Following Its Record Watch Auction, Phillips Hires an Industry Veteran to Revamp Its Jewelry Department

Susan Abeles comes to the auction house from Bonhams.

Susan Abeles. Photo: Courtesy of Phillips.

Phillips has recruited jewelry expert Susan Abeles to lead its expanding jewelry auctions department in New York. The hire is part of the auction house’s ongoing effort to beef up departments beyond the ultra-competitive contemporary art category.

Abeles joins Phillips from Bonhams, where she served as director of jewelry for the US. She has also worked at high-end jewelry retailer Siegelson and, for seven years, served as vice president of Christie’s jewelry department.

Phillips has been quietly developing competitive teams outside of its trademark contemporary-art segment as a way to expand its business and also, perhaps, to hedge against its bets in the high-stakes fine-art sector, where the house is known to hand out aggressive guarantees.

Abeles’s appointment comes on the heels of recent success for Phillips’s fast-growing watch department, which the house launched in 2014 under the leadership of charismatic former Christie’s watch executive Aurel Bacs and his partner Livia Russo. Last year, Phillips’s debut standalone watch auction made history, achieving a $17.8 million record with the sale of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona wristwatch.

“We’ve had extraordinary success with our watches business, starting from scratch two years ago to now holding a dominant position in the sector with 47 percent of the market,” Phillips CEO Ed Dolman told artnet News in an email. “While my expectations for jewelry are more modest, I see an opening to build a thriving jewelry business with a modern sensibility to complement our focus on art and design of the 20th and 21st centuries.” The house currently holds jewelry sales twice a year in Hong Kong and New York.

A spokesman for the auction house said Phillips is working toward cracking $1 billion in annual sales, and acknowledged that beefing up categories outside of the art sector is part of its plan to reach that goal. (He also noted that Phillips hit $708 million in total sales last year, up 80 percent since Dolman came aboard as CEO in 2014.)

“An important component of our strategy is to create cross-marketing opportunities within Phillips,” Dolman added. “Collectors of contemporary art also tend to appreciate fine watches and jewelry, and extending our offerings into complementary categories offers us the opportunity to seek out new clients who may not have previously been interested in contemporary art.”

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