have marks, either internally, known as inclusions, or externally, known as blemishes. The fewer the inclusions or blemishes, the higher the price for the diamond and so, again, a grading scale has been created. At the top of the scale are FL (Flawless) and IF (Internally Flawless) – perfect and near-perfect diamonds with no internal imperfections. These are incredibly rare with a price to match. VVS1 AND VVS2 (very, very slight inclusion) have tiny imperfections but ones that need an expert to find while VS1 and VS2 (very slight inclusion) are easier to spot with magnification, both of these grades are high quality and are priced accordingly. Marks within the diamond become much easier to spot with the slightly included and inclusions included categories.

Read more on clarity

Carat: This is probably the one you’re going to pay most attention to – carat is the size of the diamond, but is measured in weight. One carat (ct) is defined as 200 milligrams (0.2g) – which would be about 6.5mm across if it is a round diamond, but only 5.5mm for a square cut. The size of a diamond has a huge impact on the price as larger stones are much rarer – so you will often find that one large diamond costs far more than twice the price of two diamonds that are half the size.

You’ll also find that if a piece of jewellery has multiple diamonds set in it, the total carat weight is listed rather than the individual stones.

Read more on carats

But life isn’t all about jewellery. You need something to set off that perfect necklace and to carry around your purse…

Handbags

We have some dazzling handbag auctions here at William George, so keep an eye out for them. You might want to think about designer first and set your heart on one of their pieces. The likes of Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci have dominated the bag market for years and hold their value if you’re thinking of long-term investment or resale opportunities further down the line.

That’s not to say other designers are any less desirable and with our current crop of luxury handbags we’ve got some classy names including Cartier, Miu Miu, Prada and much more.

You also need to consider the bag style – is it going to be for everyday use? Then you might consider a tote-style bag. Don’t worry, we’ve got stylish totes from Chanel and Louis Vuitton, amongst others, so you won’t look like you’re heading down the gym.

If it’s more of an occasional piece, think about something smaller.

Material

Leather is traditionally the material used for handbags, and this impacts price. More exotic types of leather will further increase the cost but could also help it keep its resale value. But there are some excellent man-made or other fabrics if you’re opposed to leather on ethical grounds or it’s not quite in your budget.

Vintage and pre-loved bags

Top-of-the-range designer bags will keep their value, especially if they’re from a particularly desirable period in a designer’s history. But there’s still a bargain to be had if you look hard enough. You also need to keep an eye on condition – here at William George, any damage should be made clear in the pictures and description, so you can rest-assured you know what you’re getting.

We have plenty of choice for you to browse but here are two highlights if jewellery and handbags are your thing:

Valentines Diamond Jewellery

Valentines Designer Handbags

Happy bidding!