GENEVA - Every once in a while, a collection comes by that captures your heart. You look at it and think, “If I could own a single jewellery collection, this would be one.” This is the feeling I had when a single collection of 23 Cartier objects arrived in our Geneva office for the November Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale.
Sighs of delight filled the room as we unwrapped the jewels. Each item was meticulously packaged and labelled, evidence of the consignor’s fastidious dedication. We began with a rock crystal and diamond ‘Cliquet’ brooch by Cartier, dated 1922.
Rock crystal, onyx and diamond brooch, 'Cliquet', Cartier, 1922. Estimate 48,000–77,000 CHF.
‘Cliquet’ brooches were popularized by Cartier in the 1920s and 1930s, and they were named after the “click” sound they made when fastened. Otherwise known as jabot pins, they were first used by men in the 17th and 18th centuries to secure a ruffle or jabot to the front of a gentleman’s shirt. This example would have been worn either on a belt, a sash, the shoulder or on a cloche hat. The pin, tucked beneath the fabric, disappears when worn, and the rock crystal ring floats between the two tulip-shaped diamond and onyx elements. Given the fragility of rock crystal, it is astounding to find a jewel of this period in such excellent condition.
Perhaps my favourite item of those we unpacked was a nephrite, lapis lazuli, turquoise and diamond cigarette case, dated 1929.
Nephrite, lapis lazuli, turquoise and diamond cigarette case, Cartier, 1929. Estimate 19,500–39,000 CHF.
Having trained as an art historian specializing in Renaissance art, I have a special fondness for lapis lazuli which was imported into Europe at the end of the Middle Ages to be ground into ultramarine pigment. Exceedingly expensive, it was used to decorate only the most valuable of objects and paintings. This case reminded me of the magical quality of lapis, with its deeply saturated midnight blue, sprinkled with golden flecks of pyrite. When opened, the case reveals an almost equally precious inscription, “Linda 14.7.29.” One can only imagine the joy of receiving such a beautiful and personal object.
As we continued to unwrap one sumptuous artwork after another, I was also taken with this exquisite enamel, mother-of-pearl, ruby and diamond powder compact, dated 1929, depicting a Chinese style dragon.
Enamel, mother-of-pearl, ruby and diamond powder compact, Cartier, 1929. Estimate 39,000–67,000 CHF.
The 1920s witnessed a voracious appetite for works inspired by the Far East. The technique of inlay, favoured in China, became highly popular in Europe, and there was perhaps no more sought after craftsman in this discipline than Vladimir Makovsky, who emigrated to Paris during the Russian Revolution. He came to be regarded as one of the greatest inlay artists of his time, working for Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Lacloche and Black, Starr & Frost among others. While many of his works went unsigned, a special few bear his mark, a thin scribble-like ‘M’ – which can be seen on the lower right leg of the dragon in this powder compact.
Enamel, moonstone and diamond desk clock, Cartier, 1908. Estimate 39,000–77,000 CHF.
Each object in this collection is a treasure in its own right. From a tiny gold and diamond ‘St. Christopher’ pendant from 1929 to a salmon-coloured enamel, moonstone and diamond desk clock, containing six pages printed front and back with a calendar for each month of the year 1929, to the mysterious and fantastical ‘Model A’ Mystery clock, dated 1927; each piece in this collection fascinates the beholder.
Rock crystal, mother-of-pearl, onyx and diamond 'Model A' Mystery Clock, Cartier, 1927. Estimate 240,000–430,000 CHF.