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Auction houses tell jewel owners to lower sights

GENEVA, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Major auction houses are advising people putting fine jewels and watches on the block next week to lower their reserve price -- or secret minimum -- as the global financial crisis takes hold, their top experts said on Tuesday.

The reality check, ahead of Geneva auctions kicking off on Sunday, comes after Impressionist and modern art works on offer at Christie's and Sotheby's BID.N fell short of the low end of their pre-sale estimates in New York last week.

“We’ve seen a readjustment of prices, 20 to 30 percent lower. We’ve called many owners of jewellery and watches and wine selling items next week in Geneva and asked them to adjust their reserve prices to what we think is the new level of prices,” Francois Curiel, international director of Christie’s worldwide jewellery department, told Reuters.

“In a general manner they have accepted the new level of prices. Nobody is immune to what is going on at the moment; the calls don’t come as a surprise to anyone,” the Frenchman added.

While jewellery and watch prices are lower than six months ago, when many lots now on offer were consigned, they are still 15-18 percent higher than two years ago, according to Curiel.

“We are very cautious. There is a lot of demand for diamonds, which is a sign of a certain insecurity,” he said.

A Christie’s highlight is a blue sapphire from Kashmir, which it calls “one of the largest and most valuable sapphires ever to be offered at auction”. Its catalogue gives an estimate of $2.8 million-3.8 million for the stone weighing 42.28 carats.

DEEP BLUE DIAMOND

Rival Sotheby’s, the world’s largest publicly traded auction house, is also feeling the pinch after its quarterly loss jumped 55 percent last week.

“Where we feel we have to, we talk to owners about lowering the reserve price, where we feel a little adjustment might be a good idea,” said David Bennett, Sotheby’s chairman of jewellery for Europe and the Middle East. “They don’t have to agree.”

But the stronger dollar will help European sellers who set reserve prices when consigning gems months ago, the Briton said.

Sotheby’s is offering the Lesotho I, a very light brown diamond weighing 71.73 carats mounted on a ring. Its catalogue gives a pre-sale estimate of $3 million-$5 million for the stone, discovered by a miner’s wife in Lesotho in 1967.

Its star lot, a flawless deep blue diamond weighing 10.48 carats, is listed as possibly fetching $6 million-9 million.

“I am optimistic jewellery will continue to perform well, as it is seen as having value which is tangible and also frankly portable,” Bennett said. (Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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