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Surprises at Cobb Auctioneers and Canadian Cultural History at Dupuis

Mary Ann Brown | June 23rd, 2013

Antique Jewelry & Gemology

All prices include the buyer’s premium

This Cartier, Paris, diamond men’s tuxedo set, in white gold or platinum, is set with small diamonds on an opalescent stone. One cufflink back is not signed and is probably a replacement; the two smallest button backs are not signed and are probably replaced as well. This did not deter bidders from chasing the set to 20 times the high estimate to $18,000 (est. $700/900). The Cobbs Auctioneers.

This 20th-century Tiffany & Co. diamond bracelet set in platinum, with 43 diamonds of approximate total weight of 18 carats, realized $54,000 (est. $5000/7000). The Cobbs Auctioneers.

This late 19th-/early 20th-century 18k yellow gold and approximately 4-carat square-cut emerald ring with raised shamrocks mounted on a setting is marked “F.W.L,” possibly for Frank Wilder Lawrence. It was another estimate-buster at the Cobb sale, realizing $48,000 (est. $2000/3000). The Cobbs Auctioneers.

The Cobbs Auctioneers

Charlie and Dudley Cobb have been in the antiques business as dealers and collectors since the 1960’s, and since 1999 they have focused solely on auctions. Their July 6 auction in Peterborough, New Hampshire, included a fine collection of antique and vintage jewelry.

The top lot of the collection, two early 20th-century imperial jade necklaces, each with a yellow gold clasp inset with a jade bead, sold for $132,000 (est. $1000/1500). Charlie Cobb said, “That went to the trade in New York City—I think for a customer, but I don’t know that for a fact.”

We’ve been seeing prices realized for the finest jade pieces go through the roof for several years now. People who specialize in jade and collectors who seek it have knowledge that eludes some of us. Cobb put it aptly, “To be honest with you, we knew it was really high-quality jade. The nuances of it were not something we had a good handle on, though.” He continued, “We knew it was a good thing, and we’ve handled a lot of jade pieces over the years…I was just surprised.”

Asked where the bidding action was, he said, “We had a tremendous number of people who came in ahead of time and looked at things, so we had a lot of people bidding on the phone, of course. But there were people who were determined to buy some things, so they came to the sale. They came back after the preview and stayed in the audience and bid to make sure they got the lots they wanted. So there was a combination of things…I would say a good number of the lots sold to somebody that wasn’t there…We did sell things through LiveAuctioneers and Artfact as well….”

Cobb was sure that “most of the serious people who bought the expensive lots came ahead of time or sent someone to look at the items for them, and then got on the phone and bid…or came back.”

He said that 85% or 90% of the good jewelry came from one source. “They were purchased by this family in the early twentieth century. So an awful lot of the really good rings were from that time period, or earlier….” Another “small estate had seven or eight pieces of good jewelry, and most of that was from a lady who had purchased them in the 1940’s.”

Cobb made the estimates “reasonable…because every time you do that, everybody comes out of the woodwork.” He said that “a lot of the dealers that came, when they were all done, said, ‘You know, these [results] were more than what we’ve seen in New York City.’”

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Charlie Cobb told me that the high result of these two jade necklaces “was a pretty big surprise for us.” They ended up being the top lot of the sale. Each of the early 20th-century imperial jade necklaces, approximately 12" long, has matching yellow gold clasps inset with a jade bead. One has a second gold clasp with jade drops. The pair soared exponentially above the high estimate, as we have been seeing important jade pieces do for the past several years, to $132,000 (est. $1000/1500). The Cobbs Auctioneers.

Duncan Parker said that this circa 1935 Edward Oakes moonstone and 18k gold necklace, 16½" long, “is definitely something that generated a lot of interest because of whose it was.” The “subtle, relatively small” late Arts and Crafts necklace has moonstones that “are really fine. They’re perfectly matched. There’s no body color to the moonstones, so they’re really white with a really nice blue well-centered moon in each one. They looked great, and it’s very hard to find moonstone of this quality nowadays. It’s really translucent, almost transparent, and perfectly matched. The workmanship is stupendous, and it really shows. With the name Oakes, it did excite people quite a bit.” It sold for many times the high estimate for Can$20,000 (est. $1000/1500). Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers.


This circa 1920 sapphire and diamond pendant necklace, 18¾" long, is “a good size sapphire, in an original and authentic pendant,” according to Duncan Parker. The elongated quatrefoil motif is set with an oval sapphire weighing approximately 15.25 carats, amid a diamond-set plaque finely millegrained and pierced with floral and foliate details. Parker said that the necklace “has a good balance, great color, and is very likely a Sri Lankan sapphire. The whole thing has a good look to it, and it feels nice, and the size is good. Again, it makes a good statement. It’s not going to disappear. People are looking for big things.” The necklace sold well above the high estimate for Can$47,500 (est. $15,000/18,000). Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers.

Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers

The Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers Inc. spring sale was held on June 23 in Toronto. Many of the antique and vintage highlights came from the estate of Mrs. Robertson Davies. Duncan Parker, vice-president and jewelry specialist at Dupuis, said, “The collection of Davies’s things was genuinely a collection. It was accumulated by someone who had an eye for beautiful things. Clearly she had become enamored of carved gems…natural forms and so forth…The carver’s art really had an appeal to Brenda Davies.”

According to the presale press release, “It was in 1940 that Robertson Davies, Canadian cultural icon, novelist, playwright, academic, and his Australian bride, Brenda Mathews, were married; she was his muse and confidante and was proud to be Mrs. Robertson Davies for the remainder of her life.”

Parker said he had thought that some of the Davies pieces would be snapped up by fellow Canadians, but most went to buyers outside of Canada “who were buying them not because of their provenance, but because of their quality as antique jewels.”

Asked where the bidding activity was coming from, he replied, “I think we’re having an increase in the amount of interest from international buyers, and therefore, while the room is still full a lot of the time, there are increasing numbers of bidders elsewhere...Overall in the auction, I think having people in the room does make it more exciting. There were a couple of times when the bidding ended up being essentially a battle between one person on the Internet and two people on the phone. And the people in the room, they’re craning their necks to look at the operators and the Internet screen, but it’s not very interesting for them. Seeing the hands go up and being able to look at the people’s faces as they bid and say, ‘Damn it, no! It’s mine!’ is more interesting…And there were a number of things like that in the Davies estate particularly where people clearly had found it interesting, and loved the stories, and…having an estate where we’re allowed to tell people whose it was is a big deal.”

We discussed the story of the Davies engagement ring (see photo and caption). Parker told me that it “was a silver ring with a piece of purple glass in it. They referred to it as a Tassie…Tassie was a maker of glass intaglio and cameo gems…and they had a couple of other items that they refer to as Tassies, and they may have been Tassie pieces. But he often signed them, or at least had a letter ‘T’ somewhere on them. These didn’t, so I’m not sure they were by Tassie. She did cherish it and value it.”

According to the Antique Jewelry University Web site (, “a Tassie is a paste or glass copy of a cameo or intaglio. James Tassie (1735-1799), a Scottish gem engraver, created replicas of ancient engraved agates and gemstones following his career as a glyptographer.”

The Davies collection featured lovely objects with archetypal and mythological themes. The provenance, the stories, and the fact that these were appealing antique pieces proved valuable to buyers who participated in this sale.

Parker expanded this idea. “Diamonds are so utterly quantified these days.” He thinks diamonds are not viewed so much as items of beauty but more in terms of the size (carats), clarity, color, and cut. “Because we’ve been indoctrinated into the ‘four Cs’…people increasingly seem to be looking at jewels that are not diamonds, more so than they used to. So rubies, sapphires, emeralds—interesting antiques that may or may not feature a gem or several gems—they’re sort of a cohesive whole, rather than a vehicle to carry a diamond.”

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The catalog cover piece for the Dupuis auction was this circa 1910 Belle Époque diamond and platinum bow brooch. Duncan Parker said, “It came in, and the people who consigned it said that it was a reproduction piece…but…this is an original piece…We photographed it on a piece of fabric, just to show the movement that it has, because it was very supple. It really was beautifully made. And everyone who looked at it loved it. It was quite large, and in terms of jewelry right now, large is a big deal. The diamonds are very nice quality. You know, there’s nothing in it that screams out, Oh, here’s my big diamond! It has a heck of a lot of diamond in it still, but it’s, again, a large piece of jewelry that is a complete whole, as opposed to something that someone’s going to break up for the diamonds. There’s one central diamond in the middle, but it’s not something that would warrant taking it apart.” Intense bidding resulted, and Parker said, “It wasn’t a competition between two people, it was a competition between a number of people who just said, ‘It’s mine,’” which pushed the final price well above the high estimate to Can$55,000 (est. $10,000/12,000). Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers.

This circa 1930 Art Deco enamel and diamond piano powder compact came from the estate of Canadian-born international pianist Ellen Ballon (1898-1969), who debuted with the New York Symphony at the age of 12. Designed as a grand piano with a highly polished black enamel case mounted in 14k gold, it has the diamond-set monogram “EB.” The black-and-white enamel keyboard has an integrated thumb piece that when pressed opens the compact to reveal a beveled mirror and powder compartment. With a fitted brown suede pouch stamped “Black Starr & Frost-Gorham Inc., New York,” it sold for more than five times the high estimate for Can$20,000 (est. $2000/3000). Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers.

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

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