A conversation with Benoît Repellin

Jewelry auctions have eventually made me curious about the people working behind the scenes, and literally standing behind the rostrum. To a certain extent, they become the face of auction houses. Benoît Repellin is one of them. In October he announced the ending of his work partnership at Sotheby’s after almost a decade there and a career path that took him from being an assistant to ‘Director and Head of Magnificent Jewels sales’. This month the auctioneer has started a new chapter, this time with Phillips where Benoît occupies the post of Head of Jewellery, Europe & the Middle East.

Evgenia: First of all, congratulations! Opening a new career chapter, how do you feel about it?

Benoît: Joining Phillips as Head of Europe for Jewellery is a huge honour and a very exciting challenge. I am delighted to join a worldwide team that has proven to be strong with exceptional results last year, especially in Asia, and I am looking forward to working on expanding the visibility and business of Phillips in Europe and the Middle East.

E.: What would you say are the most notable differences from working for Sotheby’s? How challenging is it for you to “move” from one auction house to another?

B.: I’m very proud of my time at Sotheby’s and it was an honour to work with the team there in achieving some of the greatest successes of my career to date. Now, I’m excited to embark on this new chapter at Phillips. The team is wonderfully dynamic and the continued growth of the department and the team work of building international sales and developing Europe are something that I’m eager to be a part of.

E.: Talking about your career path, how did it all start? Why did you choose this direction? Was it a lifelong passion for the art of jewelry?

B.: I have always been fascinated by jewels. My father, as an art appraiser, received auction catalogues and La Gazette de l’Hôtel Drouot at home and I was always drawn into the jewellery sales. I tore the pages apart, looked at jewellery prices, drew jewellery pieces. I went with my father to auction previews and sales. After high school, I went to university to study History, Art History and Law, already thinking of being a jewellery specialist and probably in the auction world. After a master’s degree in History and Art History and a second year in Law, I did my gemmological course at the GIA and became graduate gemmologist. I was very passionate about my studies and looked at all the stones that were available in the building.

E.: You have many years of experience. How did the Pandemic change the jewelry auction market? Can you predict some long-term effects?

B.: The Art market has been very resilient and with more and more online sales and digital tools, we got some very strong results at auction. Clients are still looking for the best and we are delighted to offer artworks, jewels and watches that match these criteria of excellence.

E.: What are your favorite things about your job?

B.: I like the diversity about my job and the opportunity to follow a jewel throughout its journey. A jewel is something very personal and often emotional and sentimental. It is quite common for the clients who show us the jewels to also explain the provenance, the occasion on when the jewel was gifted, the previous owners. Then I give an estimate for the jewel, based on the quality of the stones, the craftmanship, the era, and the provenance if it is a historic piece. Sometimes we have very good surprises; some clients do not know the value of the jewels and we can find a very nice Kashmir sapphire or natural pearls with a beautiful orient. After the valuation, if the clients agree to put them for sale at auction, there is the whole process of cataloguing, photographing, promoting the jewels through exhibitions, press articles, and contacting collectors. And then comes the sale. I also enjoy being on the rostrum auctioneering these beautiful pieces or on the phone with clients bidding on the lots. It is rewarding to follow the journey of the jewel from one home to another.

E.: Can you describe your typical day at work?

B.: This is the beauty of my job: there is not a typical day at work! I never know what I will find when I meet a client. And I am rinsing my eyes every day with beautiful pieces. The more jewels you see, the more accurate the eye becomes. But I would also say that the more jewels I see, the more I like my job. I am very lucky to be happy to wake up every morning to go to work.

E.: Working in a major auction house, you have so many exceptional pieces passing through your hands. Can you think of some pieces that you were sorry to let go?

B.: I feel very privileged to be able to handle such exceptional pieces. It makes me feel very humble to hold pieces which have gone through generations until this day, set with stones that are millions of years old, contemplating the craftmanship and the beauty of the execution of the jewel. But I am not envious, I am grateful to see them and to be able to be part of the life and journey of the jewels. I remember a lot of pieces, but I would not say I was sad to let them go.

E.: Professional, respected, charismatic auctioneer, head of Jewelry departments of worldwide famous auction houses – this is one side of Benoît Repellin. How is Benoît after work? What does he like doing, how does he unwind, does he have a hobby maybe?

B.: This is quite laudatory! I am very grateful that I got the opportunity to be in contact with exceptional jewels and to work and learn from knowledgeable people. Outside of work, being quite a nerdy and passionate person, I still follow the auctions, go through jewellery books or attend exhibitions. I also like sailing and skiing. Nature and beautiful landscapes definitely help to recharge and elevate the soul. Beauty is very important, and I also see beauty in the jewels I handle.

E.: Do you have a favorite place in Geneva?

B.: Walking by the lake. It is a beautiful place to enjoy at any season.

E.: Do you have favorite jewelry designer/brand?

B.: That is a very difficult question. Every jewellery maison and designer has their own characteristics, charm, quality, design. I would not be able to choose one. I would like to have a collection with a nice array of jewels from each period, style, jewellery house and designers!

E.: What is your favorite drink (can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic)?

A gin and tonic. It reminds me of my good times in London.

E.: Do you have a favorite holiday destination?

B.: I go to Brittany every summer and I have not missed one year. It is a nice family time and I will never get bored of the beautiful landscapes!

Photo: AlexandrinePortrait

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