A mong a vibrant collection of big, beautiful emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds at the Fine Jewels & Watches sale at Sotheby's Milan this October, sit some fabulous examples of fine art-inspired Italian craftsmanship.
Take the exquisite cameos and intaglios making an appearance, coinciding with the current revival in the style among contemporary jewellers. A prized craft in Italy since the days of Ancient Rome, cameo and intaglio carving was revived during the Renaissance and embraced again in the early 19th century, when France’s Napoleon and his wife Joséphine, employed Roman iconography to promote their own Imperial legitimacy through Neo-Classical styles.
The diadem was made and marked by the French goldsmith Jacques-Ambroise Oliveras in 1805, but like a number of pieces owned by Josephine herself, contains three cameos in the Italian style. These were reminiscent of the original Greek and Roman pieces that were being discovered at the time in ancient sites such as Pompeii – excavations supported by Napoleon’s own sister Caroline, Queen of Naples.
Among the finest practitioners of cameo carving, many of whom were patronised by Caroline Bonaparte, artists such as Teresa Talani and Filippo Rega worked in the classical revival style, creating portraits as well as mythological figures. This can be seen in one stunning piece included in the sale. Although unattributed, this 1810 brooch has a stunning example of an agate cameo profile of a lady, surrounded by old-mine diamonds and blue enamel.
Perhaps the finest cameo on offer in this sale however is a powerful carnelian intaglio created in 1838 by Giuseppe Girometti, who was active in Rome with his son Pietro between 1780 and 1851.
'Girometti cameos were sought after by kings, emperors, Popes - even George Washington'
Measuring just 23.4mm x 18.8mm, and 8.6mm deep, this tiny jewel is rich with the curls and classical features of Zeus. No wonder Girometti cameos were sought after by kings, emperors, and Popes - even George Washington.
“Girometti was one of best Italian engravers at the time, and many of his works are now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Hermitage,” says Sara Miconi, Director of Jewellery at Sotheby’s Milan. “He was also reproducing the sculptures of Canova and Thorvaldsen into hardstones and he created some of the best intaglios ever carved.”
Artistry and sculpture are never far from the jewels created in, or inspired by, Italy. Skipping forward a century or so, we find a very different, yet just as characteristic, example in a golden compact by Masenza Roma. This was designed by the artist Franco Cannilla in the 1950s, as part of an ongoing collaboration with the Roman jeweller Marco Masenza, who also worked with Italian artists such as Afro, Guerrini and Mirko Basaldella, as the ‘School of Rome’.
“It’s something so simple, that a woman would carry in her bag to use as a mirror, but the artists of this period from Masenza created beautiful sculptures that were designed to be worn.”
Among the other wearable art pieces in the sale, the butterfly brooch/pendant by the French sculptor and designer Claude Lalanne, created circa 1991, bridges the gap between the abstraction of Cannilla and the glossy representative perfection of David Webb’s gold, diamond and enamel panther brooch and cuff or Cartier’s diamond-encrusted Panthère ring.
For those whose taste runs more to the beauty of big, colourful gemstones, there is plenty in this sale to tempt - from the incredible unheated Burmese ruby, weighing in at 3.582 carats, set on a ring between step-cut Petochi diamonds to the glowing emeralds and diamonds of a 1968 necklace. And as well as beautiful pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier, there are representatives of Italian glamour in the form of Bucellati, Sabbadini and Marina B.
And proving that what goes around comes around, Bulgari’s 1970s coin necklace, is absolutely on trend again today – a piece that could be teamed effortlessly with any look from Milan’s latest catwalk collections.