EVERY DAY IS A TREASURE HUNT FOR HERITAGE AUCTIONS’ EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF FINE JEWELRY
Interview by Rhonda Reinhart • Portraits by Josh David Jordan
Jill Burgum’s fascination with jewels began in high school when she started dabbling in jewelry manufacturing. The craft appealed to her artistic nature, and she loved that every piece she created was a “wearable miniature sculpture.” After college, where she studied art history, Burgum decided to try jewelry manufacturing seriously and returned to school. “I had to keep furthering my education to improve my process,” she says, “specifically after breaking a sapphire in a jewelry manufacturing class.” That led her to the Gemological Institute of America, where she earned degrees in graduate gemology and jewelry design.
Since then, Burgum has moved to the business side of the jewelry world, overseeing Heritage’s Fine Jewelry department, a division that recorded more than $26.38 million in total sales in 2022. Below, the jewelry lover talks holiday auction highlights, the joy of colored diamonds and why Indiana Jones is one of her favorite fictional characters.
2022 was a record-breaking year for Heritage’s jewelry department. Last fall, you oversaw the sale of a 1.21-carat red diamond that realized $1.755 million, the highest price ever paid for an item of jewelry at Heritage Auctions. What was that day like for you? And did you ever imagine you’d get a result like that?
That day was a blast! There was so much energy and buzz surrounding that particular diamond; the air in the auction room was electric. I had figured the diamond would reach the $1 million mark. It started slowing down around the $600,000 ballpark, which was nerve-wracking. But it did the slow climb and exceeded everyone’s greatest expectations. A few moments near the end were when I was holding my breath!
Speaking of colored diamonds, they continue to be popular with Heritage’s client-collector base. Why do you think that is? And what other market trends are you seeing these days?
Colored diamonds are fun and make people happy. They come in a complete rainbow of colors and appeal to various people, whether as wearable treasures or investments. They are also quite rare, which makes them desirable and collectible. As for market trends, this year has been a challenge to gauge. There have been shake-ups across the jewelry market landscape. We’ve been pleased to see that larger-sized diamonds and high-quality colored gemstones have remained strong, along with a stable metals market. The interest in men’s jewelry has also had a strong impact.
The record-breaking moment mentioned above was obviously a special occasion, but what’s a typical workday like for you?
It might sound like an odd analogy, but imagine a circus clown riding a unicycle while spinning plates in the air! There is never a dull moment, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am fortunate to love what I do and be surrounded by great people, from co-workers to clients.
Is there one part of your job you love the most? Why do you love it?
I’d probably say three things stand out: First, I enjoy helping people. I ask how I can assist someone in converting a tangible asset into cash. Second, the hunt for hidden treasure and then the discovery. Is it any wonder that Indiana Jones is one of my favorite fictional characters? Third, the story – whether that of a specific jewel, the designer or the consignor. The ability to build and share a creative, interesting story with our clientele makes me happy.
Heritage’s annual Holiday Fine Jewelry Signature® Auction is coming up December 4. Can you share some of the highlights you’re most excited about? Which items should bidders be adding to their wish list?
I am impressed with the colorful mix of jewelry, gemstones and objets de vertu presented. There is something for nearly everyone, from a 3.06-carat fancy pink diamond ring to a Frascarolo helicopter. I am quite fond of the Cartier dragon cuff links, too.
What can you tell us about the Jewelry for the Sharp-Dressed Man Showcase Auction slated for December 7? It seems like great timing as men’s jewelry is a hot topic in the fashion press right now.
My team and I are so excited about this auction. It is a curated selection of super cool gentleman’s gift options, whether to give to a friend, family member or loved one – or simply as a self-purchase because you deserve it. Men wearing lapel brooches is a hot ticket!
Any final thoughts you want to add about buying or selling fine jewels at auction?
Yes, give auction a try! Both buying and selling are easy options. As a seller, you consign your items, sit back and wait for a check while Heritage does all the work. We have a global outreach and a powerful marketing machine working with your success in mind. We aim to get as many eyes on your pieces as possible. From the buying perspective, jewelry acquisition through auction has a more palatable price than retail. Your money goes further. And the breadth of variety is endless.
Jill Burgum can be reached at 214.409.1697 or JillB@HA.com.