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September Jewelry Highlights

Mary Ann Brown | October 13th, 2013

Antique Jewelry & Gemology

It’s nice to write about a sector of the market that continues to fare well. There are certain criteria that influence how well a piece of antique or vintage jewelry will do at auction. The fact is, if you’ve taken care of your jewelry, and it is interesting, unique, signed by a famous maker, Art Deco, features an adorable dog, or has an interesting history or provenance (having more than one of these criteria also boosts the chances of realizing a good price), you’re likely to do well when consigning it at auction.

There was plenty of fine antique and vintage jewelry on offer at September auctions at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago and Skinner in Boston, making it a successful month for consignors, buyers, and the companies that bring them together.

This Art Deco platinum, seed pearl, and diamond necklace, 24½" long, consists of four sections of seed pearls in a meshwork joined with two openwork platinum gathers, a central openwork kite-shape pendant (which was probably not original to the piece), and an openwork clasp. Metal portions of the necklace contain numerous antique round single-cut and rose-cut diamonds weighing approximately 3.20 carats total. Alexander Eblen described the attributes of the necklace. “This was just stunning. It had nice length to it. The platinum-set pieces were quite well done, very high quality. The pearl meshwork was, thankfully, intact, because we were really living in fear that our pearl stringer would just say ‘no.’ To re-do this kind of design is very time-consuming. It was just a beautiful, beautiful necklace, and it actually came out of an estate that brought us some of the other Cartier pieces and that Tiffany ring. It was just an exquisite grouping of fine jewelry from probably right after the turn of the century through the mid-twenties… extraordinary.” It sold above the high estimate for $12,500 (est. $7000/9000). Leslie Hindman.

This Art Deco platinum and diamond ring had many engagement ring buyers vying for it. Alexander Eblen said that he “had four or five couples that wanted to propose. All of them were shopping together, so they knew exactly what they were looking for. It was a team effort, no guys just coming to do it on their own. And they really gravitated towards this stone because this was a combination of beautiful period design, and the hand-engraved setting was wonderful…and then when you get to the diamond…that’s the start and stop of the conversation, for the most part. It’s nearly four carats, wonderful GIA grading, color, and clarity. This is a stone that gives you a lot of value for the look.” He said couples seriously searching for the right engagement ring “after looking at a million different images on Blue Nile and walking through ten, fifteen jewelry stores, see something like this and say, ‘Wow, this looks different from everything I’ve seen.’” As he looked out in the audience after the ring sold above the high estimate for $37,500 (est. $20,000/30,000), Eblen saw the disappointed faces of those who didn’t win it. Leslie Hindman.

Leslie Hindman

Leslie Hindman Auctioneers’ September 8 and 9 fine jewelry and timepieces sale of 1189 lots realized $3.89 million. According to the post-sale press release, “The most sought after jewels in the sale, including the natural pearl necklace and the Kashmir sapphire, attracted enthusiastic bidding from an international audience eager to add rare pieces to their own collections. These items all drew extensive on-line, phone and in-person bidding, which had to contend with numerous presale order bids that drove opening prices to extremes in many cases.”

The natural saltwater pearl necklace came from the Mrs. Harry M. McIntosh estate. In the 1930’s, the McIntosh family worked with a natural pearl dealer in Chicago to create the exceptional strand. The necklace was the top lot of the sale and well exceeded its estimate of $30,000/50,000, selling for $218,500 (including buyer’s premium).

Alexander Eblen, director of jewelry, said, “This strand was, by far, the most exciting item in our sale to our buyers…When I showed this in New York, I had more requests for time with this than anything else. It was very quickly appreciated for what it was, and it was interesting, because the pearls themselves were cream, they’re not white-white, nor were they trying to be. However, these were exceptional size—the center pearl coming out just over ten millimeters. [It] had a very even graduation...That’s what you get through putting this together over many years. They were doing this in a very thoughtful manner with an emphasis on quality and matching rather than saying, ‘Hey, let’s get a natural pearl strand together really quickly.’ A good one doesn’t come together that way. A good one doesn’t really come together at all today.”

Eblen said that seeing these prices for natural pearls has caused people to search through their jewelry boxes. “What’s going on now is that everyone’s sifting through their belongings to see how old was that pearl necklace that grandma had—was that 1900 or 1850? What you have now, in my line of work, is a tremendous sifting through of pearls. They are absolutely the needle in the haystack to find a really fine strand.”

Now for the “cautionary tale” segment of the column. When we discussed the circa 1930 Cartier moonstone bead bracelet that sold well in the sale (see accompanying photo and caption), Eblen said, “At one point, they [the consignor] had two of these bracelets. And the other bracelet had sapphire beads. Can you imagine how beautiful that would’ve been? And that was broken up and used in something else. I think they made a necklace out of it; it’s now since gone out of the family. Aaaah! Very painful for us to hear stories like this. We don’t want to hear about it afterwards that they converted the clasp to a pin with the nice little Cartier signature on it.”

The clasp that was made into a pin was the lot following the moonstone bracelet. Eblen advised, “If you’re going to do anything to jewelry—first and foremost, don’t do anything if possible! Leave it alone! Preserve them as the pieces of art that they are. And certainly don’t take your sapphire bead bracelet apart and make the clasp a brooch. Believe me, the client was just exceedingly thrilled that the bracelet sold for that much—the moonstone—and then kicking themselves with the other foot for ever letting that happen with the other bracelet. But, these things happen, and like people, these are going to show some wear after a hundred years, and if you have to do something, do it with great care.”

Hindman’s jewelry staff is already getting ready for the next fine jewelry and timepieces sale,  coming up December 8 and 9, with jewelry during the days and timepieces in the evening session on the 9th. Go to Hindman’s Web site ( for more information.

Alexander Eblen thought this Black, Starr and Frost Art Deco platinum, diamond, and pearl pendant watch necklace “was one of the more interesting pieces in the sale.” The watch has numerous old European-, single- and rose-cut diamonds together with numerous pearls (origin not tested), a white dial, Arabic numerals, blued steel moon hands, an engraved bezel, and millegrain accents. The detachable pendant suspends from a link necklace composed of twisted wire and wire-set pearl links joined with millegrain accented openwork links. Eblen said, “The watch was in good working order. The filigree work was exceptional, but what really got me was the actual chain. When you looked at it closely, it was all platinum wire that was hand-twisted into a rope motif…I think that this watch brought a similar price to a Patek Philippe that we sold last year, and that’s a high compliment to it. It was really quite lovely. It was in very good condition as well.”Accompanied by a fitted cream case signed “Black Starr & Frost Fifth Avenue New York,” it sold above the high estimate for $16,250 (est. $7000/9000). Leslie Hindman.

This circa 1930 Cartier platinum, diamond, and moonstone bead bracelet, 9" long, “was very highly sought after.” Alexander Eblen explained, “It was obviously put in for a price that was very attractive, but at the same time, that was pretty comparable to what a bracelet similar to this had been offered at before. And something like this, in today’s market—when people see Cartier, they see something fashionable, they see something wearable, and it has this age. There is an instant just absolute appeal and desire for something like this, and we don’t come across pieces like this very often.” Consisting of four strands of spherical moonstone beads strung knotted with engraved platinum gathers, a hexagonal clasp containing ten round transitional brilliant-cut diamonds, six round single-cut diamonds, and a clasp stamped “CARTIER,” it sold above the high estimate for $16,250 (est. $3000/5000). Eblen also said that he couldn’t share who was bidding on it, but he could say “that some very, very powerful names, sort of tastemakers, people who are at the leading edge of what’s fashionable in jewelry, were going after this because it was just a really fun piece.” Leslie Hindman.

Alexander Eblen said this 20" long single strand necklace of graduated natural pearls was “quite simply the finest strand of natural pearls I’ve ever handled.” Containing 74 near round to round pearls measuring approximately 3.54-10.14 mm in diameter, the necklace came from the estate of Mrs. Harry M. McIntosh. “These kinds of necklaces are just really rare...The family that we were working with and representing…felt that the necklace had been put together over the course of about ten years, and certainly for quite a few years they worked with a natural pearl dealer in the Chicago area.” Strung knotted with a white and yellow gold navette-shape clasp containing one bezel-set oval cabochon-cut indicolite tourmaline measuring approximately 7.00 x 4.90 mm, it is accompanied by a GIA pearl identification certificate and was the top lot of the auction, selling well above the high estimate for $218,500 (est. $30,000/50,000). Leslie Hindman.

This Edwardian platinum, diamond, and sapphire long chain necklace with detachable pendant/brooch was, according to Alexander Eblen, “the best, in terms of an Art Deco link necklace because it was two-part. You’ve got the pendant, and you’ve got the necklace itself. We see these from time to time. Usually they’ve been broken or repaired in one way. This had no repairs. So that’s number one. Number two, the total diamond weight—this is a long chain—the total diamond weight is over ten carats. That’s quite important. Number three, the sapphires were not synthetic, as were so often used. They were natural—wonderful. And then to top that all off, you have this beautiful brooch pendant that goes with it. It became a really stunning sort of flapper style—you could see this being used in The Great Gatsby.” It sold above the high estimate for $30,000 (est. $15,000/20,000). Leslie Hindman.

Janvier Quercia, France, created this Art Nouveau silver-gilt and plique-a-jour enamel buckle, 3" x 2½", designed as a fairy with plique-a-jour enamel wings. It was from the estate of Charles P. Fisher and sold above the high estimate for $4200 (est. $800/1200). Skinner.

This 3¼" x 2½" x ½" Art Deco nephrite box with platinum and rose-cut diamond hinges and a clasp with millegrain accents came in a fitted Asprey, London, box. It sold well above the high estimate for $13,200 (est. $800/1200). Skinner.

This antique signed Tiffany & Co. 14k bicolor gold and reverse-painted crystal brooch displaying a white terrier with a blue collar was a crowd favorite. Victoria Bratberg explained, “People love dog jewelry. And when it’s good dog jewelry, they really love it.” It sold above the high estimate for $9600 (est. $2000/3000). Skinner.


The news from Victoria Bratberg, director of jewelry at Skinner, Boston, is that “antique jewelry [is] becoming more popular again at auction.”

I watched a good portion of the September 10 Skinner sale on line and saw few lots passing. Bratberg said that “the sale was good, with a lot of privates [buying]…There was a lot of Internet bidding, which was great.

“They’re buying more antique, if it’s in good condition and interesting. And they’re still very hot for Art Deco and signed pieces by the famous makers. Aside from the antiques coming back a bit, I feel like the trends have pretty much stayed the same.”

She added, “A lot of it has to do with the condition. And you know I just feel like you don’t see a lot of the rare pieces like the coach cover ear pendants. People love things like that. So when they come up, there’s usually a fight for them.” She was speaking of a pair of antique diamond ear pendants, with companion enamel coach covers, that sold for $1920 (est. $600/800). See the accompanying photo and caption for information on coach covers.

Bratberg said buyers “are still after signed jewelry. I think the Alhambra necklace—the magic necklace—brought close to retail, if not over, when you tack on the buyer’s premium.” The Van Cleef & Arpels, France, 18k gold gem-set “Magic Alhambra” necklace brought $21,600 (est. $10,000/15,000). “So, anything Van Cleef and Arpels, Cartier, Tiffany—they just go mad for. And Buccellati. Our cover lot did nicely. That was in for $15,000. It sold for $30,000. It was beautiful.”

The back cover of the Skinner sale catalog featured a pin made by the artist Alexander Calder (1898-1976) in 1939. In her blog on the Skinner Web site, ­Gloria Lieberman, vice president of Skinner, wrote, “Calder was known for his sense of design, and in this case the piece is handmade from brass with the slightest touch of silver. Calder rarely soldered his jewelry, instead joining pieces of metal with loops or sections of wire. The stem of this pin coils in a quirky, exaggerated fashion that is both playful and artful—it’s a beautiful piece that has never been on the market.”

Bratberg said, “There was a lot of interest in it, but in the end, it was down to two. That’s a New York price we got. For Boston, we were very pleased.” It was the top lot of the sale at $111,000 (est. $20,000/30,000).

Skinner is known for offering artist jewelry. Bratberg explained that interest is growing “even with people who aren’t that familiar with artist jewelry…it’s not something that you see in every other sale, and it’s definitely unique.” The Calder pin is an excellent example, and the sale of Joan Sonnabend’s collection of “sculpture to wear” was a feature of the jewelry sale in September 2012.

What about those who like the big diamonds, and what’s happening in that sector of the market?

Bratberg said, “Those are always going to do well, for the most part. You know, diamonds—it’s all illusion there—it’s based on a formula—color, cut, clarity, size. It’s not like a brass wire pin by Alexander Calder, where to make it costs nothing, but it does take skill, and it brings over $100,000 with the buyer’s premium. Diamonds are pretty straightforward, unless they’re old material, you know, there are obviously exceptions...Not that they’re not beautiful. We love those, too. It’s just a little more straightforward.”

Skinner’s next fine jewelry sale is December 10, and Bratberg said, “December is looking good so far, so we’re excited.” That catalog will be on the Web site ( three weeks prior to the sale.

This antique diamond convertible suite was also from the Fisher estate. It was “purchased in London in 1897 by Charles Fisher’s grandmother, Julia Bryant Paine, the wife of Charles Jackson Paine, for Mrs. Paine to wear at various formal occasions in London, including presentation to Queen Victoria in the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee,” according to the Skinner catalog. The necklace is designed as a garland of flowers set throughout with old European and old mine-cut diamonds, with a removable old mine- and rose-cut diamond leaf and knife-edge bar chain and armature for tiara conversion, with additional findings for conversion into five pins or five hair ornaments and two sets of hairpins.

Skinner jewelry specialist John Colasacco wrote about the suite in a blog on the Web site: “As is typical for the period, the tiara converts into a necklace. Or each element can be separated and worn as brooches or hairpins. We were excited to find that all of the original fittings remain intact and together in the set. Often these little parts get lost through the generations and rarely survive. But here we have all the original clips and fasteners that Mrs. Paine would have used to create just the right impression on the Queen and other dignitaries.” With the original fitted box for London & Ryder, New Bond St., it sold well above the high estimate at $19,200 (est. $6000/8000). Skinner.

When Alexander Calder made jewelry he designed and produced the pieces himself, which is one of the reasons they bring a good price when they come on the market. This 1939 pin, 3½" x 2¾", designed as a brass coil, was commissioned by Henry Sayles Francis, curator of prints and paintings at the Cleveland Museum of Art for about 40 years, for his wife, Frances M. Francis. Gloria Lieberman, vice president at Skinner, wrote in a blog on the Skinner Web site, “The pin by itself is fantastic, but what seals the deal for me is the letter that accompanies the jewelry.” The letter, dated December 18, 1939, is signed by Alexander Calder and asks whether Mr. Francis had received the pin mailed on November 24, and whether it was satisfactory. According to Bratberg, “The letter added to it, definitely,” helping the lot to sell for many times the high estimate at $111,000 (est. $20,000/30,000). Skinner.

Victoria Bratberg’s favorite was this signed Van Cleef & Arpels, France, 18k gold gem-set charm designed as a “game of chance” wheel with a ruby bead framed by ruby and turquoise cabochons. She said, “I really liked the spinner charm, the little Van Cleef, the love charm; I thought that was great…That brought a strong price,” $13,200 (est. $2000/3000). Skinner.

Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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