On the way to Christie’s Auction, Magnificent Jewels, at Hotel des Bergues, I was not sure about what I would find there, but I was already constructing an idea of the realities involved. When jewelry comes to mind, it is almost impossible to not directly relates it with luxury and the accessories that surround this sector, such as watches, clothes, cars, places. It is interesting to notice that all these artifacts decorate life in such different aspects that it makes it easier for one to live believing in this material narrative. As a student researching the different correlations between the resources extractions and the impacts it causes in the society, I would be an outsider in this event, someone more interested in the people behind the processes that create this reality than the material pieces that were being sold. An external observer disguised as one of them. But who was them, and could I consider myself really out of it?
For me, all this situation seemed as if I were on the top of an iceberg trying to guess its size bellow the waterline. The materiality that composes the jewelry, gold, and gemstones, make my mind to think about how these pieces become what they are now. Expensive symbols of status and power generated through a long global supply chain filled with many messy shortcuts that establish a dialogue between formality and informality. The extraction, the processing, and the selling, each part involving multiple actors from different places, socio-economic realities, and cultural backgrounds. Although not physically present, they also should be considered part of all this. After all, they were the ones that transformed the reality of nature in this constructed social narrative by manipulating stones and metals. However, the nasty impacts of the “beauty creation” were not there; at least they were not visible.
The place was sumptuous. Ranging from the flowers of the hall to the Christie’s catalog, everything seemed to be planned to the classic perfection. Besides the metal detector, there were no other physical barriers, which made the ambient surprisingly casual, considering the value of the transactions that were being made. Pieces and thousands of swiss francs appeared on the screen, to and fro, hands were raised, and the businesses were done. The buyers were relaxed, changing thousands of francs for some carats of diamonds. I was tense, trying to identify the upstream part of this process. It transcends the idea of buying luxury accessories to approximates from the concept of art investment, taking advantage of what these materials represent in people’s minds to securitizing the assets. However, considering the high velocity of the offers that were being made, it was challenging to think this process only as calculated investment transactions. I believe that the buyers were also under the influence of the meaning that these materials provoke.
There were visible and invisible networks taking place — hidden actors connected via telephone or the internet. Visible actors bounded by family links or business interests. Secondary sellers were taking advantage of the meeting to make profits with parallel transactions. One the other hand, I could imagine how far the realities of extraction would be from that place. On the other, I could not believe how far these pieces would go afterward. I was in front of an open window, viewing just a glimpse of the whole which, as soon as that auction ends, would start to create new networks around each piece sold.
In conclusion, I believe that the experience was only a small fragment of an intricated and closed market. This sector is so deeply based on the meanings that both outsiders and insiders may find it difficult to define the border of it. Before I went there, I considered myself out of this process, but after it, I am not so sure. Although the boundaries that continuously keep excluding many to participate in the sector, I consider that the meaning created by those inside it only represents such a powerful idea because outsiders like me also share it, promoting the same perception across the society.
By Pedro Chaves Venzon