Designer Jewels Sparkle at New York Auctions
By Amber Michelle – Chief Curator & Storyteller

New York City is all dressed up in sparkling lights for the holiday season, but that doesn’t come close to the glitter of the sparkling jewels that went on the block at Christie’s and Sotheby’s the first week of December.


Van Cleef & Arpels Boreal Necklace sold at Sotheby's New York for $1,155,000.
Top of Page: Cartier, France, Star Sapphire, Sapphire, Emerald, and Diamond ‘Panthère’ Clip-Brooch sold at Sotheby's New York for $387,000.

Sotheby’s was first up for this round of auctions. The sale was bursting with vintage designer jewelry from several private collections, most notably the collections of Barbara Sinatra and Happy Rockefeller.  According to Gary Schuler, chairman, Sotheby’s jewelry division, Americas,  about 95 percent of the jewelry in the sale came from private collections. “Beautiful signed pieces and great private collections always generate tremendous interest,” commented Schuler.

Not only is there provenance behind the jewelry, but these are collections that have been built to reflect the personal taste and style of the owner. The jewelry in this sale was loaded with personality. Much of the jewelry was from the mid-20th century, when women wore big, bold gold pieces in the daytime and then glammed it up at night with diamonds or spectacular colored gemstones. There was lively bidding among buyers in Sotheby’s Upper Eastside saleroom as well as from those bidding online and on the phone.

Colored gemstones are having a moment in the spotlight. Both the collections of Barbara Sinatra and Happy Rockefeller were bursting with color. And collectors were bidding competitively on those pieces. “Over the years, collectors have gained a greater appreciation for colored gems,” noted Schuler. “A lot of collectors are branching out and exploring new territory. They have diamonds, so now they are looking at colored gemstones.”

There were plenty of colorful Van Cleef & Arpels jewels in the sale, along with items from Marina B, who was favored by Sinatra. The Happy Rockefeller collection — which had many joyful jewels — also featured numerous pieces from Van Cleef & Arpel as well as Cartier. David Webb was also prominent in the sale as was Tiffany & Co. Bidding was very competitive for all of the signed pieces, often sending the prices way over their estimates.

A 16.46 carat Kashmir sapphire and diamond ring from the Icons Collection sold at Sotheby's for $1,815,000.

For a second year, Sotheby’s offered its collection of Icons: The World’s Most Coveted Jewels. The seven jewels that made the cut were selected for their rarity, authorship, provenance, artistry and gemstones. Among the items were a no-heat 16.46-carat Kashmir sapphire and diamond ring, a Cartier Panthère brooch and a ruby, sapphire and diamond “Plumes” necklace by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. Together the seven pieces sold for a total of $3.2 million.

In addition to the designer jewelry, there were a number of diamonds on the auction block. Of note was a 51.52-carat, cushion cut, F/IF diamond mounted by Harry Winston. It was the top lot of the day and sold to an anonymous buyer for $3,975,000 (all prices include buyer’s premium) or $77,154 per carat. The only disappointment in the sale was when a 10.62-carat pear-shaped, fancy vivid blue, VVSI, diamond did not sell. Estimated at $20 million to $30 million, it put a dent in the bottom line, but of the 292 lots offered in the sale, 261 found homes, making it 89.4 percent sold by lot. The sale totaled up a tidy $46,420,875.


Foxfire diamond earrings sold at Christie's for $1,572,500.

The trend continued the following day at Christie’s. Its sale was also filled with signed pieces —  many from Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels. This sale was sprinkled more heavily with diamond rings. Interestingly, the best-selling white diamonds were in the J, K, L color range and size wise were between 5 carats and 10 carats. “There is demand for larger-sized diamonds in this color range as they provide good value for the size,” observed Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry, Christie’s, Americas.

Colored gemstones also continued their winning streak at Christie’s. The sale featured a group of outstanding Kashmir sapphires that sold very well. “The demand for exceptional colored stones — rubies, sapphires and emeralds specifically — is as high as ever,” said Lingon. “There is limited supply of these rare stones and ever-increasing demand.”

The saleroom in Rockefeller Center was packed and the crowd was boisterous as they bid competitively for the jewelry. Sometimes the auctioneer was able to just stand back and watch as phone bidders shouted out their offers with no prompting from the auctioneer, who watched the action along with the rest of the room.

One of the most interesting jewels in this sale for me personally were the Foxfire diamond earrings, showcasing four pear-shaped diamonds weighing 37.87 carats, 36.80 carats, 1.53 carats and 1.51 carats with the two larger stones in the U to V color range, VSI clarity. All four diamonds were from a 187.66-carat rough stone that came from the Rio Tinto Diavik mine in Canada. According to the miner, it is the largest-known gem-quality rough diamond ever mined in North America. Shortly after it was found, it made its way to New York, where I was able to hold the rough diamond in my hand. The diamond was stunning even in its rough form, with a lovely pastel yellow hue and a deep inner sparkle that was captivating. It was wonderful to see and try on the polished diamonds that resulted from that special rough diamond. They sold to a private client for $1,572,500.

An 8.08-carat, VS2, type IIb fancy vivid blue diamond ring by Bulgari sold for $18,312,500 at Christie's.

Perhaps the most notable piece of jewelry in the sale was a diamond, platinum and gray gold “tube” bracelet by Suzanne Belperron. Collectors were wild for this bracelet and it generated a frenzy of bidding, pumping the price up to $852,500, setting a world auction record for a piece by Belperron. “This particular piece not only had impeccable provenance, it was also completely fresh to market as it was unidentified for many years,” explained Lingon. “The craftsmanship was unparalleled. It has been a true honor to have been a part of the journey of this masterpiece by Suzanne Belperron. From researching and identifying the bracelet to the excitement surrounding the sale, which culminated with a new world auction record.”

An 8.08-carat, VS2, type IIb fancy vivid blue diamond ring by Bulgari —  the top lot of the day — finished up the sale with a big bang. It sold for $18,312,500 to a member of the trade. The sale was sold 82.7 percent by lot and totaled $69,225,750.

It was happy holidays for all — the auction houses, the collectors and anyone who was gifted with the wonderful jewels from these two sales.