Five things to remember when buying a necklace at auction

Necklaces come in an array of styles and materials, with a huge variety of designs available.

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In November 2021 this Gratia Scott-Oldfield green tourmaline pendant necklace sold at Dreweatts with a hammer price of £3500. The stone is suspended from a reeded gold coloured bead on a coiled wire necklace.

Whether you’re looking for something classically romantic or fashionably trendy, something modern, antique or even ancient, all such items available to buy at auction.

Necklaces have been used for millennia for personal adornment. In many cases, they may also be considered works of art due to the high-level of craftsmanship or design.

If a new necklace from a high-street retailer is too pricey or doesn’t provide the unique style you are looking for, a second-hand one at auction could be just the thing.


Entry level prices for both hand-crafted necklaces and manufactured designs start at under £100 but many of the most desirable necklaces can easily sell for over £10,000.

Here are a few key points to remember:

One: There are lots of styles to choose from 

Different types of necklace include:

  • Pendant – where an item of jewellery, such as a gemstone, drops down from chain
  • Rivière – a necklace comprised of a group of similar gemstones often joined together in a circle that are either all in the same size or graduated smoothly from smaller to larger stones. This form dates from the Georgian period and remains popular today
  • Choker – a necklace that fits closely around the neck
  • Collar – a necklace that lies flat to the body rather than hanging freely
  • Torque – a bar or ribbon of twisted metal curved into a loop, often with fashioned with ornamental designs. It looks more like a solid single piece around the neck.
  • Pearl strands – a group of pearls worn either fitted around the neck or hanging loose

It’s also worth remembering that the length of the chain will determine how a necklace will hang. Some necklaces have adjustable chains, for example, those with a movable clasp.

If that all sounds overwhelming (how will you know which style to go for?) the good news is auctioneers are increasingly using pictures in their online catalogues showing a necklace being worn. This gives a much better idea of how it will hang and look on certain necklines.

Two: Know your materials 

Chains can be formed from a large array of different materials, mainly metals such as gold, silver, silver plate and platinum but they may also incorporate other elements like beads or string. Styles of chains include links, mesh, twisted metal and single strands.

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Thomson Roddick sold this late Victorian 9ct gold seed pearl openwork necklace on a rope twist chain for £600 in 2022.

Then there are the stones.

At auction, some buyers look for a particular type of stone like diamonds or coloured gemstones such as rubies, sapphire, emeralds or topaz. With precious stones, the key factors determining value are known as ‘The Four Cs’ – carat (weight), colour, clarity and cut.

Carat is a measure of the weight of the stone with the heavier examples being worth more. Cut refers to the way the stone has been shaped with the symmetry and proportions affecting the sparkle. Colour is a measure of a stone’s purity which affects how bright it appears. Clarity is a grading that is affected by small marks, fractures or imperfections in the stone (many which might not be visible to the naked eye but can be seen under magnification and will typically be mentioned in an auctioneer’s condition report).

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Modelled here is a diamond and 18ct yellow gold pendant and necklace by Harry Winston which went under the hammer at Tajan and sold for €1800 in December 2021.

Some gemstones are more suitable for everyday wear such as the more hardwearing stones like diamonds, sapphires, rubies and tourmaline. These items are likely to keep in good condition, survive any knocks and stand the test of time.

Jewellery featuring less hardwearing stones like emerald and opal are better suited for pieces worn primarily for special occasions as they’re slightly less able to withstand the wear of daily use.

Three: Opt for antique if you want to make a splash

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This 18ct yellow gold and emerald set necklace with tassel drops within a pierced frame went under the hammer at Adam Partridge in April 2021 and sold for £1050.

Your first thought might be to turn to auction when you want a more affordable modern piece. But what about antique or even ancient examples? These offer a sense of history, quality and the individuality that allow the wearer to stand out from the crowd, and some buyers will naturally gravitate towards these.

Popular antique styles include Georgian, Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco as well as modernist forms dating from the post-War period.

A piece by a well-known maker or with provenance to an established collection will likely command a premium. Antique pieces are also often judged beyond the inherent value of the stones in areas such as workmanship, settings, designs and how rare such a piece within the known output of the individual maker.

You may also be able to find much older necklaces from Roman or Egyptian times at auction, usually in specialist antiquities sales. You may be surprised how affordable these items can be.

Just because it may be 2000 years old or more does not make an ancient necklace expensive. Indeed, many small durable items from those times have survived, making them very accessible as well as desirable – wearing something that was first worn two millennia ago by a Roman lady can be quite a talking point.

Glass bead necklace string

A 2nd-4th century AD group of three restrung glass bead necklace strings, comprising mainly blue, green, white cylindrical disc and oblate beads. It sold for £88 including premium at Timeline in March 2020.

In many cases, ancient beads will have been put on a new string because the beads survived but the original string did not – look for a word such as ‘restrung’ in the lot description.

Four – keep an eye on the condition

The lot description will also usually detail condition issues such as any scratches. These may often be typical wear and tear for a necklace that was worn every day by its previous owner or they may be more severe.

You can request a condition report from the auctioneer if it is not already in the lot description. Attending a viewing in person will also enable you to try on the necklace you are considering bidding for and inspect it for yourself close up.

Auction houses with a jewellery department will employ a specialist you can contact to discuss your requirements and answer your questions.

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This 18ct gold Garrard’s Imperial topaz and diamond necklace sold a John Nicholson’s in 2022 for £1000.

In terms of diamonds and coloured gemstones, many lots offered at auction may have an indication of the inherent qualities noted in their catalogue entries. Often the best quality gemstones offered at auction have been submitted, prior to sale, to a professional independent laboratory testing (a service provided by a number of different grading bodies).

Always read the lot description carefully before bidding and feel free to contact the auction house to request a condition report or more photographs. 

What to do next

Decide how much you’d like to spend and use the search facility on to find necklaces coming up for sale.

You can filter your search by, among other things, price and by location of the auction house to narrow down your selection.

To research recent prices at auction to see how much different necklaces sold for you can also try out the Price Guide.

If you are new to bidding check out our guides to buying at auction – it’s easy once you know how.

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