Spartan diadems, planetary rings and a naked lady in a matchbox

Also, a snake with people teeth.

This type of banded, arched and bejeweled tiara is known as a “Spartan diadem.” The style’s origins go back to ancient Greece, and the word “diadem” itself derives from the Greek diadein, which means “to bind around.” Its neoclassical form — which evolved from Napoleon Bonaparte’s revival of the laurel wreath crown — was wholeheartedly adopted by the French Napoleonic court, and Empresses Joséphine and Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III) can both be seen wearing them in portraits. The band shape of the diadem was particularly complementary to the upswept hairstyles of the day, so the style quickly made its way to an international audience, gaining mentions in various periodicals of the early 1800s.

This particular diadem may have actually belonged to Empress Eugénie. It’s now in the collection of London jewelers Bentley & Skinner, but in 2015 it was sold by Bonhams, and they mention the possible Eugénie connection in their lot description. It seems there’s another portrait of the Empress in which she’s wearing a very similar coral and gold diadem, and she also was known to sell her own jewelry to maintain her lifestyle — but as there’s no clear history or record of sale, Bonhams admits we can’t be sure if she owned it or not. Bentley & Skinner make no mention of Eugénie in their description.

The diadem itself is circa 1840, and was made in Naples. The piece features seven large concave discs set into a flat band of gold, with each disc cradling a cabochon-cut coral. Eight smaller cabochons set in floral-shaped bezels are placed between the larger stones and surrounded by Etruscan-style gold wirework designs. Overall, it’s a beautiful example of the archaeological revival style that began in the 18th century with the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, and was revisited again throughout the 19th century as designers tried to replicate the intricate workmanship of the Etruscans.


Seriously, few things delight me more than depictions of creatures with people teeth. This pre-Revolutionary circa 1880 Russian snake bracelet has an articulated golden body, with an ornately enameled head set with a 1-carat pear-shaped diamond and ruby eyes. Definitely go look at the other photos of it, because it really is beautiful! But one look at those choppers and all I can think of is that time Grover tackled Kermit and made him wear a set of teeth for a public service announcement.

I highly recommend the skit, if you haven’t seen it. Yesh.



In 1857, the British Admiralty commissioned a medal to honor all those hardy souls involved with Arctic expeditions between the years of 1815 and 1855. Expeditions in search of the Northwest Passage — a commercial trading route through the Arctic — were regularly being undertaken in those years, but the mid-1800s in particular saw a large increase as many expeditions were commissioned to look for Captain John Franklin and his two ships, the Terror and the Erebus, which had sailed off in search of the Passage in 1845 and never returned.

The medals were awarded by Queen Victoria, and her profile is seen on the front of the piece. The reverse features a three-masted ship surrounded by icebergs, with a sledge party in the foreground and the words “For Arctic Discoveries” and “1815-1855” at top and bottom.

The name of the recipient was engraved along the edge of the medal, and this particular medal was awarded to Joseph Organ, who had served as Ice Quartermaster — which I believe is essentially a helmsman who is trained to detect and steer the ship through pack ice to open water — on three different expedition ships: The Enterprise in 1848-49, led by Commander James Clark Ross (who was an absolute smokeshow, by the way); the Resolute expedition of 1850-51, which discovered traces of the Franklin expedition’s first winter camp; and the Assistance, which sailed in 1852 in search of Franklin along with four other ships, including the Resolute again.

Incoming tangent alert! Lol. In 1854, the Assistance expedition’s commander, Sir Edward Belcher, made the decision to abandon the ships after two winters in the ice. His men were NOT happy about it because they felt their ships and stores were more than sound enough to last another season, but they had no say in the matter. They all returned “safe but disgusted” to England, and 16 months later, the Resolute was found adrift by an American whaler. The whaler’s captain steered it home to Connecticut, and as a gesture of “national courtesy,” Congress bought it from the whalers for $40k, fixed it up and returned it to England, where Queen Victoria and her family toured the ship and expressed their thanks and delight at its condition.

The Resolute was eventually retired in 1879 and broken down, and the British government ordered three desks made from its timber. One of those desks was given to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes in thanks for the earlier rescue and return of the ship, and the desk — which is usually referred to as “the Resolute desk” — still sits in the Oval Office. The less said about the current day the better, but here’s a photo of the desk in happier times, with Socks holding down the fort.


Gosh. This French writing case dates to the second half of the 18th century, and is another example of the beautiful neoclassical craftsmanship of the time. Made of engraved gold with translucent enamel, it features two central starburst medallions surrounded by mother of pearl. One side (unshown) features a diamond-accented monogram, and the reverse depicts a sweet little scene of a dog and a dove alongside an altar or column. The scene symbolizes love and friendship, and the inscription on the hinged lid of the case says Souvenir d’Amitié, or Souvenir of Friendship. Further decoration frames the case, with round white enamel beads alternating with golden stars set inside circles and overlaid on translucent royal blue enamel.

Inside the case is an ivory tablet, a pencil and a pair of gold and steel scissors. Helluva gift, amirite?


Georgian society in Britain was very interested in astrology and the planets, and that interest extended into jewelry. Certain gemstones were associated with the planets, and it was thought that wearing them could have a positive astrological effect on your life. (That belief still exists today, and if you do a search for gemstones & planets you can venture down lots of Vedic astrology rabbit holes.)

This circa 1800 planetary ring features a variety of foil-backed gemstones and pastes set in gold and silver. The stones symbolize certain planets: Pearl represents the moon, coral is Mars, sapphire Saturn, green paste Mercury, orange paste the sun, and garnets represent the North Node (i.e. the point where the moon moves into the northern ecliptic hemisphere, and another astrological doozy of a rabbit hole).

The dealer, Rowan and Rowan, sold another planetary ring a while back that featured a more ornate design and an even wider range of gemstones.


Circa 1900, this deceptively plain French vesta case has a secret naked lady inside. A vesta case is basically a metal matchbox (the name is a nod to Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth), and TONS of them were made in the late 1800s and early 1900s because matches at the time were a bit unstable and nobody wanted to spontaneously set themselves on fire. Because pretty much everyone was using them all over the world, an incredible range of designs were created. There were options for everyone, rich or poor, with metals ranging from high carat gold to tin, and novelty versions produced for advertising purposes or just for fun. Take a few clicks through the huge collection at the Cooper Hewitt Museum (over 4000 pieces!) and you’ll see what I mean.

This particular case is sterling silver and has a hinge at the bottom that allows one side to swing down and reveal a cheerful enameled landlady in nothing but her stockings and heels who I think — and bear with me; I took Italian — is advertising a “small room to rent at the front”? Ooh err, missus!


The February 28 “Jewels + Unreserved” sale at Rago includes this articulated sterling and enamel fish necklace made by silversmith Margot van Voorhies Carr — a.k.a Margot De Taxco. Margot’s story is a part of Mexican silver history: Back in the early part of the 1900s, an American by the name of William Spratling (way more on him here) encouraged and championed the native silver artisans of a small Mexican town called Taxco. A silversmith himself, he created a workshop called Las Delicias, in which native designers could apprentice and learn all sides of the silver business, both administrative and artistic.

Those designers then moved on and created their own businesses. Many soon found their own fame, and some of the best-known were the four Castillo brothers, or “Los Castillo.” That’s where Margot comes into the story: She visited Taxco in 1937, and eventually married Don Antonio Castillo, who encouraged her to start creating her own designs in silver. Her marriage to Don Antonio didn’t last, but her business did, and her designs gained devoted fans, including Hollywood celebrities like Lana Turner. Her work had many influences, ranging from Art Deco to Asian and Mayan styles, and she was particularly skilled in the use of enamel, as you can see in this piece. It’s stamped with her hallmark and carries an estimate of $600-800.


Just wanted to point out this lovely little Victorian engraved 15k gold locket in the shape of a book, with a tremendously haunted photo inside.


That’s it for today. I hope everybody’s well! Sorry it’s been ages. Since I last spoke with you, Substack has enabled commenting for everyone (it used to only be for paid subscribers, which I don’t have), so I’m going to open it up for this post and see what happens. Feel free to comment — inarticulate screaming and fellow James Clark Ross thirst is totally fine — or, as always, you can reply to this email and find me on Twitter at @rococopacetic. Love you guys! Take care of yourselves and drink lots of fluids. xxx


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How Tiffany Almost Tanked

And how window designer Gene Moore helped save it. (Also, do you know what a purdonium is?)

On January 26, Sotheby’s New York will feature a collection of silver and enamel circus-inspired pieces by Tiffany & Co.’s Gene Moore in their Important Americana auction.

Gene Moore was Tiffany’s most celebrated window designer. Born (to his dismay) in Birmingham, Alabama in 1910, Moore made his way as a young man to New York City, where his window dressing career started with an assistant position at the I. Miller chain of shoe stores. Over the next couple of decades, he began to make a name for himself, first working for Bergdorf Goodman and then moving on to Bonwit Teller, while also taking classes at the American School of Ballet, to “learn how to get in and out of those windows without knocking everything over.” In 1955, he was coaxed over to Tiffany & Co. by their chairman, Walter Hoving.

Hoving — who had previously done executive stints at various big department stores including Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Bonwit Teller — had also just started at Tiffany. Despite being one of America’s oldest (founded in 1837) and most respected businesses, profits were declining and the company — which had held on way too long to Art Nouveau and lost the style cachet it once had — wasn’t looking great. Cue Hoving, who had been observing all of this from his presidential suite next door at Bonwit’s. He stepped in, bought up the majority shares of the company, and immediately threw a huge fire sale, unloading everything in the store he felt was outdated and old fashioned. He then hired powerhouse designers Jean Schlumberger, Elsa Peretti and Gene Moore, telling Moore: “I want you to make our windows as beautiful as you can according to your own taste ... Above all, don’t try to sell anything; we’ll take care of that in the store.” (And they did: Under Hoving, sales increased from $7 million in 1955 to $100 million when he stepped down in 1980.)

Moore took Hoving’s instructions and ran with them. By the time he retired in 1994, he had created more than 5000 windows, consistently mixing playful themes and often unconventional materials in designs that guaranteed a double-take. His obituary in the Economist quotes him as saying “Windows should be polite, because they talk to strangers,” but he also deliberately threw in some ringers — broken glass was one of his favorites — to see if people were paying attention (and they were, judging by the phone calls). He also brought in artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns — with whom he’d previously collaborated at Bonwit’s — using the relatively small Tiffany windows to create exquisite little still life compositions.

Over the years, Moore also branched out and did side projects — designing jewelry, ballet and theater costumes and sets, museum exhibits and, just prior to his time at Tiffany & Co., he also took one of the most iconic photographs of Audrey Hepburn.

As a kid, Moore said he dreamed about running away with the circus to be a trapeze artist, and he drew on that inspiration to create some of his final work — a collection of circus pieces for Tiffany in the 1990s. This is the collection (lots 1848 through 1860) that highlights the Sotheby’s auction. Made of sterling silver and enamel, the set includes a Ferris wheel, a carousel, and a giant supporting cast of clowns, elephants, acrobats, lions, horses, animal trainers, and even dinosaurs. [Note: A smaller collection of Moore circus pieces will also be sold at the Christie’s Important American Furniture, Folk Art and Silver auction in New York on January 24.]

Moore retired from Tiffany & Co. in 1994 and died four years later at the age of 88. I apologize for the four billion links I’ve included here, but my GOD the guy was good for a quote. Also, please watch this celebratory video created by one of the lighting companies Moore often worked with. You know you’ve lived one hell of a life when Miss Piggy leaves her sickbed to thank you.


Switching gears, here’s a circa 1880 large Victorian rock crystal pendant that features a central beetle crafted of 18k yellow gold, with a tiger’s eye and pearl body, ruby eyes and legs set with rose-cut diamonds in silver. The rock crystal is suspended from a yellow gold bail with a large bezel-set cabochon garnet.


Cheers to the Mario Buatta: Prince of Interiors auction at Sotheby’s on January 23 for teaching me a new word: “purdonium.” They don’t elaborate on what the hell a purdonium actually IS in the lot details, so further investigation has led me to Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words site, which defines a purdonium as “a trade name for a type of coal-box or coal-scuttle that had a removable metal lining,” that first appeared on the market in 1847 via the London firm of Bell, Massey and Co. It’s all a bit mysterious, but apparently the name is courtesy of a man called Purdon, who may have worked for the company.

This shell-shaped purdonium features decorative tole painting in black and gold, and is in good condition except for some rust on the iron wheels and interior of the shell.


Rowan and Rowan have just posted this brilliant owl pendant, but it’s already sold, *sob.* Circa 1870, it’s carved from lava from the Mount Vesuvius region of Italy, and is extraordinarily detailed — look at those claws lifting the pages of the book! Lava stone is extremely soft, so it lends itself well to high-relief carving, but that also means it’s super easy to break. Lava cameos were very popular Grand Tour souvenirs, but many of the ones that have survived today feature chipped or abraded noses and other appendages, so this unharmed and truly unique piece is a wonderful find.

In a masterpiece of English understatement, the dealer describes the pendant as “rather good,” which reminds me of this passage from the film version of James Clavell’s King Rat:


The California Jewels sale at Bonhams Los Angeles on February 4 will include some pieces from the collection of Hollywood producers Edward and Mildred Lewis, who — over the course of their 73-year marriage — were separately or jointly responsible for such films as Spartacus, Harold and Maude and Missing. The two were avid art collectors, and some of Mildred’s jewelry is featured in the sale, including this Art Deco platinum, amethyst and diamond ring, which is estimated at $600-800.


The Knightsbridge Jewels auction at Bonhams London on February 5 is also loaded with good stuff, but my favorite is this collection of early- to mid-19th century gem-set Halley's Comet brooches. These tiny brooches first appeared on the market after the comet’s 1835 sighting, as a way for jewelers and consumers to capitalize on and celebrate the celestial event. The brooches generally took the same form — comet head followed by the tail streaking behind — but as you can see above, they featured a huge variety of materials and gemstones. Most of the ones above include more affordable materials like seed pearls, pastes and semi-precious stones, but others were made for the upper classes and loaded with diamonds and other precious stones. Some even multitasked — two of the brooches above are also mourning pieces, and feature insets of braided hair.
The brooches became popular again when the comet made its next appearance in 1910, and the designs were a little more streamlined to suit the style of the day.


Ok, that’s all for today, my friends. This one went long! Sorry. Kudos to all those volunteering today, and solidarity to everyone stuck at a computer. As always, feel free to drop me a line by replying to this email, or find me on Twitter @rococopacetic. Have a good week, everyone! xxx


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Bacchus, a meteorite, and that little dude from Trilogy of Terror

Also featuring Charles Dickens’ fruit knife and an extremely pretty Art Deco ring.

Hello all, and blessings on you these Winter Solstice holidays. Hail Sol Invictus! Tomorrow the sun is reborn!

Bacchus says hi and hopes you’ll all enjoy yourselves responsibly. The Roman god of wine and revelry is featured prominently above, in this incredible circa 1880 French bangle. The head is carved out of bloodstone and signed by the great 19th century sculptor, medalist and gem engraver Henri Auguste Burdy. Delicately etched grapes and leaves adorn Bacchus’ forehead, and rose-cut diamond scrolls frame his face and echo the scroll pattern of the pierced gold bracelet.


This cube of meteorite sold last week in the Sotheby’s “History of Science and Technology, Including Fossils, Minerals and Meteorites” auction in New York. It’s a Seymchan meteorite, which means it was discovered (in 1967) near the settlement of Seymchan in Russia. It’s been cut into a 2-inch-square cube, which shows off the color variations and patterns of the meteorite. I wish I could have afforded to buy it, so I could nonchalantly tell people that it “nicely displays the distinctive Seymchan juxtaposition of the rounded Olivine crystals against the straight Widmanstätten patterns of the iron-nickel.


Ok so I hope you don’t mind, but Dearest has officially become a newsletter about animals in chariots driving other animals. I recently showed you some micromosaics featuring a few variations on this theme, and now here is a carved agate brooch that depicts an owl in a chariot pulled by two cockerels. The agate is Italian and dates to the late 17th century, while the diamond-set gold brooch is from the 19th century.

The dealer, Wartski, believes this particular pairing is:

“…an allegory of the triumph of virtuous love over carnal love. The owl symbolises wisdom, whilst cockerels are considered to represent virility and sexual potency. Whilst the cockerels are pulling the chariot forward, it is the wise owl who determines its direction. It is also possible that the gem could be an allegory of light and dark, day and night and life and death. Cockerels have long been associated with the break of day when they crow and, therefore by extension, represent life. The owl by contrast is a symbol of the night time and death (as is so eloquently illustrated in the 17th Century painting Vanité à la chouette in The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, which depicts an owl sitting on a human skull next to an extinguished candle).”

Huh.


The color combo in this circa 1920s Art Deco ring is an absolute knockout. Set in platinum, the bright grassy greens of the calibre-cut demantoid garnets complement and accentuate the gorgeous play of color within the central 3.77 carat white opal. An additional 40 Old European-cut diamonds fill out the background. Just really stinking pretty.


Charles Dickens’ fruit knife sold for $5,000 last week in the Sotheby’s “Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Olympic Manifesto” auction in New York. Engraved “From K.D. to C.D. 1849,” it may have been a gift from his wife, Catherine Thomson “Kate” Dickens, and features a mother-of-pearl handle and Sheffield hallmarks for 1819.


From Western Europe, circa 1670, an exquisite high carat gold late Renaissance point cut diamond ring, with an enameled quatrefoil bezel and ornate shoulders. The underside is also elaborately enameled.

Lovely, but unfortunately it’s “price on request,” which we all know means “get back to your open sewer, peasant.”


Part Two of the Bonham’s TCM Presents ... 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year auction also ended last week, and I’m only including this The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) poster because it makes me laugh every time I see it in my favorites. Get that poor Creature some glasses!


The perfect seal for the Vaguebooker who somehow manages to still be in your life. Circa the 1840s, this Victorian spinner fob sets a four-sided Neapolitan-ice-cream-colored agate seal within a high carat gold frame with a chased orange blossom detail. The agate spins to reveal a different carved intaglio message on each side, and the somewhat unusual message set includes: “Ricordati di me” (Remember me), “Alla giornata” (To the day, or possibly in the moment), “Le froid me chasse” (The cold drives/chases me) and “Suis je danc oublié” (Am I so forgotten?).

Really??? Did you really have to enshrine your drama in a SEAL?


This circa 1960s American ring marries sorcery with the Space Age, and features a faceted spherical citrine cradled in a scalloped gold setting.


Many of you of a certain age will probably (and vividly) remember Trilogy of Terror, the 1975 three-part Karen Black TV movie that saved the best for last. The third part of the trilogy (here’s a trailer) is an adaptation of a short story by Richard Matheson, and introduces us to Amelia, who has recently bought a “Zuni hunting fetish” doll for her anthropology professor boyfriend. Needless to say, shit happens, and suddenly poor Amelia’s tearing around her apartment trying not to be sliced to ribbons by a tiny warrior who keeps screaming “YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYA!” and hiding in lampshades. It’s the BEST.

Anyway, the original Zuni hunter puppet from the film was offered last week in the Profiles in History Hollywood: A Collector’s Ransom auction. It was estimated at $12-15k, and sold for $170k. I hope they put his belly chain back on.


That’s it for today, friends! I’m off work until Jan 6 and have an appointment with a very large stack of English police procedurals, so I’ll see you back here in a few weeks, once the auctions have started up again and stock has been refreshed. Enjoy your holidays, take care of yourselves and escape when you need to — and above all, thanks for following along on this odd little journey of mine. xxx


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Auction Season, Part 2!

Featuring a mechanical beetle, Theda Bara’s jeweled leg band, and the severed head of Orpheus

Hello friends, and welcome to Auction Season, Part Deux! First up, we have a gorgeous antique watch pendant in the form of a beetle (or cicada?). It’s the first lot in today’s “Jewels” auction at Phillips New York, and it’s 18k gold with cabochon garnet eyes and enameled wings embellished with rose-cut diamonds. The wings open to reveal a watch with a manual Swiss movement. There’s very little info included in the description (aargh), but it looks like the wing mechanism opens when the pin at the base of the pendant is pulled down. Check out the detailing on the underside! Gorgeous. (Note: It just sold at the top end of its estimate for $6,000.)


The Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction is tomorrow in New York, and of course it features a ton of exquisite super high-end jewels — but to be honest, nothing’s really blowing me away. This blue ice cube is a pretty color, though, so feel free to go for it if you have a spare $6-8 million kicking around. The ice cube is actually “The Indian Blue,” a 7.55 carat fancy deep grayish blue diamond, and it’s flanked by two shield-shaped diamonds on an iridium-platinum alloy band.

There IS a nice little collection of Giuliano jewelry in the sale, though, so all is not lost. Carlo Giuliano was an Italian goldsmith who moved to London in the 1860s, where he created jewelry for various retailers in the city and eventually opened up his own shop. He was deeply influenced by the Renaissance, and created his own incredibly delicate and ornate Renaissance Revival and archaeological-style jewelry, with tons of intricate enameling and lovely gemstones. He died in 1895, but his two sons, Carlo Joseph and Arthur, continued the business until the start of the First World War. Their work is very similar to their father’s.

The circa 1870 necklace and earrings above are by Carlo. The fringe necklace features 19 beautifully carved bud-shaped garnets set in gold, with green and black enamel accents and seed pearls. The matching earrings have post backs that were added later.


Bonhams Los Angeles is holding a “TCM Presents ... 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year” auction tomorrow, and it includes loads of cool old Hollywood props, including Nick Charles’ trench coat from Song of the Thin Man and a Glinda the Good Witch test wand from The Wizard of Oz. There’s also Theda Bara’s adjustable beaded leg band from Cleopatra, and anyone who says they don’t want to try that thing on and sashay around for a while is LYING. From 1917, it’s gold metal with a central scarab flanked on either side by a serpent motif and nine suspended strands of ruby-colored beads. (The beads on the right of the photo are an additional 11 strands that have fallen off over time.) Be sure to click through to the lot to see a photo of Bara wearing the band.


The Sotheby’s “Spetchley — Property from the Berkeley Collection” live auction starts on December 11th, and includes this rock crystal “charmstone” pendant that may date to the 7th or 8th centuries (with a later 17th century silver mount). There are a whole bunch of “probably”s in the description, but in general, Sotheby’s thinks it’s probably Scottish, and notes its similarity to the Glenorchy Charmstone in Edinburgh’s National Museums of Scotland. The Glenorchy Charmstone is thought to date to the 7th or 8th centuries, and probably (there’s that word again) originated as a decorative element set into a reliquary. The Campbell clan of Glenorchy in Argyll later used the stone as a talisman to ward off witchcraft and illness, and Sir Colin Campbell wore it while fighting the Turks in the 15th century. So all of that leads Sotheby’s to speculate: “The Spetchley pendant may well be later in date but probably also came from a reliquary (given its shape). It is a tantalising theory that it too was once used as a charmstone in the distant past.” Hey, why not.


Christie’s London is holding an “Important Books, Atlases, Globes & Scientific Instruments from the Collection of Nico and Nanni Israel” auction on Wednesday, and it features this “highly important” medieval brass astrolabe quadrant from Southern France. An astrolabe is a hand-held circular map of the universe, and it can be used to make astronomical calculations and determine things like latitude and time of day via the placement of the sun and stars. (Please excuse the grade-school-level explanation, as I am emphatically NOT an astronomer.) An astrolabe quadrant is basically an astrolabe folded in half and then folded again, and it’s extremely rare. There are only eight recorded medieval astrolabe quadrants, and this is both the earliest and the only one in private hands that still has its original leather case. It was made sometime between 1291-1310.


The Christie’s “Magnificent Jewels” auction is also on December 11, and happily there’s a lot of my kind of nonsense alongside all the massive chunks of bling. There are a lot of pieces by Giuliano and his sons (click here to see one of their necklaces) included in this auction as well, and also a lovely collection of jewelry by René Lalique. Included in that collection is the “Thistle” suite above, which is a rarity because it’s very unusual to find a full matching set of Lalique jewelry.
The suite is circa 1900, and consists of a necklace, bracelet and brooch in 18k gold with dark blue, lavender and pink enameling, star sapphires and old and rose-cut diamonds. The necklace can be separated and worn as two bracelets.

This circa 1910 Art Nouveau tiara by French jeweler Henri Vever features old, single and rose-cut diamonds in a platinum bat-wing setting, and I require it to fulfill my Evil Disney Queen aspirations.

This is the “Blue Venus,” a 4” tall sculpture originally owned by Prince Felix Youssoupov (1887-1967), the flamboyant Russian aristocrat and co-conspirator in the murder of Rasputin. The Youssoupov family was wealthier than the Romanovs, and this Venus statue is one of the items Felix took with him when he and his wife Irina, the niece of Tsar Nicholas II, fled the Russian revolution in 1917. They eventually settled in France and were happily married for over 50 years, despite losing their remaining fortune to a combination of excessive generosity, an extravagant lifestyle and bad business decisions. Fun fact, though: In 1932 they sued MGM for libel, alleging that the film Rasputin and the Empress made it appear that the character based on Irina was seduced and raped by Rasputin. They won and were awarded a ton of money in damages, and this case set the precedent for the “The preceding was a work of fiction, any similarity to a living person…” disclaimer that we’re all so used to seeing at the end of American films.

ANYWAY, back to the sculpture. Circa the mid-19th century, it depicts the figure of Venus in carved sapphire, with a base of spinel encased in diamond-set silver. The underside of the piece features an intaglio of Medusa carved into the spinel.

Christie’s notes that “One version of the figurine’s history suggests that Catherine the Great gave the piece to her alleged lover, Prince Nikolai Youssoupov (Felix’s great-great-grandfather). However, no official records exist to confirm how the sculpture, eventually dubbed the Blue Venus, came into the Youssoupov family's collection.”

This gorgeous Art Nouveau brooch depicts Orpheus, the legendary poet and musician of Greek mythology, who — according to some versions of the myth — was torn to pieces by the Maenads because he wouldn’t join in their Dionysian orgies. His still-singing head was cast aside to float down the river, where it eventually came to rest on the shore of the isle of Lesbos and was buried by the Lesbians. The brooch features his profile in carved hardstone, in a gold setting dripping with old, single and rose-cut diamonds. It’s circa 1900 and attributed to the Parisian jeweler Gabriel Falguières.

Ugh, GIVE ME THIS. A circa 1915 Belle Époque sapphire and diamond ring, featuring a 30.14 carat untreated Kashmir sapphire set in platinum. It’s estimated at $3.5-5.5 million. It’s already in my size. *sob*


Christie’s London is holding a “Property from descendants of Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary” auction on December 13, and I absolutely adore this George V silver grenade table lighter from 1935. It was originally a wedding gift “to T.R.H. the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, November 1935 from ‘the Royal nephews,’ Viscount Lascelles, later George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood and The Hon. Gerald Lascelles.” Hallmarked for the Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co. Ltd, it features an engraved “H” for Henry, Duke of Gloucester, set within a garter motif crowned with a prince’s coronet.


Ok everyone, I’m going to leave it at that, as it’s horrendously late and I’m probably speaking gibberish. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include some treasures that are scattered among the 200 tabs I have open on my iPad, but if I rediscover something that demands sharing I will include it in a forthcoming email.


I hope you all have a wonderful week! Be kind to yourselves. xxx


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Auction Season, Part 1!

Featuring Vita Sackville-West’s emerald, Lewis Carroll’s second-best watch, and some vermouth oil cans

Hello, my friends! In case you missed the subject line, it’s AUCTION SEASON! And I have spent SO MUCH TIME scouring through a billion auctions in order to bring you some of my favorite random items. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll split this post into two parts — first half today and the follow-up next Monday.

I’m actually going to start out today with a piece from an auction that took place last week, just because it’s pretty. Above is a circa 1850s Renaissance Revival hinged bangle by Parisian goldsmith and jeweler Froment-Meurice. It’s gold, with an open-work floral motif covered in pink, black and white enameling set with alternating pearls and sapphires, rose-cut diamonds and rubies accenting the borders. The bracelet was originally purchased by Carl Jacobsen (one of the co-founders of Carlsberg Beer), as a gift for his daughter, and it sold last week for above its $13-19k estimate at $22,533. [Also, did I only mention the Carlsberg thing so I could make sure you haven’t missed their brilliant ads starring Mads Mikkelsen? Probably!]


This is Lewis Carroll’s “second-best silver watch,” and it’s included in the Sotheby’s “English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations” online auction starting tomorrow (and on exhibit at Sotheby’s London through December 10). The watch is a silver half hunting Swiss watch, circa 1880. Half hunting (or hunter) cases have a little central glass window through which you can see the watch hands. The hours are enameled around the outside of the window, so that the owner can quickly view the time without having to open the case.

Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, gave the watch to his nephew, Bertram Collingwood, and had it engraved with their initials. The “second-best silver watch” designation comes from his personal diary notes for May 1, 1883, which state: “To Bach [a German watchmaker based in London], to leave my second-best silver watch to be put in order as a present for Bertram.”


This tiny (1 x 7/8 in) antique diamond brooch will go on sale tomorrow in Boston, at Skinner’s “Important Jewelry” auction. A faceted yellow diamond forms the hull of the ship, with mast and sails set with old European-cut diamonds in silver and gold.


The Skinner “Fine Jewelry Collections online” auction started last week and closes on December 4, so there’s still time to get in there with a bid if you’re so inclined. As of writing, there are no bids on this early Victorian branch coral tiara, and I would just like to say: FFS, DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING MYSELF?


This little doozy is going up in the Bonham’s “London Jewels” auction on December 4. It’s a Cartier necklace from 1912, and it features a 99-carat cushion-shaped Mughal Indian emerald that is engraved on both sides with floral motifs. (It’s also cracked, but ignore that part.) The emerald is set within a frame of frosted and engraved rock crystal, and further embellished with old brilliant and single-cut diamonds. It’s attached to a long black cord with matching engraved rock crystal and diamond barrel-shaped slides.

This necklace was actually a gift from Victoria, Lady Sackville of Knole, to her daughter Vita Sackville-West, as a wedding gift for her marriage to Harold Nicolson in 1913. It’s literally been in a safety deposit box for 50 years, and you can watch a video about it here, complete with insights from Vita’s granddaughter, Vanessa Nicolson.


I’m not usually drawn to portrait miniatures, and the Sotheby’s London “Pohl-Ströher Collection of Portrait Miniatures, Part III” auction on Thursday is full of the usual depictions of bilious-looking men in wigs. But there’s something immensely engaging about the lady above; something that makes me wish I could have been her friend. By François Dumont — one of the greatest French miniaturists — the piece is listed as “Portrait of a lady holding a young spaniel,” circa 1780, in watercolor and bodycolor (aka gouache, or opaque watercolor) on ivory set in gilt metal.


Oh my god. Ages ago, I shouted about a bunny chariot micromosaic for the Hairpin, and I never dreamed I’d see another one! But here we are. This circa 1850 demi-parure (a small set of a few pieces of jewelry meant to be worn together; a larger set of 6-7 pieces is a parure) consists of a brooch depicting Cupid in a shell being drawn by a butterfly, with earrings that respectively feature a dog in a chariot being pulled by two ducks (!), and the aforementioned bunny and peacocks. They’re all micromosaics set in aventurine glass and mounted in matching beaded gold frames, and were most likely a Grand Tour souvenir for a 19th century English or European traveler in Italy.

The set will appear in the “Gold Boxes” sale at Christie’s London on December 5. Gah.


Skinner’s online “Gentleman’s Auction” ends on December 5, and it’s full of such manliness as “Hot Rod” movie posters, watches, whisky, desk accessories and barware. Despite being a mere woman, I still want these little 20th century Tiffany & Co. sterling silver oil cans that are actually vermouth droppers.


High-society masquerade balls were all the rage in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and jewelry memorializing them served to prolong the fun. This circa 1830 gold ring, which is available in the December 8th “Fine Jewelry” auction at Rago, features a masked face in enamel, with old mine cut diamond eyes and a ruby (don’t say ball gag DON’T SAY BALL GAG) mouth. The face is actually hinged, and flips up to reveal a tiny enameled compartment within, and the back of the ring features the words “Gott beoch itye dichund die deini gem,” which Rago translates as “God bless you, you’re a gem.” The ring is in somewhat rough shape and I really wish they had photos of the inscription, but whatever, still cool.


Ok, that’s it for this week! Be sure to click through to browse the full auctions yourselves, because there’s a ton of good stuff there, and I had to edit my selections pretty heavily to get this down to a reasonable length. Also, feel free to reply to this email or find me on Twitter at @rococopacetic, especially if you would like to indulge in some inarticulate screaming about your faves.

Next week: The big “Magnificent Jewels” auctions, and a continuation of the less intimidating (and more interesting, tbh) alternatives.

Have a good week, everybody! See you next Monday. xxx


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