When Ganna Walska’s jewellery collection came up for auction at Sotheby’s (Parke Bernet) in New York in 1971, the press described the collection as ‘exotic and wonderfully designed’ and ‘including many fine gem-stones and a selection of Indian jewelry’. This sale took place at a time when jewellery cataloguing was brief and little emphasis was placed on researching the origins of the pieces or the exceptional rarity and magnificent of the gemstones. As such, the remarkable true importance of this collection, which included the extraordinary briolette, was not apparent.
Within the collection was a sapphire and diamond necklace dating from the 1940’s. the sides composed of sapphire beads with an antique Indian cut rectangular sapphire of 197.75 carats at the centre. In the 1990’s our subsequent research revealed that this was indeed a gem of great historic importance; it was number 161 in the catalogue of “Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones” printed in Moscow in 1926 under the general supervision of Professor A. E. Fersman, a member of the Academy of Science of Russia. As this sapphire, then mounted as a brooch by Fabergé, was not included in the famous sale of treasures from the Russian State Jewels held in London in 1927, exactly how it was acquired by Cartier is unknown but in their archives it is simply referred to as the sapphire “historique” from the Russian Tsars. In 1923 Cartier created a magnificent sapphire and emerald sautoir for Ganna Walska which in the next few years under went several changes until they created the final and most spectacular version 1929; the “Russian” sapphire was now the centre of a the magnificent jewel which supported a 256.60 carat Mogul carved emerald drop. This was just one of the jewels that she wore at the famous society wedding of Barbara Hutton to Prince Mdivani in Paris in 1933. The spectacular Mogul engraved emerald drop also appeared in the 1971 catalogue, but again remounted as an simple pendant.
Courtesy of the Lotusland Foundation
The catalogue of Ganna Walska’s jewellery collection contained other fabulous jewels created by Cartier and as well as an exquisite butterfly brooch by Boucheron, circa 1894, the diamond wings carved with realistic veins and an important cushion-shaped Burma ruby mounted at the centre. There was also jewels by Seaman Schepps, Chaument of Paris and from Van Cleef & Arpels there was a superb enamel, carved coral, sapphire, jade and diamond Chimera Bangle dating from the late 1920s.
There were other magnificent gemstones which included diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds together with some divine natural pearls. But the most outstanding and exceptional gemstone in the collection was undoubtedly the “fancy yellow diamond briolette of 95 carats”. As one of their major patrons it was fitting this magnificent stone was bought in the sale by Van Cleef & Arpels and immediately named the “Walska Briolette”. In 1971 fancy coloured diamonds were still not graded as to the intensity and depth of their colour but when the stone was re-graded by the GIA in 2010, by which time the new fancy coulour gradings were well established, it obtained the highest colour grade for a coloured diamond – Fancy Vivid. This is truly a stone not only with an important provenance- once owned by one of the most famous collectors of jewellery in the 20th century – but also an extremely important stone in it own right being one of the only two of the largest old antique-cut briolettes known and recorded.