A string of spectacular diamond sales last week showed the world's richest people are still willing to spend, offsetting a disappointing art auction that some had seen as an omen of economic gloom.
Fears that the super-rich might not be immune to the credit crisis rose when a Vincent van Gogh landscape went unsold at a Sotheby's auction instead of fetching its expected $28-$35 million price.
Yet on Thursday, Christie's sold a rare red diamond for a record $2.6 million, while Guess Jeans founder Georges Marciano bought a huge white diamond for $16 million a day earlier, the second most expensive stone ever sold at an auction.
"With the shadow of economic recession looming over the USA these mixed auction results could look like a correction and set the tone for the future market," auction database rtprice.com said on its website.
But the results of the diamond auctions may be the more significant, given that art is a more speculative investment than precious stones, where mined supply and measurable qualities determine prices.
"Diamonds are closer to being a homogeneous product. There are average qualities, there is even a kind of general measure, whereas art, paintings, are clearly totally unique," said Gilles Moec, an economist at Bank of America.
The disappointment at Sotheby's might be a sign of the next fashion fad, or a simple price correction, as impressionist-era paintings show signs of being less in demand, experts said.
"Unlike companies where people invest in stocks or bonds in art there is no shareholder-driven cost management, no cash flow, no forecasts," said UBS art banking expert Karl Schweizer.
"Any future price development can only be assessed in a speculative way," he said.
Shortly after the dismal art auction -- which knocked a third off its market value -- Sotheby's had its most successful auction of post-war art, selling a Jeff Koons sculpture for a record breaking $23.56 million and a Francis Bacon canvas for $46 million.
Diamonds are Forever
Economists monitor prices for items like yachts, paintings and jewels to assess the outlook for sales growth in luxury goods.