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Jewellery specialist Jay Sagar on investing in heirloom and vintage jewellery pieces

As a fourth-generation jeweller, Jay Sagar’s introduction to the world of gemstones was almost like his first lesson in life. From a young age of four, his holidays were spent amongst precious gemstones, heirloom jewellery, and rare watches that inculcated in him a greater appreciation for the craft.

A rich family history of jewellers also entailed that Jay Sagar started his apprentice straight from college with visits to the family ateliers and stores daily and taking on responsibilities from a young age. It is this interest and understanding that led Jay Sagar to his current role as the jewellery specialist at AstaGuru, India’s premier online auction house. We talk to the jewellery expert on finding rare stones, buying heirloom pieces, and the whys and hows of auctioning.

Jay Sagar
Jay Sagar, jewellery specialist at AstaGuru

A jewellery anecdote you love sharing?

I’ve had the good fortune to see a lot of excellent vintage jewellery, but there was an incident which was particularly amusing. I was at a friend’s place for a jewellery valuation, and I needed a pencil to make a few notes. My friend handed me a pen stand, and when I took the pencil out, the stand fell and out came some 10-15 green coloured marbles. But they weren’t just marbles; they were old-mined Colombian emerald beads. My friend had no idea that these were emeralds, and for years, he assumed they were just glass marbles. After that incident, I had the gems cleaned and then strung. They’re now an important part of their jewellery collection.

Who was your greatest influence in shaping your jewellery taste?

My greatest influence has been my father. From a very young age, he has been my main inspiration about the world of the jewellery trade, design, and craftsmanship. My love for jewellery comes from witnessing him; his passion and drive for the trade and appreciation for jewellery craftsmanship. Another person who has influenced me significantly in this journey, in my later years, is my cousin, who heads the jewellery department for an important international auction house. He has been sort of a role model for me in my journey to curate collections at AstaGuru’s vintage jewellery and silver auctions.

A Rare Colombian Emerald Cameo, circa 1940, Part of AstaGuru's Heirloom Jewellery, Silver and Timepieces Auction in May 2021
A Rare Colombian Emerald Cameo, circa 1940, Part of AstaGuru’s Heirloom Jewellery, Silver and Timepieces Auction in May 2021

Where did your love of estate and vintage jewellery come from?

As a family business, we’ve always traded and dealt in vintage jewellery. There are few families in Mumbai that have access and a long history of working with heirloom and estate jewellery, and I’m proud to say I belong to one of them.

My love for the category comes from the immense knowledge I have gained over the years after working closely with the experts in my family and craftsmen in the trade. Knowledge is power, and getting the right exposure was key to developing a strong understanding of the heirloom and vintage category. Our country has an extremely rich history of jewellery adornment and craftsmanship, and one cannot help but develop a great passion for it once you have received the right exposure. Learning about the traditions of my own country further expanded my understanding of how the Indian subcontinent influenced the jewellery design aesthetics of the west.

How has the antique jewellery trade evolved since you started out?

I think one of the most important advancements in trade has been the ready availability and exchange of information brought on by technological innovations. I think we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to exploring the full potential of the vintage jewellery market, especially in India. There is a vibrant market for anything vintage internationally, but in India, it’s still in its nascent stages.

India has always played an important role in the rich history of the jewellery trade and adornment. Patrons are more appreciative of the value of vintage jewels and are acquiring jewellery of different periods. And this change has majorly been brought on by auction houses.

Auction houses have opened up a new avenue for it by providing a platform to showcase and demystify vintage jewellery for a larger audience, as well as making the process of acquiring vintage jewellery more accessible and transparent. As I said, there are literally a handful of people in the Indian market that have relevant experience in vintage jewellery.

Auction houses are now being able to engage with new segments of the audience. Be it art connoisseurs who don’t have access to vintage jewellery or young enthusiasts who want to invest in the category. We’re starting to see a lot of enthusiastic young bidders at our auctions since the newer generation is beginning to understand the value of all things vintage. And to be honest, the word vintage carries a certain charm — be it watches, jewellery, fine silver, luxury handbags – the list is endless. It is easy to own fine jewellery; you can even go to your local family jeweller and get any design replicated, but to get a hundred-year-old Art Deco bracelet that offers a specific level of symmetry, quality stones, the craftsmanship is not an easy process.

A Five Row Spinel Necklace, circa 1960, Part of AstaGuru's Heirloom Jewellery, Silver and Timepieces Auction in May 2021
A Five Row Spinel Necklace, circa 1960, Part of AstaGuru’s Heirloom Jewellery, Silver and Timepieces Auction in May 2021

What are the key factors, according to Jay Sagar, when picking vintage jewellery or bidding for one in an auction?

Always be sure of what you’re looking for in terms of one’s preferred jewellery style. Get an understanding of some important styles over the years that can help you choose the right piece for you. For instance, Vintage Art Deco jewellery is a superb style to have in one’s collection. Auction houses happen to be some of the best places to land great deals, especially AstaGuru that offers extremely conservative estimates.

What have you learned about the process of curating jewellery?

The process of planning and curating jewellery is extremely interesting as I get to see and select a variety of timeless and unique jewellery and interact with a lot of people. The overall process is great fun.

Does curating other people’s work have an influence on your own creative practice?

Due to my love for the vintage jewellery category, the process of curating collections for AstaGuru’s auctions is exciting and enjoyable. There are new insights I gain with each auction, whether it is about understanding our audience better or about the jewellery pieces.

Two Row Zambian Emerald Bead Necklace, Part of AstaGuru’s Heirloom Jewellery, Silver and Timepieces Auction in May 2021

What are the biggest trends you’re currently seeing in the jewellery industry?

I’m seeing a newfound interest in first-time buyers that are keen on building their own heirlooms with vintage jewellery.

A memorable auction that you’ve curated for one?

One of the most memorable auctions we’ve held at AstaGuru was in May 2021, which achieved an impressive total of Rs 18,31,96,287 crores, the highest total realised for an online auction in the category in India. This only signals an ever-growing collector base for the category in India and around the world.

All Images: Courtesy AstaGuru

Akshita Nahar Jain
Sr Associate Editor
Akshita Nahar Jain has worked with various publications, including Elle, Harper’s Bazaar Bride, and Time Out Delhi, and written extensively on fashion and lifestyle. A sucker for alliteration and stylish sitcoms, she enjoys scrolling the web for less travelled destinations.