NEW YORK - Like their painted and sculpted counterparts, all jewels tell a tale. When an art historian looks at a painting or a sculpture they are able to reference the inspiration, where the work was created and the stylistic significance; a jewelry historian can act in the same manner. The December 9th Magnificent Jewels sale contains countless pieces significant for their designs, however, what makes this sale so special is the abundance of jewels with rich histories. Many of these stories read like glamourous fairy tales and the jewels often have a starring role. Since the characters physically wear the pieces, jewelry is intrinsically personal and often emotional. It is worn to important events, gifted on special occasions and often passed down as family heirlooms. When we uncover a jewel with a rich provenance it makes every facet shine with an extra special sparkle.
As the narratives of the December sale developed, my imagination couldn’t help but dream of conversations that happened in the vaults during the wee hours of the night. Did the jewels come to life and have round table discussions? Did they speak of their former adventures? Perhaps some of them recognized each other from past events and old friends were reunited! In my wildest dreams the jewels spoke of their future hopes, perhaps naming glamorous celebrities they hope to adorn or fabulous cities they hope to travel to.
(left) Helen Hay and her bridesmaids on her wedding day, 1902. (right) A Magnificent Platinum-Topped Gold and Diamond Necklace. Estimate $2,500,000–3,500,000.
Sometimes the story accompanying a jewel is so vivid that you can close your eyes and its past comes to life. Lot 414, the magnificent diamond necklace From the Estate of Helen Hay Whitney, Thence by Descent, was given to the bride as a wedding present upon her 1902 nuptials to Payne Whitney. At a time when the streets of New York were shifting from gas light to electrical light, the impressive diamond drops must have illuminated the way as Mrs. Whitney glided across ballrooms alongside the Vanderbilts and Astors.
(left) Mrs. Cobb [left, wearing lot 239] with actress Dorothy Lamour [right] enjoying lunch with friends at the Brown Derby. (right) Platinum, Star Sapphire and Diamond Ring, Oscar Heyman & Brothers. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
Lot 239, a star sapphire ring weighing approximately 85.00 carats is Formerly from the Estate of Sally Cobb, wife of Brown Derby owner Robert Cobb. In 1938 Vogue exclaimed, ‘Even if you’ve never set foot in Hollywood, you undoubtedly know about the Brown Derby where, for years, celebrities have loved to fraternize.’ Allegedly, this ring was once in the collection of actress Carole Lombard, making my brain run wild listing Hollywood’s leading men and how close it may have been to them. Is it possible Lombard wore this ring and shook hands with Cary Grant? Perhaps it graced her hand as she and husband Clark Gable enjoyed a Cobb salad with Sally at the Brown Derby!
Marlene Dietrich wearing the 14-karat tri-color gold and lapis lazuli bracelet. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
Many times we are lucky enough to be provided with photographs to help illustrate the story of a jewel. Ever the style icon, the photographs of Marlene Dietrich wearing the 14-karat tri-color gold and lapis lazuli bracelet (gifted to her by Erich Maria Remarque) are effortlessly chic. In one photograph Marlene casually takes a puff of her cigarette, her fist on her hip in a stance as powerful as the Cartier design itself. In another, Dietrich wears the bracelet amidst a beige backdrop, the attention placed on the dark reverse-stitching of her ensemble, the shade of her lipstick and the barrel-form lapis clasp of the bracelet. She has a laissez-faire attitude that makes me roar Beyonce’s song Flawless in which she exclaims, “I woke up like this!”
(left) A Fancy Yellow diamond ring from the Collection of Keely Smith. Estimate $140,000–180,000. (right) An Important and Historical Pair of Platinum, Emerald and Diamond Pendant-Earclips. Estimate $600,000–800,000.
Because jewelry is wearable art, there is always the belief (or hope!) that the rich history of a piece and its former owner can be transferred to the present day. If I wear lot 406, a pair of emerald and diamond earclips dating to the time of Grand Duchess Vladimir, will I roam the office in a regal manner? If I slip on lot 318, a Fancy Yellow diamond ring from the Collection of Keely Smith, will I too be able to croon like the ‘Queen of Swing’ herself? If I accent my outfit with lot 310, the Marlene Dietrich bracelet, will I absorb even just a quarter of her coolness?
Whether the theoretical mystical (and hopefully transferable) powers of jewels are more real or imagined, it is most certain that jewelry fairy tales are always more Glam than Grimm.