I went to an auction at the world-famous Christie's auction house, which sold $7 billion worth of art, jewellery, and luxury goods in 2018, and it was nothing like I'd expected

Katie Warren/Business InsiderThe auction was nothing like I’d expected.

Christie’s, the 250-year-old, world-famous auction house founded in London, sold $US7 billion worth of jewellery, art, watches, and other luxury items last year.

I’d always wondered what it would be like to attend an auction at Christie’s, so last week I headed to their New York City location at Rockefeller Center for the Magnificent Jewels auction, where $US30.3 million worth of fine jewellery and accessories were sold. The most expensive item sold was a twin-stone fancy vivid blue diamond ring for $US6.7 million.

Here’s what it was like to attend an auction at the prestigious auction house in New York City.

Christie’s is a world-famous auction house that sold $US7 billion worth of jewellery, art, watches, and other luxury items in 2018.

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Christie’s has a presence in 46 countries and salesrooms in 10 cities: London, New York, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Amsterdam, Dubai, Zurich, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

Christie’s New York City location is at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan.

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Christie’s New York is at 20 Rockefeller Center, right across from the famous “30 Rock.”

The location at Rockefeller Center features a colourful triple-height entryway, multiple salesrooms, private viewing rooms, and expansive galleries for the display of large-scale artworks.

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The colourful mural in the entryway is by artist Sol LeWitt.

I arrived at Christie’s on a recent spring morning for their Magnificent Jewels auction, which featured more than 271 pieces of jewellery, from Cartier charm bracelets to massive diamond rings worth millions.

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People were checking in for the auction in the lobby.

A few people were sitting on the sofas when I arrived, and glass cases held some jewels off to the side.

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“That dates from the Emperor Hadrian,” I heard a man in a suit telling some French-speaking people as he pointed to a piece in the display case.

I headed to the Woods Room, one of two auction rooms, which can hold up to 355 people.

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I was later told that the walls in the auction rooms are on a sliding track system which allows for multiple configurations in the room.

From the back of the room, I counted about 40 bidders, although several more filtered in late. Most sat in the rows of chairs in the center of the room but some sat against the back wall next to me.

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Christie’s has strict press guidelines at auctions that only allow photographs of the back of bidders’ heads.

On either side of the room were about 25 Christie’s staff members who were taking bids from clients over the phone.

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The phone bidders seemed very active in the auction. Throughout the auction, I heard Christie’s staffers bidding on behalf of people in Singapore, Germany, and Florida.

My first surprise was that there was a female auctioneer.

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I had imagined there would be a male auctioneer, so I was pleasantly surprised to see her up there in a bright red suit, cheerfully calling out the bids.

I later learned she was Caroline Ervin, an associate eCommerce specialist at Christie’s.

“$US16,000, are you sure? I’m selling at $US16,000, last chance,” she said. Then she banged her gavel. “$US16,000 to paddle 647.”

People were also bidding online. “Last chance online, click that mouse!” Ervin said.

I had expected the atmosphere in the room to feel very stuffy and serious, but that wasn’t the case at all. Bidders were greeting each other in a friendly manner and chatting and laughing. It seemed like many of them knew each other.

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And although I did see several bidders wearing suits, many were casually dressed. I saw people wearing jeans, sneakers, hoodies, and UGG boots. One man who wore a backwards baseball cap bid $US88,000 for a set of ruby and diamond jewels that ended up selling to another bidder for $US112,500.

There was, however, some palpable tension in the air when the bidding climbed higher than about $US250,000.

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The first sale above that price point was a Bulgari sapphire and diamond ring, which sold for $US375,000.

People raised their paddles so quickly and subtly that I often didn’t even spot them.

“Last chance,” Ervin said before banging her gavel. “Thank you all for your bid.”

I had also expected that the jewels themselves would be present during the auction. Instead, they were displayed on a TV screen and every bidder was given a guide that described every item up for sale.

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There were 292 lots for sale at this auction. Most of the lots comprised one single piece of jewellery, but others came in sets, such as a matching necklace and earrings. There were even elaborately jeweled clocks and bags included in the sale.

About 40 minutes in, Ervin was replaced by another auctioneer: Rahul Kadakia, the international head of jewellery at Christie’s. As Christie’s auctions can last hours, I could certainly understand the rotation of auctioneers.

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I wasn’t able to stay for the entire auction, but the total sales amounted to a staggering $US30.3 million.

The most expensive item sold was a twin-stone fancy vivid blue diamond ring for $US6.7 million.

After the auction, buyers pay for and pick up their items downstairs at the Cashier & Property Pick-Up area near the main lobby.

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I was told that immediate pick-up isn’t the case for all auctions, but for this one, it’s common, because jewellery is small enough to easily carry.

But that probably isn’t the first time the buyer will have seen the jewellery in person.

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A few days before the auction, a preview of all the pieces that would be up for sale was held.

I attended the preview and saw that interested buyers could ask Christie’s staff to take specific pieces out of the case and take them into a side room.

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There, potential buyers could get a good look at the pieces on their own and even try them on.

In addition to the auction rooms, Christie’s 310,000-square-foot facility in New York City includes art galleries that are free and open to the public.

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Approximately 100,000 visitors pass through Christie’s each year, according to a publicist.

Approximately 100 exhibitions and sales take place at Christie’s New York location alone throughout the year.

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All are free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 9:30 am to 5:00 pm.

The Christie’s International Real Estate flagship showroom is also at the New York location.

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Having only heard of Christie’s through the news and in movies and TV, I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t boring and pompous like I’d expected. If I had the kind of disposable income to bid in a Christie’s auction, I think I’d actually find it fun.

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