By Michelle Graff

It was a warm, autumn morning in New York City when I got out of the taxi in front of Christie's auction house at Rockefeller Center. Gil, who has been opening the Christie's doors for the past 30 years, was wearing a cap and neatly pressed jacket as he greeted me with a "Good morning, sir."

"Good morning," I said as he held the large glass door open and I entered the lobby. The surroundings are minimalist, well-appointed and clean. There is an air of importance.

I headed up the large staircase to the second floor where I registered and received my bidding paddle for the Magnificent Jewels auction: No. 203.

I milled around a bit, eyeing my fellow bidders before heading to the adjacent salon and took a seat mid-way back. The auction would start promptly at 10 a.m.

I had ordered and received the auction catalog by mail a week earlier, so I'd seen photographs of the sale items, and the previous day, I attended the auction preview. I was ready. I knew which pieces I wanted to bid on, and I had set a maximum price for each so that my emotions and particular love of one piece of jewelry wouldn't interfere with my practical business sense.

At the preview the day before, I had the pleasure of seeing an extremely rare ring containing a 5.07-carat rectangular-cut natural fancy-intense-blue diamond, GIA-certified, with VS2 clarity. The diamond was surrounded by two tiers of pink diamonds. To a jeweler, seeing such perfection is like a violin student hearing Itzhak Perlman play Paganini. The pre-sale estimate was $2.2 million to $2.8 million. It ended up being the last piece sold at a hammer price of $2.54 million.

Other pieces of interest included an 18.88-carat round-brilliant-cut diamond with D color and internally flawless clarity, which sold for $1.65 million. As you can see, the rich have gotten richer. There was no shortage of funds at this auction.

As bids are being placed, you can watch them on a large digital screen, located just behind the auctioneer, that resembles a train station departure board.

As new information comes in, the Christie's board changes at a furious rate, displaying a whirl of figures in U.S. dollars, euros, British pounds sterling, Swiss francs, Hong Kong dollars and Japanese yen. Aside from the crowded New York City showroom, Christie's experts are stationed at two banks of telephones lining the showroom walls. Bidders call from around the world, and some bid online at

The larger the audience, it stands to reason, the higher the bids, and this year there was a new wrinkle: the buyer's premium. As of Sept. 1, 2007, the premium structure paid to Christie's by the buyer is as follows: "25 percent of the hammer price of each lot up to and including $20,000, plus 20 percent of the excess of the hammer price over $20,000 up to and including $500,000, plus 12 percent of the excess of the hammer price above $500,000."

Therefore, if you plan on making a purchase for re-sale of, for example, $10,000, your final cost with the buyer's premium is $12,500.

I didn't end up buying the pieces I selected as the bids with the buyer's premium included were higher than my maximum.

Still, no other experience compares to the excitement of sitting in an elegant salon and being a part of an auction where millions of dollars exchange hands in a matter of minutes. No impersonal computer, no online auction, no telephone call, can take the place of being among the crowd at a Magnificent Jewels Auction.

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