Rarity Rules at Auctions
By Amber Michelle -- Chief Curator & Storyteller


For collectors and jewelry aficionados, the hunt is always on for the rare, unusual and difficult to find. Auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s are places to go when pursuing those elusive jewels. Once again, both auction houses proved this theory to be true during their New York spring Magnificent Jewels sales.

Twin-stone fancy vivid blue diamond ring sold at Christie's for $6,744,500. Photo courtesy Christie's.

The excitement began at Christie’s New York City Rockefeller Center headquarters a few days prior to the sale with a private viewing of the jewelry sale and a book signing party for Carnet by Michelle Ong, written by Vivienne Becker. While there were some significant rocks for sale — diamonds and colored gemstones — most of the auction was made up of easy-to-wear jewelry that included two private collections: The Collection of Florence and Herbert Irving and Elegance: A Collection from the Estate of Jean Tailer. Both collections were packed with distinctive jewels signed by famous makers. Each of those collections was 100 percent sold, contributing to the $30 million auction total.

“Beautiful, signed pieces sold well, as did private collections,” said Daphne Lingon, head of jewelry department, Americas. “Well-priced colored gemstones also did well.”

Cartier "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" charm bracelet sold at Christie's for $118,750. Photo courtesy Christie's.

The top lot of the day was a twin-stone fancy vivid blue diamond ring featuring two pear-shaped stones, one weighing 3.06 carats and the other 2.61 carats. It sold for $6,744,500, or $1,200,000 per carat.

On a lighter note, a very rare Cartier “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” charm bracelet featuring enamel and 14-karat gold versions of the fairy-tale characters sold for $118,750 against a $15,000 to $20,000 presale estimate. The bracelet was made in 1937 to coincide with Disney’s release of the film and at the time they were being sold for $100 each.

Van Cleef & Arpels "Zip" necklace sold at Christie's for $483,000. Photo courtesy Christie's.

Also notable, and very fabulous, was a Van Cleef & Arpels (VCA) Zip necklace made with rubies, diamonds, 18-karat gold and platinum. The story goes that the idea for the necklace came about when the Duchess of Windsor asked Renée Puissant — VCA creative director from 1926 to 1942 and daughter of Alfred Van Cleef — to create a jeweled zip fastener to wear with her evening gowns. The result was a sophisticated jewel that is not only beautiful but a technical marvel. The necklace detaches at the bottom, where it then “zips up” to form a bracelet. It took a number of years to make the piece and while the idea was broached in 1938, it was 1951 when VCA finally introduced the necklace. Due to the complex nature of the piece, very few were made, making it highly coveted by collectors today. It sold for $483,000 against a presale estimate of $150,000 to $200,000.

Close-up of link from the diamond and enamel demi-parure by Paulding Farnham for Tiffany & Co. sold at Sotheby's for $500,000. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.

The trend continued the next day at Sotheby’s Upper East Side location. The sale featured an exceptional selection of historically relevant pieces by Carlo Giuliano, Nicola Morelli and Castellani as well as more modern makers.

Perhaps the piece that stood out most, due to its rich history and intricate design was the extraordinary enamel and diamond demi-parure created for Tiffany & Co. by designer Paulding Farnham that was exhibited at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Rose cut diamonds are set in highly detailed enameled mountings featuring sculpted figures that include among other motifs, nymphs and gargoyles. The links that connect the diamonds are equally embellished with more nymphs, floral ornamentation and even two Knights of Templar all joined together by fleur-de-lys, floral garlands and scrolls. The necklace has been featured in a number of books including Paulding Farnham: Tiffany’s Lost Genius by John Loring. It was estimated to sell for $200,000 to $300,00, and ultimately sold for $500,000.

Fancy intense blue diamond ring sold at Sotheby's for $2.3 million. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.

The top lot of the sale was another blue diamond. This time it was a 3.24-carat fancy intense blue diamond, VVS1 clarity, Type IIb set in a ring. It sold for $2.3 million, or $709.877 per carat against a presale estimate of $2.5 million to $3 million, adding nicely to the $17.6 million sale total.

One of the showiest pieces was the Bulgari “Serpenti” necklace. A staggering 41 inches, this glittering, articulated snake was pavéd in diamonds and could be worn long, short or even as a belt, a good option, since it was quite heavy. It sold for $920,000 against a presale estimate of $800,000 to $1 million.

Bulgari diamond "Serpenti" necklace sold at Sotheby's for $920,000. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.

A tutti frutti bracelet, shown at the top of this post, that once belonged to Mrs. Cole Porter was also among the offerings. It was put in the sale by her niece. While the bracelet has all the elements of Cartier, it is unsigned. Nevertheless, it is a stunning example of the classic style that blends old world Moghul influences with an Art Deco design. Tutti frutti was the epitome of chic in the Art Deco era and was worn by all of the best-dressed women of the day, while at the same time becoming a favorite of jewelry collectors. Estimated to sell for $100,000 to $300,000, it sold for $740,000.

 “This was a pretty, decorative sale that was about jewelry. There were some fabulously interesting pieces that are meant to be worn and enjoyed,” concludes Gary Schuler, chairman of Sotheby’s Jewelry Division, Americas. “It was no surprise that exceptionally rare, signed pieces of jewelry brought exceptional prices.”