Trade Talks – Prudence Hopkins of Sworders

Prudence Hopkins of SwordersPrudence Hopkins is the Head of Accessories and Textiles and a valuer and auctioneer at Sworders Auctioneers in Stansted Mountfitchet, here she shares her insights into the world of luxury accessories, antiques and art.

A Gucci crocodile 'Aviatrix Boston' bag
A Gucci crocodile ‘Aviatrix Boston’ bag, black crocodile skin with gold-toned hardware. Estimate: £4000-6000

What areas/items are currently selling well? 

In terms of luxury accessories and jewellery, designer costume jewellery has always been popular, but over the last few years, prices at auction for paste stone pieces with associated designer names have dramatically increased. Vintage designer pieces, such as Schiaparelli and Trifari, and modern designer costume jewellery, such as Chanel, Dior and Christian Lacroix, are very much sought after and some pieces can make as much as their gemstone counterparts.

Designer handbags have become a collector’s item, with vintage Gucci, Chanel and Hermès being the names that are currently most sought after.  Some limited edition designer handbags can make more at auction than they did when they were first purchased.

What do you think are the current ‘good investment’ items for 2017 – ones to watch? 

A Georgian diamond and emerald cluster ring
A Georgian diamond and emerald cluster ring, estimated at £1200-£1500, which realised £3500 at Sworders

Georgian jewellery and coloured gemstone jewellery. Once diamonds were all anyone wanted, but the fashion-savvy buyers are now looking for jewellery set with colourful stones such as emeralds, sapphires, rubies, garnets and less expensive stones such as peridot, topaz and amethysts.

What antiques do you have at home? 

I try to practice what I preach and buy antiques which I love rather than because they have any kind of investment potential.  So I do have contemporary artwork on my walls which I love, but obviously, because I am a jewellery and accessories valuer, it’s very hard not to buy jewellery – but luckily most pieces are out of my price range from our specialist jewellery sales at Sworders.

What do you think will be the antiques of the future? 

Antiques are fashion-led, so if you can predict the fashions of the future, you will be on to a winner. In terms of accessories, items by leading women fashion designers I think will be collectable in years to come, such as Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney. Dior has just appointed its first ever female creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, who will put her own stamp on the brand. I can already envisage the exhibition at the V&A of leading female fashion designers of this century and I think these couture pieces by women will have a strong collectors’ market in the future.

Also ethical antiques – younger buyers are keen to buy items that are ethically sound, such as responsibly-sourced gemstones and contemporary furniture made from responsibly-sourced woods. I think this will be a huge influence on consumer markets in the future.

How is the industry changing – what are the areas for optimism? 

Cedric Morris 'Easter Bouquet'
Cedric Morris (1889-1992) ‘Easter Bouquet’, 1934, signed, oil on canvas, 64 x 64cm. Sold for £49,000

The market is changing in terms of what people think an auction house sells. They have traditionally been known for, say, Georgian chests of drawers and Chinese blue and white vases, but people are coming to realise that regional auction houses do sell contemporary items which young buyers are looking for, such as Modern British Art, handbags, couture clothing, contemporary jewellery and watches, prints by renowned artists and wine. We already have specialist sales for all these ‘modern’ items at Sworders and if we keep adapting to these changing markets by keeping our sales up-to-date and fresh, we can cater for our new younger buyers as well as our traditionalists.

Tell us some trade secrets – what are your top tips for buying antiques? 

This is a classic response, but view the item you intend to bid on, or if you are buying online, ask for a condition report. As specialists, we will always give accurate condition reports and we would prefer to tell you if there is a problem, like a mark on a piece of fabric or a chip on a cup, then our buyers not ask and be unhappy with their purchase.

One more tip for luck: always ask what the charges are for the auction house you are buying or selling at. They are different for every auction house; some charge higher commission rates or photograph fees and lot fees. Ask the question, then you will know how much you’ll receive or need to pay once a transaction has been made.

What antiques/artworks would you buy if money were no object? 

I have a list! I have always wanted a pair of terrestrial and celestial library globes, although I would also need a home with a library to house them. In terms of a more contemporary piece, I would love a Hermès ‘Birkin’ handbag, and my favourite gemstone is emerald, so a Colombian emerald and diamond ring would also be on that list.

You’re down to your last 50 quid – what antiques/art would you buy? 

A vintage dress from the Objects of Desire Sale at Sworders Auctioneers.

Where are your favourite antique hunting destinations? 

The South of France: they have wonderful flea and street markets in towns such as Uzes. However, my family live in Norfolk and there are some wonderful car boot sales in the summer to stroll around.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that buyers make? 

Buying items at auction that they have little knowledge about, hoping to sell it a year later and make a profit. You need to know your stuff if you’re looking for those bargains, or just be very lucky!

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