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A customs guideline said the new rate, which took immediate effect, also applied to jewellery “destined for different use from originally intended; special transactions other than the usual trading of similar items; landmarks in the evolution of human craftsmanship; and items illustrating a period of this evolution”.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given this obtuse terminology, Christie’s worldwide jewellery supremo François Curiel, who is based in Paris, has asked France’s Head of Customs for clarification. The lower VAT rate does not apply to “new” jewels, manufactured by a jeweller and consigned immediately to auction, but Curiel feels it could apply to modern jewellery as long as it is secondhand.