NEW YORK - Whoa. That’s the reaction I’ve been getting about the group of Egyptian-Revival Jewels in Sotheby’s New York December 11, 2013 sale of Magnificent Jewels. The last time three of these jewels appeared together was in a 1924 Illustrated London News ad for Cartier.
1924 Illustrated London News advertisement for Cartier.
Now, try fast- forwarding to the cover of Sotheby’s catalogue featuring the centerpiece of that ad. It’s a spectacular jewel made by Cartier following the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, at the moment in time when “Egyptomania” had reached a fevered pitch. The half moon-shaped brooch is set with an ancient Egyptian faience fragment dating back to 716-30 B.C. It is the goddess Sekhmet as a lioness in profile, surrounded by a night sky of lapis lazuli, sparkling with diamond-set stars, bordered by stylized lotus blossoms of onyx and diamonds. Why choose this fragment as the centerpiece of the brooch? Sekhmet was the daughter of the sun god Ra, all-powerful, and recognized as a protector of the Pharaohs. According to ancient mythology it was her breath that created the desert. Viewers are simply blown-away by it.
Magnificent and Rare Egyptian-Revival Faience and Jeweled Brooch, Cartier, London. Estimate $300,000-500,000.
The brooch is truly a unique masterpiece, a tour-de-force of design that combines both ancient and modern elements in complete harmony. Under Louis Cartier, a great deal of study and research went into the creation of these iconic jewels. For Cartier, it wasn’t enough to just imitate the patterns, motifs and rich colors of ancient Egypt as some other contemporary jewelers did, simply drawing from source books such as Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament. Louis Cartier took it to another level entirely by incorporating actual fragments from the age of the Pharaohs. How cool and how chic is that?
Rare and Important 18 Karat Gold, Platinum, Faience, Diamond, Colored Stone and Enamel ‘Sekhmet’ Brooch, Cartier, Paris. Estimate $200,000-300,000.
So who was lucky enough to wear these talismans of power and prestige? In the case of four other Egyptian themed jewels being offered in this sale, (Lots 406-409) we know the fortunate one was Iya Lady Abdy. A striking beauty, monumental in stature at over 6 feet tall, Iya Lady Abdy was, like Sekhmet, a strong-willed and powerful personality. Not only was she a supermodel in 1920’s Paris, but she was also a patroness of the arts and theatre, supporting the likes of the artists André Derain and Balthus. So, the standing figure of a bejeweled Sekhmet in electric turquoise blue faience was the perfect accessory for the drama queen who was photographed by Man Ray, Cecil Beaton and George Hoyningen Huene. Vogue magazine featured her in 1928 wearing another of her Egyptian-inspired jewels, reproduced in this image.
Lady Abdy wearing lot 407 in Vogue, 1928.
The “Pylon” or entrance gate to the Temple complex is rendered with a frame of colored stones and diamonds, gleaming like so many Klieg lights at a Hollywood red carpet premier. If Louis Cartier didn’t create these jewels specifically for this doyenne of the arts, a better match couldn’t have been made. In almost 30 years of seeing some pretty fabulous jewels pass through Sotheby’s salesrooms, I must say that these treasures easily take the stage alongside some of the greatest jewelry creations of the 20th century. See for yourself!