GENEVA – So often jewellery headlines are dominated by news of rare gems and coloured diamonds fetching millions at auction. Most recent examples include the Blue Moon of Josephine and The Unique Pink, the latter of which will lead our upcoming sale of Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels on 17 May in Geneva.


The value of these stones derives quite simply from their cut, carat weight, clarity and colour (the four Cs we hear so much about). Signed jewellery on the other hand, by one of the high jewellery houses such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels or Bulgari, can garner high demand for a rare or vintage piece in good condition. The Jewellery sales in Geneva offer both rare gems and exquisite pieces of Jewellery. What sets our sales apart from other Jewellery auctions however are our dedicated offering of noble Jewels.

We give the prefix ‘Noble’ to a jewel with aristocratic provenance; that is to say it once belonged to a family or individual of title. As with works of art, provenance proves vital to the desirability and therefore value of a jewel. Until the second half of the 19th Century, due to scarcity of precious metals and gemstones, even the property of Kings and Queens had to be routinely dismantled to provide the material to create new ornaments to adapt to the changes in style, in dress fashion and society. As a consequence, jewels dating from this early age which belonged to a noble family and reach us in their original condition are extremely desirable.

Throughout the years, some of the most important and stunning jewels of noble provenance have found their way into the pages of Sotheby’s catalogues. The enormously successful sale of the Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor 19 years ago in Geneva led a precedent for the sale of jewellery once owned by members of noble families from across Europe. They have been worn in the splendour of mansions, palaces and castles. They have adorned the lavish evening gowns of aristocratic ladies and were witness of thousands of secrets, gossip, affairs and love stories.

We are delighted to be offering two jewels from the collection of the Princes Doria Pamphilj, a family of ancient Genoese and Roman nobility. These illustrious families were, for centuries, protagonists of the great events of Italian history. One of the most famous members of the Doria family was Andrea Doria (1466-1560), who was for many years the ruler of the Genoese Republic and Admiral to Emperor Charles V.

Dominating politics, military and economic matters in the region, the Doria family was a pivotal player in Genoese history. On the other side of the family was Cardinal Giovanni Battista Pamphilj, who rose to the Papacy as Pope Innocent X. The Palazzo Doria Pamphili in Rome was built in the 17th century, and contains one of the most valuable private collections of paintings in the world, the Doria Pamphilj Gallery.


This impressive emerald and diamond brooch (Lot 400) was created in around 1840. Set with a step-cut emerald weighing approximately 135 carats, between two floral motifs mounted en tremblant. This term was first used to describe 18th and 19th century jewellery where parts of the diamond set pieces were attached to a trembler - usually a watch spring - to create movement in the jewel when worn. Brooches mounted in this way were particularly effective in reflecting the scintillating fire of candlelight.


Lot 401 is an important diamond pendant, also circa 1840. Designed as a drop for an earlier rivière necklace, the central pear-shaped diamond possibly came from the fabled mines of the Golconda region in India. A stone of this size must have been considered exceptional at the time. Rather than lose weight by cutting its girdle to eliminate a flaw on its side, the jeweller who handled it cleverly camouflaged the imperfection with a silver patch just as during the Renaissance chipped cameos and intaglios of the Greek and Roman time were repaired with gold plaques.


We are also fortunate to be offering this emerald and diamond necklace and pair of earrings belonging to the Duchess of Berry (Lot 402). She was one of the most famous and fascinating aristocratic figures of the 19th Century. Crafted in the early 1800s, the necklace is set with rose diamonds, highlighted with cushion-shaped stones supporting detachable pendants set with pear-shaped emeralds. The survival of this necklace, particularly with such distinguished and historical provenance, is most unusual.

The Magnificient Jewels and Noble Jewels sale is in Geneva on 17 May.

Daniela Mascetti is Worldwide Head of Scholarship at Sotheby’s and is one of the most experienced scholars specializing in the history of jewellery. She regularly lectures and runs Sotheby’s Institute of Art Jewellery Courses. She is co-author, with David Bennett, of the best-selling book Understanding Jewellery - a reference work for professionals, and of Celebrating Jewellery which illustrates some of the greatest and most iconic pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries. She also co-authored Bulgari, The Necklace from Antiquity to the Present and Earrings from Antiquity to the Present.