Estate Jewelry: Millennial Octopi and The Perfect Handle for Your Parasol
It’s the most visually exhausting time of the year: auction season. These sales are so big and varied that it’s impossible to choose just one item to gape at, so I’ll show you a couple of pieces from each (and link to a bunch more). First up, we have the December 8th Jewelry, Watches, Objet de Vertu, Gemstones auction at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J. While there’s a pretty serious Tiffany & Co. emerald and diamond necklace leading the estimates, I’m way more taken with these little gold octopus earrings. Each one cradles a bronzey-gray Tahitian pearl in its little tentacles. They also have diamond eyes, and they aren’t old — only circa 2000. They’re millennial octopi.
Also, how badass is this Victorian eagle bypass bracelet? Circa 1860, it’s 18k gold with two chased eagle heads (“chasing” means that the feather pattern was created by painstakingly indenting the gold rather than carving it). One eagle wears an opal crown and has red and green jeweled eyes (gemstones not specified), as well as a ruby collar with a pearl and diamond drop. The other has a red foil-backed jewel crown, green and blue eyes, and a pearl collar. The tubular body of the bracelet is incised, and highlighted with bright blue and white enamel.
On December 9, Phillips will be holding their Jewels auction in New York. The highlight of the sale is a natural fancy pink diamond ring, estimate $2,900,000-$4,000,000. The pear-shaped stone is approximately 9.01 carats and certified as a Type IIa diamond, and it’s been placed in a sinuous rose gold setting lined with pavé diamonds.
These JAR titanium and 18k gold earclips are showing up in a few auctions this month, and while they’re definitely not high-end JAR (I believe they were originally sold at the opening of the Bergdorf Goodman JAR fragrance boutiques in Paris and New York), they’re a good excuse to mention the Jewels by JAR exhibit currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I told you about JAR a while back, and, if you’re in New York anytime between now and March 9, I HIGHLY recommend that you stop in, because JAR exhibits are rare and spectacular. Just look at this orange peel brooch. See? You need to go.
Heritage Auctions is holding a Fine Jewelry auction in Dallas on December 9. One of the standout pieces in the auction is this Fred Leighton necklace, which features approximately 66.25 carats of full-cut diamonds. I wish they had included a photo of it on a model — I’m curious as to how it would lay, and whether the wearer would need to have a Consuelo throat to pull it off. The description states that it also may have doubled as a tiara, which strikes me as impressive multitasking.
And while it’s not jewelry, I do have to point out this amazing parasol handle. Probably made by French jeweler George le Sache for the Parisian branch of Tiffany & Co., it is made of carved shell, with intricate gold and enamel floral detailing. Circa 1880–1900 and still immaculate in its original box, it’s truly a relic of another age.
Also not jewelry is the small, original Jane Austen watercolor portrait being sold in the English Literature, History, Children’s Books & Illustrations auction at Sotheby’s London on December 10. It was commissioned by Jane’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh in 1869, and was based on a sketch of Jane done by her sister Cassandra, as well as descriptions passed on to the artist, James Andrews, by Austen-Leigh. An engraving of this portrait was made in the same year — that’s the image that has been reproduced a bazillion times as the “official” Austen portrait — but this original watercolor remained in the Austen family and has rarely been seen in public. Hopefully all the English museums were tipped off about this piece well in advance, so that we won’t have another debacle like the last time an original Austen-related item came up for sale.
Harry Potter fans may be interested in this “Lumos Maxima” charm bracelet, which was designed by Scottish jewelers Hamilton & Inches to raise funds for Lumos, J.K. Rowling’s children’s charity. In sterling silver with 11 gold and gem-set charms (including a Golden Snitch, sorting hat, Slytherin locket, etc.), it uses a tiny magic wand as a closure.
This (approximately) 52.58-carat Golconda diamond ring is the centerpiece of the Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction on December 10 in New York. Flanked by tapered baguette-cut diamonds and mounted in platinum, the stone is rectangular-cut and estimated at $9,500,000-$12,500,000.
Much more my speed is this Art Nouveau gold, enamel and pearl brooch by René Lalique. Circa 1900, it features a pierced gold plaque depicting two sculpted profiles, layered with six swallows enameled in blue. A baroque pearl is suspended below. Make sure you blow this one up to see the amazingly gestural modeling of the faces. Lalique, man.
OK, straight up, I pretty much want everything in the Skinner Fine Jewelry auction in Boston on December 10. There’s a big Cartier diamond ring, a tiny little gold and gem-set ship brooch/objet thingy, gold coach covers, and this awesome “Pisces” fish skeleton ring. Also included are a few rare pieces from the American metalsmith and jeweler Marie Zimmermann (1879–1972), including these two beautiful bangles. The bangles join two dragons — one of carved jade and the other of polychrome enamel — with a central red bead. The auction notes state that the bangles were originally shown in a 1939 exhibition of Zimmermann’s work in Santa Barbara, and she kept them her whole life.
I’ve stated my love for J.E. Caldwell & Co. before, so it’s no surprise that I’m drawn to this little Art Deco brooch — but I think I would love it no matter who made it. The designer has set a diamond bonsai tree (with an onyx trunk, “planted” in a jade jardinière) into a classic Deco frame of rock crystal, diamonds and sapphires. It’s a great, totally harmonious juxtaposition of a natural motif within a border of geometrical symmetry.
On December 11, Sotheby’s New York will be holding their Magnificent Jewels auction. One of the main highlights is this — *deep breath* — 51.75-carat cut-cornered square modified brilliant-cut fancy vivid yellow diamond. Two triangle-shaped diamonds flank the stone, and a bunch of other diamonds are placed along the sides of the platinum and 18k setting (be sure to click through and look at it; it’s ridiculous). Estimate: $2,500,000-$3,500,000.
Another standout piece is this Egyptian-Revival brooch by Cartier. Circa 1923, it features an ancient green-glazed faience (a crushed quartz- or sand-based ceramic widely used in ancient Egypt) bust of Sekhmet, a goddess with the body of a woman and the head of a lioness. She is depicted with a solar disc and a uraeus (or cobra) upon her head, and these forms symbolize her status as both royalty and a solar deity. The bust is set into a fan-shaped and tiny-diamond-studded background of lapis lazuli. Diamonds and black enamel border the fan, creating the shape of a lotus blossom. The auction notes also mention that the platinum and 18k gold setting includes an 18k crook that is visible from the back. In a nice little twist, Cartier’s designers ran the crook, which is “a symbol of state power in Egypt when held by the pharaohs in conjunction with a flail,” through the faience bust, so it acts as a further support structure.
The December 12 Important Jewelry auction at Doyle New York also features a big yellow diamond ring, but let’s look at another color for a change. I love carved gemstones, and this Edwardian pink tourmaline sautoir is gorgeous. Featuring five strands of seed pearls interspersed with pink tourmaline beads, the necklace is over 27 inches long and supports a giant (just over 1.5” x 1.25”) carved pink tourmaline. The tourmaline is secured with a platinum, diamond and emerald cap. Circa 1915.
This circa 1940 cabochon sapphire and diamond bracelet is another opulent gemstone piece. It features nine oval cabochon sapphires (totaling approximately 85.25 carats) set in platinum and surrounded by diamonds. The piece is edged with gold, and the center sapphire is detachable, so it can be worn as a pendant.
Christie’s will hold their annual Ancient Jewelry auction in New York on December 13. A highlight of the sale is this Hellenistic Period Greek gold bracelet, circa 300 B.C. The piece is hollow and features a central “Herakles” or reef knot that is intricately detailed with twisted wire filigree. More wire filigree and granulation appear on the collars of the bracelet, in natural motifs including palm leaves and tiny birds. At the center of the knot, a small die-formed lion runs towards a seated figure of Pan, who is playing a set of pipes.
I’m also drawn to these slightly scary — but also kind of cute? — Roman gold theater mask pendants, which have been fitted with modern gold earwires. Circa the 1st century A.D., they’re pressed from gold sheet and depict comic slave masks, with pierced round eyes and wide, grinning mouths. Their hair is arranged in a speira (or a coil/twist).
Monica McLaughlin tweets at @rococopacetic. In an effort to not have the two biggest auction houses totally dominate the column, she left out a couple of December auctions that you may want to check out (if you still have the stamina). They are: Jewellery & Watches at Christie’s London, and Fine Jewels at Sotheby’s London. Happy hunting!