When Jewels Meet Art: 12 Playful Pairings Mix It Up

17 APRIL 2019 | 10:00 AM EDT | NEW YORK
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T his spring, as Sotheby’s unveils its remarkable, redesigned galleries in New York, we are reminded that the building often resembles a perpetually revolving museum – a space that is continually filled with a diversity of awe-inspiring works.

From Antiquities to Modern Art – across centuries and art movements – jewelry has served as an extension and highly personal form of art. Selected for their compelling visual narratives, from the literal to the conceptual, the pairings here illuminate the artistic craftsmanship of these Magnificent Jewels (17 April, New York).

When Jewels Meet Art: 12 Playful Pairings Mix It Up

  • Preciosity
    Left: Ferdinand Voet, Portrait of Francesca Greppi Fani. Estimate $15,000–20,000. To Be Sold in Old Master Paintings Auction, 22 May, New York.

    Right: Seed Pearl and Diamond Bracelet, Tiffany & Co. Estimate $25,000–35,000.

    Francesca Greppi Fani (1658-1732) was born in Lake Como, Italy, the daughter of a prominent banker. In 1671, she married Fabio Fani, only to be widowed 9 years later. This portrait , likely executed around the time of her engagement, speaks to Francesca’s youth, signaled by the froth of flowers in her hair, and to her high birth, announced by the presence of rich silks, sumptuous pearls and an abundance of lace. Lace was a highly valued luxury item in the 17th century, made over the course of many painstaking hours and reserved for the very wealthy.

    In the 21st century, Tiffany & Co. reinterpreted this prized material to create the bracelet shown here, graced with diamond-set tracery and delicate seed pearls.
  • Enchantment
    Left: India, Kangra or Guler Portrait of an Illustration to the Harivamsa: Krishma and His Companions, circa 1820. Sold $75,000.

    Right: A Rare and Important Diamond, Coral, Emerald and Seed Pearl Brooch, Cartier. Estimate $250,000–350,000.

    Krishna is among the most revered of all Hindu gods, an exemplar of compassion, tenderness, and love. Here, on the banks of the Yamuna, he and his companions celebrate, bedecked in exquisite jewels and finery of many colors. Krishna is the divine enchanter, his music rousing some guests to dance while lulling others into a state of blissful serenity. Even the fish from the river have surfaced, ineluctably drawn to Krishna’s magnetic presence. It is a scene of fantastical bounty and beauty.

    It is this vision of India that so captivated the West: the promise of adventure, exoticism and unforetold riches. It is also the dream that Jacques Cartier pursued when he travelled to India in 1911 and the dream he delivered to his clients when he created jewels such as the rare example shown here. Its pendeloque form, designed to be worn high on the shoulder, takes inspiration from the Indian sarpech, a jeweled turban pin. The Mughal aesthetic continues with the carved emerald pendant reminiscent of the Taj Mahal’s onion domed finial and the coral and pearl grape-cluster motif, a symbol of pleasure in Indian miniature paintings.

    Both painting and jewel were created when the world was a far bigger place, but their power to enchant remains to this day.
  • Light
    Left: Richard Diebenkorn, Blue, 1984. Estimate $20,000–30,000. To Be Sold in Prints & Multiples Evening Auction, 29 April, New York.

    Right: Sapphire and Diamond Bracelet, Aletto Brothers. Estimate $150,000–200,000.

    For fourth- and fifth-generation jewelers Alfredo Aletto and his sons Luigi and Mario, each piece is a labor of love. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their extraordinary invisibly-set jewels. Painstaking precision is required, particularly when applied to curved surfaces, as seen here with the dramatic undulations of a sapphire bracelet. The stones must be perfectly aligned to allow light to wash smoothly over its surface like gently rolling waves.

    In the late 1960s, against a backdrop of war and protest, Richard Diebenkorn executed a group of life-affirming canvases known as the Ocean Park series. Although more commonly associated with the Pacific, they are in fact studies in light as seen through his studio window, capturing the shimmering tranquility of the sun as it passes over a neighboring hillside.
  • Sky
    Left: An Egyptian Bronze Figure of the Horus Falcon, 26th Dynasty, 664–525 BC. Estimate £25,000–35,000. To Be Sold in Ancient Sculpture and Works of Art Auction, 2 July, London.

    Right: Pair of Sapphire and Diamond Pendant-Earclips, Bulgari. Estimate $35,000–55,000.

    In ancient Egypt, the sky was the dominion of Horus, and with it the sun and the moon. These celestial bodies formed the god’s right and left eyes, the moon shining less brightly only after it was gouged by his Uncle Set, god of chaos, in a battle over Egypt. Horus was not unavenged, however, for he conferred upon Set a less apparent but far more personal injury.

    Protector of pharaohs and all beings on earth below, Horus is frequently depicted as a falcon, bathed in shades of blue.
  • Circus
    Left: Henri Matisse, Jazz, 1947. Estimate $800,000–1,200,000. To Be Sold in Prints & Multiples Evening Auction, 29 April, New York.

    Right: Pair of Gold, Emerald, Diamond and Enamel Earclips, David Webb. Estimate $10,000–15,000.

    Matisse’s Jazz series is a celebration of contrasts born out of necessity. At the age of 74, the artist underwent surgery for abdominal cancer, leaving him almost immobile. No longer able to paint or sculpt, he channeled his imagination into the arrangement of colored paper cut-outs, resulting in a total of twenty compositions.

    Rendered in riotous colors with crisp, often jagged outlines, each form captures energy in various stages of release: the trapeze artist, the knife thrower, the wolf. Though a shadow of his former physical self, Matisse thus became even more vibrant, more vital, as an artist.
  • Heaven
    Left: Follower of Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen, Two Putti on a Cloud Holding Flowers. Estimate $3,000–5,000. To Be Sold in Old Masters Online Auction , 13–29 May, New York.

    Right: An Exceptionally Rare Enamel and Diamond Demi-Parure, Tiffany & Co. Estimate $200,000–300,000.

    Rosy-cheeked and golden-curled, putti are alternately protectors and instigators. The side to which a putto falls may be derived from context. Drawing an arrow? He’s an emissary of love. Wearing a mask? Then he’s is up to no good. A pair of putti, frolicking on a cloud, therefore, surely signals sweet dreams.

    As symbols, putti have been employed since antiquity, taking on both secular and ecclesiastical meanings. Sometimes, however, they are simply motifs, designed to enhance the aesthetic and character of a piece. It is not known if the putti found on Paulding Farnham’s extraordinary sautoir and earrings carry any special significance, but here, joined by caryatids, mermaids, and knights, they form an enthralling example of Renaissance Revivalism.
  • Passion
    Left: Andy Warhol, Marilyn, 1967. Estimate $150,000–250,000. To Be Sold in Prints & Multiples Evening Auction, 29 April, New York.

    Right: Ruby and Diamond Ring, Raymond Yard. Estimate $200,000–300,000.

    With parted lips, lowered eyes, and not the slightest crease to mar her skin, Warhol has served up Marilyn as the ultimate sex symbol. His commentary on Monroe as a product—of fame, consumerism, and sensationalism—is made all the more poignant by the fact that she herself created the product, transforming Norma Jean Baker into an object of infatuation.

    Not all infatuations, however, lead to unfortunate endings. They can fuel our passions, drive us to reach new heights and, in the case of beautiful jewel, permit us to indulge in something truly wonderful.
  • Power
    Left: Tolima Gold Figural Pendant, circa 500–1000 AD. Estimate $15,000–25,000. To Be Sold in Art of Africa, Oceania & the Americas Auction, 13 May, New York.

    Right: Gold, Tiger's-Eye Quartz and Diamond Cuff-Bracelet, David Webb. Estimate $20,000–30,000.

    David Webb built his reputation on unabashedly bold designs for confident women. He drew inspiration from a multitude of sources including weekly visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From galleries filled with ancient Greek, Chinese and African art, Webb developed a stunning visual vocabulary, wrought in hammered gold and monumental gemstones.

    Here, we have the ultimate power cuff. Its scroll-form shoulders, evocative of Pre-Columbian art, support a tiger’s-eye quartz that is positively monolithic. Place it on the wrist and watch as confidence soars.
  • Form
    Left: Mezcala Stone Figure, circa 300–100 BC. Estimate $20,000–30,000. To Be Sold in Art of Africa, Oceania & the Americas Auction, 13 May, New York.

    Right: Rock Crystal, Diamond and Enamel Ring, David Webb. Estimate $15,000–20,000.

    The Mezcala culture is believed to have developed between 300 and 100 B.C. in southwestern Mexico. What little we know of its people has been derived from a small number of highly abstracted stone sculptures such as the one shown here.

    Simple forms can be mesmerizing. Minimal distraction, no getting lost in the details. A nearly blank canvas on which to project all we wish to see.
  • Nurture
    Left: Jean Arp, Nid Enchanteur, 1972. Estimate $250,000–350,000. To Be Sold in Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale, Including Works From the Collection of Joe R. And Teresa L. Long, 15 May, New York.

    Right: Gold, Emerald, Ruby, Diamond and Enamel Pendant, Castellani. Estimate $15,000–20,000.

    Jean Arp maintained that art is like “fruit growing out of man, like the fruit out of a plant, like the child out of the mother.” It is the interference of reason, he argued, that compels man to ignore his nature and become tragic.
  • Chromophilia
    Left: Pedro Coronel, Sin Título, 1964. Estimate $40,000–60,000. To Be Sold in Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale, 15 May, New York.

    Right: Gold and Intaglio Necklace and Bracelet. Estimate $40,000–60,000.

    Chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul (1786-1889) was asked to aid a Parisian tapestry firm in crisis: their dyes were too weak. The dyes, he contended, were just fine. It was the perceived weakening of color when the individual threads were woven together that created the problem. The wrong combination of colors diminishes their vibrancy, but the correct adjacencies will strengthen it. Chevreul’s findings laid the foundation for the Pointillist movement in France, but their impact resonated around the world, for decades to come, as seen here with a work by Mexican artist Pedro Coronel (1922-1985).

    Coronel began his career as a student of famed muralist Diego Rivera before moving to Paris in 1946, where he studied under Victor Brauner and Constantin Brancusi. The painting represents a synthesis of these influences, merging rich hues with form, line and abstraction to create a striking yet harmonious composition.
  • Metamorphosis
    Left: Maori Greenstone Pendant, Hei Tiki. Estimate $12,000–15,000. To Be Sold in the Auction of Pacific Art From the Collection of Harry A. Franklin, Beverly Hills, 13 May, New York.

    Right: Gold and Diamond Bracelet, Cannilla for Masenza. Estimate $6,000–8,000.

    Hei-tiki pendants were worn in Maori culture by high ranking officials. The mana, or power, contained within these figures was thought to grow stronger with each generation, creating a cumulative inheritance. What these objects represent is a mystery. They possess both animal (birds and amphibians) as well as human characteristics, suggesting a connection to nature, and to one’s ancestors.

    Jeweler Mario Masenza (1913-1975) established the “School of Rome” in the 1940s with a group of artists including Cannilla, Guerrina, Afro and Basaldella. They adopted an experimental approach, combining ancient metalwork techniques with contemporary aesthetics to create jewels with a surrealist, metamorphic quality: attenuated female figures, skeletonized fish and humanoids, all abstracted to the point of intriguing indecipherability.
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