Hello, friends! It’s been a while. I just haven’t had much interest in tracking the purchases of the 1% at auction while the world burns; you know? But I do realize we could all use a breather from the relentless misery, and since the auction world has kicked into high gear again, I’ll cherry-pick some of my favorite pieces for you.
One of the highlights of the Phillips Jewels & Jadeite auction in Hong Kong on July 8 is this extraordinary 18k gold, diamond and gemstone peacock bangle by the venerable Swiss jeweler and watchmaker Chopard. Peacocks have always been a natural subject for jewelry — usually in brooch form — but in this case, Chopard’s designers have gone a different route and curved the bird’s delicate tail feathers so they form a light, openwork cage around the wearer’s wrist, with a concealed clasp that opens the bangle at two hinged points (there’s a video here). The piece — which is circa 2018, so practically new — is also articulated in the section where the bird’s tail moves down from the body, with each feather linked so it will shift slightly with the movement of the wrist. This allows the bracelet to sit comfortably without digging into the wearer’s arm, and also adds a very subtle appearance of movement.
The body of the bird is pavé-set with sapphires, tsavorite garnets and lazulites, with brilliant-cut diamonds and a lapis lazuli eye. The tail feathers consist of circular-cut sapphire “eyes” surrounded by tsavorite garnets, emeralds and paraíba tourmalines, with the surrounding stones carefully chosen and set to present subtle and individual gradients of color in each feather. You can see some of the gradients in the detail shot at the top of the newsletter, but please click through to the lot and blow up the first photo, so you can see the thought that was put into the placement of every single gem in the piece.
The “Small Wonders: Early Gems and Jewels” auction at Sotheby’s London opened on July 3 and will close on July 9. It features jewels from ancient Greece up through to the early 19th century, and includes a fantastic array of cameos and intaglios.
Other early pieces are highlighted as well, including this ca. 1630-1640 Southern German pendant. It depicts the “Pelican in her Piety” — a mother pelican piercing her breast to feed her young with her own blood — which is an ancient legend that eventually became adopted into Christian iconography as a symbol of charity, self-sacrifice and the Passion of Christ. The motif was popular in late Medieval and early Renaissance art and heraldry, and this piece in particular is very similar to a slightly earlier German pendant in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
The pendant is gold, with the pelican and her three babies centrally situated. Black and white enamel detailing and three table-cut rubies decorate the mother’s breast and wings, while five additional rubies and some enameled greenery serve as a base for the figures. The surrounding piece consists of elaborate gold swirls and scrolls, with more black and white enameling, rubies, pearls, and three enamel and ruby drops. The distinctive painting style of the enamel is what sets this piece later in the 17th century.
Side note: Sotheby’s interviewed British historian and jewelry expert Diana Scarisbrick, FSA (Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London) in relation to this auction, and it’s a fascinating conversation that I really hope you’ll read. Scarisbrick, who is 91 years old and still sharp as a tack, has catalogued the greatest jewelry collections of Britain and written tons of books, including Diamond Jewelry: 700 Years of Glory and Glamour, which came out just last fall. 91 years old. UGH. *gets back to work*
The main body of the chameleon is actually a baroque-shaped conch pearl. Conch pearls are produced by the endangered Queen conch mollusk and are totally natural. Most of the other pearls we’re used to — Akoya, Tahitian, freshwater, etc. — are produced by oysters or freshwater mussels and farmed in huge quantities, but conch pearls are a rarity because the shape of the conch shell makes it much harder for a pearl-inducing irritant to get inside. (This also makes them almost impossible to cultivate, although people are trying.) In 2018, Tara Pearls CEO Sonny Sethi told The National Jeweler only “one in 2,000 shells holds a pearl; one in 10,000 contains a conch [pearl] that can be used in jewelry; and one in 100,000 holds a gem-quality piece.”
Conch pearls appear in a range of colors including brown, yellow, white and various shades of pink. Vivid pinks are the most desirable, particularly ones that visibly feature a “flame structure,” or chatoyancy, which is the optical effect we see in “cat’s eye” gemstones. But instead of a straight line, chatoyancy in a conch pearl appears in a wavy pattern of light and dark areas that resemble tiny flames.
That’s enough about conch pearls for now, though. If you want to learn more — and the history is pretty fascinating, so give it a shot — there’s a great article with loads of photos here at The Jewellery Editor, and another older piece from 1987 in the GIA’s journal Gems & Gemology.
And back to this very patient little chameleon, who consists of a blush pink conch pearl set in a surrounding frame of circular-cut pink, orange and blue sapphires and blue topaz, with a colorless hardstone eye and diamond accents.
If you’re a colored stone person, there are some very pretty pieces in the Fine Jewels sale at Sotheby’s Geneva on July 7, including this wide floral bracelet set with pink sapphires, tourmalines, garnets and brilliant-cut diamonds, and these emerald pendant earrings by Boucheron.
There’s also this Cartier platinum, sapphire and diamond bracelet. From the 1950s, it has a central pierced tonneau-shaped (or barrel-shaped, as you learned in the last newsletter!) plaque consisting of circular- and single-cut diamonds and sapphires, with an openwork diamond and sapphire bracelet.
Also in this sale, and also by Cartier, is this slightly disturbing Schmoo-looking bird thing. I don’t even KNOW.
At first I thought this cute little train in the Christie’s July 8 “Fine Jewels” auction was a brooch, but then the word “bague” registered and I realized no, duh:
It’s a ring. In 14k gold with old-, circular- and rose-cut diamonds, tsavorite garnets, and an old-cut yellow diamond. The kicker? It was previously owned by Danny and Silvia Fine Kaye.
The Christie’s and Sotheby’s Hong Kong “Magnificent Jewels” sales are back-to-back this week on July 9th and July 10th. Both feature tons of jadeite — China is its biggest market — and the usual gigantic diamonds and colored stones that become, at least to me, a bit tedious to scroll through after a while.
But even I have to admit that this ruby and diamond necklace in the Christie’s sale is a stunner. Made by Etcetera Ltd. (a jewelry firm founded in 2000 by Edmond Chin, who used to run the Christie’s Hong Kong jewelry department), it features a chain of oval cabochon and cushion-shaped rubies and marquise-cut diamonds, with a pendant that surrounds a 19.56-carat oval cabochon star ruby with even more rubies and two pear-shaped diamonds. The majority of the rubies (including the star) are certified as unheated “pigeon’s blood” red and originating in Burma (Myanmar) — which is basically everything a collector would want a ruby to be, although the GIA generally side-eyes the use of the term. Estimate: $2.3 - $3.6 million.
Nice bonus feature: The pendant is detachable and can be worn as a ring.
I’m also a big fan of these 18k white gold and diamond pendant earrings in the Sotheby’s sale. Each earring features a large pear-shaped brilliant-cut diamond — both individually over 12 carats — with one earring suspended from a square emerald-cut fancy black diamond, and the other from a cushion-shaped fancy white diamond. Marquise-shaped diamonds nestle within the framework of the drops, which are further scattered with circular-cut black diamonds and brilliant-cut diamonds. GORGEOUS. Estimate $2 - $2.3 million.
(My second choice in the Sotheby’s sale is this wonderfully drippy polished onyx and diamond necklace by Mikimoto.)
I’ll finish up with something completely random, because I can. The Skinner “Fine Musical Instruments” online auction closes on July 14th, and in it you can find this little gem nestled among all the guitars and violins. It’s a Marc Bolan & T.Rex souvenir tambourine from 1974, with the head printed “TRUCK OFF/MARC BOLAN & T-REX on tour as Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow,” and the reverse hand-inscribed “B. Meunier/from T-Rex Concert/Worc. Auditorium.” These tambourines were apparently given out during the band’s 1974 Truck Off tour in the UK and US, but it looks like only a few have reached the secondary market, so either people are holding on to them or not many were handed out in the first place. This particular one came from the September 27, 1974 show at the Worcester Auditorium in Boston, and the supporting acts were Rush and Albatross. Estimate $300-500.
Side note for my fellow Philadelphians (and anybody else who loves a super pissy review): T.Rex played the Tower the night before the Boston show, along with Moxie (a local band I haven’t bothered to research, although I’m delighted the peacock feathers have brought this newsletter full circle), and the Blue Oyster Cult. A very uptight Paul Connors wrote a review for the October 2, 1974 issue of The Villanovan:
Of COURSE that dude went to Villanova. My god, I love the internet.
Ok, that’s it for now! Next week I’ll focus on some more eclectic sales that are scheduled for later in the month, as well as another Magnificent Jewels blingfest in Geneva (and maybe in New York, if they get the lots posted up by then). Take care of yourselves — and as always, feel free to leave a comment online, reply to this email, or find me on Twitter at @rococopacetic. Stay safe! xxx
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