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  • Catalogue Essay


    Maybe I’m biased, but jewelry is surely the most personal and emotive of the decorative arts: both an expression of individual style and also a keeper of memories. So that when a private collection of jewelry appears on the market, as it does in this sale, the contents revealed to us are fascinating. Far more than the sum of its parts, a private jewelry collection offers an intimate glimpse into the owner’s life and style. It exudes the scent of a woman, like stealing into a boudoir and lifting the lid of an exquisite, deeply personal jewel box.

    This collection crosses genres through a panoply of carefully chosen 20th century classics that connect jewels, fashion and femininity, in a way that shows they were clearly intended to be enjoyed and worn with easy elegance, pride and panache. While the collection charts jewelry styles from the Art Deco through to the 1990s, there is a strong emphasis on the mid-20th century, an era of the great socialite fashion leaders for whom jewelry was far more than an accessory or an afterthought, but rather the most powerful expression of social status, identity and individuality. In fact, this entire collection seems to be infused with the flavor of those heady years of American glamour and strong, independent femininity.

    The owner’s expertise is shown in the lexicon of important jewelers represented in the collection. Both individual designers like Suzanne Belperron, Verdura and Angela Cummings, and heritage brands, such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron and Bulgari, as well as the cultish boutique brands including Janesich, Boivin and David Webb, and the incomparable, quintessential 1950s designer jeweler, Pierre Sterlé. These are the famous names that are a feature and a phenomenon of 20th century jewelry history, names that resonate with today’s well-informed collectors. Dig even deeper into the story of the great 20th century master jewelers, and this collection reveals some of the huge talents behind the brands, the more esoteric names, often unsung heroes, recognized and eagerly sought-after by devoted jewelry connoisseurs. Georges L’Enfant, for example, is a name and an atelier that is just beginning to be appreciated. Better known, perhaps, in recent years is Aldo Cipullo, the hugely talented creator of Cartier’s iconic 1970s ‘Love’ bangle and the ‘Juste un Clou’ nail design.

    However, it’s not only the presence of important names but also the considered choice of designs from each house or designer that shapes the character of a collection. In this case, the collector has opted for much-loved, signature, instantly recognizable designs that have stood the test of time, appealing to each new generation, so that they remain eminently wearable today, with that all-important vintage charm. Van Cleef & Arpels’ flowers, for example, include the classic ‘Rose de Noel’ brooch and earrings, with carved coral petals; from Boucheron, a pair of gold brooches sculpted as bunches of grapes, and diamond ‘Flame’ Brooches, and from David Webb, one of his distinctive figurative fantasies, a lively unicorn brooch. Brooches play an important role in this collection, particularly matching pairs of brooches and dress clips, presumably worn together by the owner, or perhaps arranged on a jacket, dress, or even at the shoulder, in groups or clusters, in a favorite mid-century fashion that suddenly looks right again today.

    This is all part of the stylistic leitmotif running through the selection of jewels, the collector’s individual, well-defined viewpoint of style that is always a major ingredient of any distinguished collection. As part of this stylistic point of view, there is one other thematic layer to this collection, and that is the variety of materials used in the jewels, very particular materials too: hardstones and minerals such as lapis, carnelian, chalcedony, tiger’s eye, malachite and jasper, while several jewels incorporate jade and exotic wood. It is a comprehensive roll-call of the unusual, unexpected, sometimes provocatively un-jewel-like materials that brought verve and excitement to 20th century jewelry design. This range of materials not only enlivens the collection with intense, rich color, but adds textural interest too, and a cohesion of style that underlines the whole narrative of 20th century jewelry design played out here. A narrative completed, of course, by the precious gems and jewels interspersed in the collection: A Colombian emerald ring, diamond Sterlé necklace and bracelet, ruby and diamond earrings by Belperron, yellow diamond drop earrings, all carefully chosen for style and elegance rather than intrinsic value. Which tells us all we really need to know about this refined and sophisticated collection of jewels, chosen with taste and sensitivity; it sums up all we learn about the collector, her style and her love of jewels, from lifting the lid of an intensely personal jewel-box.

    Written by Vivienne Becker, Jewelry Historian

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection


A Jade, Diamond, Enamel, Carnelian and Gold Brooch/Pendant

Carved jade and carnelian
Single- and old European-cut diamonds
18 karat yellow gold, approximately 3.20 x 2.50 inches
Accompanied by a black cord

$5,000 - 7,000 

Sold for $5,625

Contact Specialist
Susan Abeles
Head of Department, Americas and Senior International Specialist
New York
+1 212 940 1383


New York Auction 9 December 2019