Rahul Kadakia may have pegged the most expensive wristwatch sale in the auction world – 31 million Swiss francs ($ 33 million) for a Patek Philippe grandmaster chime – but early career experience was far less high.
“Sell me this salad,” said François Curiel, then Christie’s global jewelry boss and chairman of the European branch, one day instructing a 24-year-old Mr Kadakia over lunch in Geneva.
Mr. Kadakia had announced his ambition to become an auctioneer. “I started auctioning and placing bids – 3,000, 3,200, 3,500 – and sold him his lunch,” he said, item by item. “I must have checked a few boxes when, immediately after the fondue, François said, ‘Well, you did a good job selling me La Salade’ and Christie’s gave me a trial run shortly afterwards.”
Reported on the incident a little over two decades later, 46-year-old Kadakia was sitting in his large corner office at Christie’s New York headquarters, where he has been working since 2004. His rise is recorded in a framed collection of his business cards on the office wall: Trainee, London; Junior Specialist, London; Specialist, Geneva; Head of Jewelry, America, New York; and international head of jewelry since 2014.
Today he is considered one of the most successful auctioneers in the world. He set his first world auction record when he sold the Baroda Pearls, a double-stranded natural pearl necklace made by a maharajah, for $ 7.1 million in 2007 (back when $ 7.1 million meant something). More recently, there was the sale of Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence in 2019 that raised $ 109.3 million.
“In his two decades of auctioning, Rahul has been on the podium for many of the most exciting and remarkable moments in auction history,” wrote Tash Perrin, vice chairwoman and director of the auctioneer training program at Christie’s, in an email.
For example, Ms. Perrin wrote that in 2011 Mr. Kadakia was “co-auctioneer of the famous jewelry from Elizabeth Taylor’s collection, which valued $ 137.2 million and more than quadrupled its pre-sale estimates.”
When asked, Mr. Kadakia ticked off several other records: the Princie Diamond, a chic, intense pink gem that sold for $ 39.3 million in 2013. This is the highest auction price for a diamond found in India’s famous Golconda mines (and now the subject of a lawsuit); the Orange, a pear-shaped, fancy, vibrant 14.8-carat orange diamond that sold for $ 35.5 million in 2013, a record for orange diamonds and a world record price of $ 2.3 million per carat; and the Oppenheimer Blue, a fancy 14.6-carat blue diamond that sold for $ 57.6 million in 2016 – a record price for any blue diamond.
While some auctioneers have specialized in one category, Kadakia-san at Christie’s has sold almost everything without using sneakers. (One watch blogger described him as “the best watch auctioneer who isn’t a watch specialist”.)
Mr Kadakia said the secret of his success was his ability to “feel the space,” a skill he used for the Only Watch 2019 auction in Geneva, a biennial event that sells unique timepieces to showcase the Support research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The first bid was 5 million francs, then 10.
“When it got to 17 million, it was Paul Newman’s,” he said, referring to the actor’s Rolex Daytona and its 2017 auction price, the record-breaking wristwatch sale at the time. “We weren’t finished yet, we just started. I felt it. I could smell the juice in the room. That will go on. “
He was right. “With 28 million there were two bidders left. One of them made a call to bid, but I knew he was actually in the back of the room. He wanted to be there to feel the excitement. “Mr. Kadakia remembered pointing his hammer and looking directly at the bidder, and the direct look worked.
The collector asked his phone bidder to raise the stake to 31 million and he got the watch. (The man was never publicly identified and Mr. Kadakia declined to name him.)
“You need to know where to look,” he said.
“The charismatic Rahul Kadakia is quite adorable to watch at work,” wrote Elizabeth Doerr, editor-in-chief of the Quill and Pad watch website, in an email. “At the Only Watch auction, he used both his many years of experience as an auctioneer and his Swiss connections to make the auction experience breathtakingly exciting and at the same time move the event forward at a good pace. Watching him at work at the desk “- the podium -” is like watching an exciting Whodunit; He really knows how to work the room in addition to the phone banks to get the highest bids. “
The pandemic has posed particular challenges as online auctions have replaced personal auctions. “You have to make people feel like they are in the room,” Kadakia said, explaining that he is trying to do this by personalizing the commandments.
Some auctioneers may refer to bidders with their assigned numbers, but Mr. Kadakia said, “I say, ‘Thank you Dubai’ if a bid comes from there, or ‘Hong Kong, come back; Do you have another bid? ‘to encourage this customer. “
Mr. Kadakia’s passion for what he does was expressed when he spoke vividly about his promotion to Christie’s, where he has been since 1996.
He completed his first luxury goods training in his family’s jewelry store in Mumbai, India. “If you are from a jewelry family in India and you are a boy, do so,” Kadakia said. He worked in the shop from 16-21, juggling school and “doing anything” at work.
The family business involved “selling special jewels that the international market had big appetites for,” Kadakia later added in an email. It caught the attention of Eric Valdieu, who was then head of Christie’s jewelry division in Geneva.
“He realized,” continued Kadakia, “the opportunity to meet great collectors and also members of the trade in India.” So Mr Valdieu came to visit and Mr Kadakia was accused of chauffeuring him in Mumbai.
“I was 18 or 19 years old,” said Mr. Kadakia. “When I drove it between appointments, I asked questions, ‘What did you see? ” Was there anything valuable? ‘ “The young man’s interest was piqued.
To prepare to work in the jewelry industry, Mr. Kadakia went to the Gemological Institute of America, then to Santa Monica, California to study gemology. While he was there, the school organized a careers fair and Mr. Curiel came to represent Christie’s.
“Three hundred students applied to Christie’s,” said Kadakia, “ten were interviewed and three were hired.” I used my connection. “Mr Valdieu got through with a recommendation and Mr Kadakia went to London for an apprenticeship and then to Geneva for seven years.
Although Christie’s now has a training program, Mr. Kadakia has learned from experience how to be an auctioneer, participate in small auctions, and work your way through to command of the large ones.
Mr. Kadakia missed one thing: “When you go through the auction process, you get a hammer. So I didn’t have a hammer, ”he said. But Mr. Curiel had a choice and Mr. Kadakia asked to borrow one. He chose a turned wooden model, a copy of a hammer that Mr. Curiel had found along Portobello Road, the London street lined with antique shops.
“I’ve borrowed it for 23 years,” said Kadakia. “I used it on everything I sold at Christie’s.”