A Victorian 14k yellow gold, emerald, and diamond serpent bracelet, containing one oval step-cut emerald and two rose-cut diamonds set in an engraved serpent head with a body consisting of pivoting gold links with chain attached to the tail, sold for $1586 (est. $600/800). Leslie Hindman photo.
An Art Deco platinum and diamond ring, containing one old-European-cut diamond weighing approximately 0.75 carat and 12 round single-cut diamonds weighing approximately 0.60 carat total, stamped "Irid Plat," sold for $3172 (est. $200/400).
Eblen said, "This was very, very conservatively estimated, obviously. This was a ring that was definitely not priced for market right now. We do get those every once in a while; they're sort of an apparition in our sales. Unfortunately, you can't put everything in for extremely low numbers and then let it all explode, but this one was a case where people really enjoyed the overall quality of the ring...Everything was right about it, and it was certainly all of age, had not been terribly fussed with, which is so important. I think the price that it realized was an extremely strong price for what this ring was. So clearly, you had two or three or more people connecting with it and really wanting to own it. I think when you reach a price like that, there's no way around the fact that these were people buying it for themselves, or for a significant other, rather than someone in the industry who was buying it to resell. At that price point, all the value in that ring is realized." Leslie Hindman photo.
by Mary Ann Hensel
Leslie Hindman Auctioneers held the third of four sales slated for this year, an 827-lot jewelry and timepiece auction, in Chicago on September 9 and 10. Skinner held a 745-lot jewelry auction in Boston on September 11. Both sales offered a vast range of styles and designs, antique and contemporary.
Alexander Eblen, director of jewelry at Hindman, described the auction as "a sale without any major highlights-something in the six-figure range. And, for me, it was a nice show of strength in the middle of the market. That middle is a very wide range. You're talking about something anywhere from one thousand dollars to fifty thousand dollars. This is where this sale really had strength. It just goes to show that collectibility exists across all price points."
Eblen was happy even without six-figure highlights. "The tendency in the market right now that says only the very best and the most expensive of everything is selling, and that's what people are looking for, is just simply not true. We have buyers for the very best items, and they'll happily spend record prices for the right items; however, you can also have incredible pieces that may be offered for a conservative price in the several-hundred-dollar range or few-thousand-dollar range. They bring a price well above [the estimate] that is still within relative terms not an incredibly high-end item."
As an example, Eblen said, "Something sells for five thousand dollars, and you expected it to bring somewhere in the fifteen-hundred-dollar range. That's a really, really excellent result, and it's proof that there are definitely collectors out there looking for that sort of item."
I discussed with Eblen an Edwardian platinum, yellow gold, diamond, and angel skin coral pendant that sold for almost twice its high estimate at $1586 (includes buyer's premium). He said, "I'm frequently disappointed in the lack of interest in shades other than a rich, intense orange-red to red, the so-called 'oxblood,' that is right now so fashionable, so in demand.
"On the flip side, you have the almost total ban and almost total stop in supply because of the environmental issues and the protection that has been put throughwhich is a good ideabut of course you have this incredible conflict between very high demand and very little supply. Therefore, at auction we are seeing very strong prices for fine pieces of oxblood coral."
Next we discussed the two antique necklaces that sold well. One was made by E. Netter & Cie in Baden-Baden, Germany, and the other was made by Koch, a company founded in 1879 in Frankfurt with an outlet in Baden-Baden. Eblen said they were "a great example of just how widespread incredible artisanship was at that time period and how sort of sad it is that that has, over the decades, been reduced exponentially.
"In this time frame, it was not only the great works of Paris and Italy and Britain and a few Americans. There were incredible artists and designers and manufacturers that were working [in places like Baden-Baden]. They had the ability to put the incredible amount of man hours into creating pieces like this and were still able to make a profit, to establish flourishing houses.
"The vast majority don't exist anymore. So much the reason is, those time-honored and slowly learned and perfected techniques to create these pieces out of platinum [don't exist], let alone to be able to procure colored stones of a quality to put something like either one of these together...And in today's world, to create pieces like this, you would absolutely have to be of the utmost wealth and importance...I think wealth was less well spread at that point than it is today, but...more common people, more people in the so-called middle class, could afford pieces that today people can only dream of buying because the labor to create them is almost nonexistent."
Expanding on how much time and effort was spent creating necklaces such as these, Eblen said, "It is not practical in today's sense. And even the very exclusive high-end jewelry that you see today, the vast majority of it is taking advantage of modern technology with much, much time saved. They can create things that could never have been made before; however, it does not, in some ways, have the same charm as something that took someone umpteen hours of work to do-bend the metal, engrave the metal, set the stones one by one-it's an art form. Not very many people practice it today."
He continued, "When you look at a piece of jewelry, and you start with the design on paper, or a design even in a CAD program today, this is a chess game. If you want to create a complex piece of jewelry, you have to start knowing each one of the steps you're going to take. So it is a strategy, and if at any point one of these steps is taken [wrong], or you really have a catastrophic mishap, you're not going to be able to recover from any point; you're going to have to start again.
"Of course, you only have one main gemstone in the center that if you chip or break, then, my goodness, you're really in bad shape. So it's fascinating to me when you look at this. These jewelers were not just artists that sketched something on paper, they also had to be engineers, to be able to make this all work and then to lay on the body correctly. It just takes an understanding at such a high level, and that only comes from making jewelry for a lifetime. And how many people do that today?"
Eblen concluded, "We are selling these items, and we're happy to do so. We're happy with the prices that we're realizing, but when you really understand what people were doing to make them, you understand that, in my opinion, and many others', they're undervalued."
The next Leslie Hindman jewelry and timepiece auction will be held December 2-4. See the on-line catalog at (www.lesliehindman.com/departments/jewelry/).
According to Eblen, these two lots "were fantastic, two of my favorite pieces in the sale." The Art Deco platinum, yellow gold, emerald, diamond, and pearl necklace by Koch (at left) contained one octagonal step-cut emerald measuring approximately 13.06 mm x 10.00 mm x 5.23 mm, bezel set in a gold surround within an octagonal openwork platinum plaque border, with a circular bail and four oval necklace accents with millegrain accents. Containing numerous rose- and old-mine-cut diamonds weighing approximately 2.50 carats total and five oval brilliant-cut emeralds, it suspends from a knotted meshwork of pearls that measure approximately 1.90 mm to 4.00 mm in diameter. With an openwork clasp containing numerous rose-cut diamonds, the central pendant can be removed and worn as a brooch. Accompanied by a leather stand case signed in capital letters "Koch Frankfurt Baden-Baden," a steel tool for necklace/brooch conversion, yellow gold brooch fittings, and additional pearls, it sold for $29,280 (est. $10,000/15,000).
The Art Deco platinum, pearl, ruby, and diamond convertible necklace by E. Netter & Cie (at right) was the cover lot of the sale. Eblen said, "I thought the ruby and diamond and pearl necklace that we put on the cover was just such a great, though not the most wearable, piece...it's not an everyday piece at all. But, at the same time, I just thought the lines, the overall sense of it, gave such a wonderful tribute to the Deco period."
The necklace consists of an intricate openwork central platinum geometric plaque with millegrain accents suspending two pearl and three diamond pendants. The plaque is suspended from two platinum navette-shape plaques to the 18k white gold cable link chain. One antique cushion-cut diamond weighs approximately 2.45 carats, two old-mine-cut diamonds weigh approximately 1.30 carats total, numerous old-European- and rose-cut diamonds weigh approximately 4.00 carats total, and one pear-shape ruby weighs approximately 0.37 carat, and numerous calibre-cut rubies and two of drop shape measure approximately 4.50 mm x 4.15 mm. The central pendant can be removed and worn as a brooch. Accompanied by the original fitted red leather case signed "E. Netter & Cie hof-Juweliere Mannheim Baden-Baden," an additional 18k white gold chain extender, a Bakelite and steel tool for brooch/pendant conversion, and a platinum and rose-cut diamond brooch fitting with screw back, it sold for $26,840 (est. $20,000/30,000).
Eblen said, "These were from the same consignor...wonderful collectors, wonderful people. These are things that have been in the family for a great deal of time and have been really beautifully curated, if you will. They appreciate them; they've never worn them with any kind of abuse...That is really shown in the fact that you have-even at this quite considerable age-the original cases for both. It's just such a gift at auction when we have something really fine and we can present it in an original box...it adds so much charm in the presentation...For both of these, it's so crucial because neither one of the items was signed. You have so much jewelry that really did not have extensive marks, which, much to the consternation of everyone in this industry-everyone wants to know who made what, hopefully assign the value and the prestige that comes with that. In this case, certainly with the Koch piece, with the emeralds...they did wonderful work for the czar, a lot of the Prussian royalty, but very little of their work has been offered at auction." Leslie Hindman photos.
From the estate of Joan Sonnabend, this circa 1998 23k gold pendant designed by Pablo Picasso, "Visage géométrique aux traits," 2" in diameter, is signed on the reverse. Number six in an edition of 20, with maker's mark, it came in a velvet-lined wood box and sold for $16,590 (est. $7000/9000). Skinner photo.
Descending in the family of Hope Goddard Iselin, this signed Cartier Art Deco pearl necklace was the top lot of the Skinner sale. Composed of 83 pearls graduating in size from approximately 4.30 mm to 9.60 mm, completed by a platinum clasp set with a marquise-cut diamond weighing approximately 0.46 carat and framed by old-mine-cut diamonds, the necklace is accompanied by an EGL report stating that the pearls are natural. It soared to $281,000 (est. $3000/5000).
Asked to compare this necklace with another natural pearl necklace in this sale from the Iselin collection (lot 742, which had been estimated at $10,000/15,000 and brought $142,200), Bratberg said, "There were more pearls [in this one]; they were larger throughout overall; and the fact that the clasp is Cartier. You know, with natural pearls, it's all about how round they are, the skins, the quality, the color-but mainly, how big they are. To have pearls in a nine-plus millimeter is rare for natural pearls. That really jumps the price." Skinner photo.
Skinner featured the collection of Joan Sonnabend, an art dealer who opened the gallery Sculpture to Wear in 1973 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and spent the last years of her life in Boston. The night preceding the sale, a lecture and presentation, "Remembering Joan Sonnabend," was given at the Skinner gallery by jewelry artist Robert Lee Morris, whom Sonnabend discovered.
Victoria Bratberg, director of Skinner's jewelry department, said the Sonnabend items "did nicely. They certainly liked the artist pieces," referring to some of the highlights, including a 23k gold pendant designed by Pablo Picasso that realized $16,590 (est. $7000/9000), and a Max Ernst 23k gold pendant that brought $23,700 (est. $12,000/15,000). The same bidder won both.
Bratberg added, "The Janiyé pieces sold nicely. Those were really cool. What we thought would go, did nicely-the more interesting pieces of her collection."
Another highlight of the sale was 29 pieces of jewelry from the Hope Goddard Iselin collection. A Cartier Art Deco natural pearl necklace from the collection was the top lot of the sale, bringing $281,000 (est. $3000/ 5000).
When asked to characterize the sale, Bratberg said, "This had a lot of nice, signed pieces in it that women can wear day to evening. It was a lot of contemporary work by Verdura, Van Cleef and Arpels, Tiffany, Schlumberger, David Webb, things that women wearElizabeth Locke, you knowthey can wear day to day. The period pieces, that market, they need to be pretty interesting and of finer quality. The lesser antique, the lesser Art Deco, the more common-looking piecesthat market is struggling."
When I asked if jewelry has to be unique and with good design to sell well, she gave examples from the sale. "Yes, good design. Lot 620, the Gubelin bracelet with removable parts-people went crazy for that piece. That was a great bracelet; something that you wouldn't find anywhere else. You're going to see one of those. That's what they're wanting, things that are unique and wearable.
"And then, of the antique pieces, they want beautiful work, like lot 555that was a gorgeous fob, the Art Nouveau.
"The diamond market, for smaller stones, unless it's in a beautiful Art Deco mounting, I think that market has softened, definitely. They either want a nice four-carat stone that maybe has some color to it and is not that great but has the size, or they want a really nice color and clarity. They're not interested in the little one-carats and whatnot of the more modern rings; that's a tough market. There are a lot of them available."
I asked Bratberg if she had a favorite in the sale. "Oh, you know what I loved? I loved the little walrus ring by Tiffany." The 18k gold gem-set walrus ring with cabochon sapphire eyes and bone tusks sold for $2963 (est. $1000/1500).
When I noted that fine quality antique dress sets and cuff links have been realizing good prices, Bratberg agreed. "That pretty little Deco set was nice; you just don't see a lot of it. So the more interesting cuff links or the pretty Deco dress sets, those still have a nice market." She continued with humor, "Pins hopefully will make a comeback. There are a lot of those available!"
The next Skinner jewelry auction will be held December 4. For more information, see the Web site (www.skinnerinc.com).
Handmade by Noma Ratner Copley (1916-2006) on commission from Joan Sonnabend, this 22k and 18k gold chain (41½" long) is designed as a thick gold chain turning into bicolor gold braided links. The clasp is set with a cabochon yellow gemstone framed by rope twists and rope-twist terminals. The necklace inspired many and sold to a phone bidder at $41,475 (est. $4000/5000), making it the top lot of the Sonnabend collection.
Victoria Bratberg said about Copley, "A lot of people have not heard of her, and she didn't make a lot-she only did a couple of these chains, and the people who know her work were very excited to see one of the chains come up for auction. So that was why it went so crazy."
According to the Skinner Web site, Copley "had no formal training in metalsmithing and did not begin making jewelry until she was 50 years old." It quotes her as saying, "Surrealist inspired and influenced, I, for a long time, tried to transform the everyday, the common objects that are taken for granted into poetry to wear." Skinner photo.
From Joan Sonnabend's personal collection, this Max Ernst abstract-form 23k gold pendant, "Groin," is number four in an edition of six. With maker's mark for François Hugo (signed on the reverse), it came in a velvet-lined wood box and sold for $23,700 (est. $12,000/15,000). Skinner photo.