Antique Jewelry & Gemology
Photos courtesy Ripley Auctions
Ripley Auctions in Indianapolis, Indiana, held its sixth session of the Portzline collection of costume jewelry on March 12. Andrea Hastings, vice president, head of inventory, has been working at Ripley Auctions for 15 years. She has seen a lot of jewelry hit the block, and while working with this collection for the past couple of years, she’s come to view it as “the most exquisite jewelry we’ve ever seen. There are pieces that people will only see in books. It’s been such an amazing thing to see these pieces and handle them. The Portzline jewelry that we’ve been selling is very specific—it’s all pretty much 1940s. The designs are just so indicative of the time period—that’s the retro time period. Some of the pieces are probably from the late ’30s.”
The top lot of the Ripley Auctions March 12 sale of session six of the Portzline collection was this 3" high tree pin clip by Alfred Philippe for Trifari with aqua and pink demilune leaves and pavé-set rhinestones, in the Cartier style. Andrea Hastings of Ripley Auctions, said, “The Trifari demilunes—which are the stones that are shaped like a demilune—are highly desirable. The prices for those are higher than ever.” The pin clip sold for $4000 (est. $3000/4000).
This 3" high x 2 1/2" wide angelfish fur clip by Alfred Philippe for Trifari, with faceted aqua crystals, enamel, and rhinestones, realized $875 (est. $400/500).
This signed Mazer 2" high pin clip with a crescent moon of pavé-set rhinestones and an enamel black cat brought $593.75 (est. $150/250).
Perhaps this 2 1/2" long Easter bunny jelly belly pin with gold wash and a ruby crystal eye ended up in the Easter basket of someone special this year. It sold for $225 (est. $100/200).
The collection in its entirety included over 3000 pieces, thus necessitating the division into ten sessions. Hastings explained how it came to Ripley Auctions. “Last year we sold another collection—and it wasn’t as specific as this one, but it had a lot of costume jewelry from the 1940s as well. I guess it made a real wave with the people that collect costume jewelry. We got the attention of a lot of people around the world, and that’s how we got the Portzline collection.”
She was speaking of the September 25, 2017, sale of the Brett Benson collection. According to a Ripley Auctions press release from September 13, 2017, “Brett Benson is a dealer-collector and owner of D. Brett Benson, Inc., in West Palm Beach, Fla. Benson’s passion is 1940s and 1950s-era American and European costume jewelry.”
This Mazer 3 1/2" wide hummingbird figural brooch with enamel and pavé-set rhinestones had some loss to the enamel but still made $375 (est. $200/300).
Andrea Hastings of Ripley Auctions said the “mechanicals by Marcel Boucher—the ones that move when you pull the chain—those are highly desirable and really rare.” This Boucher 2 3/8" long mechanical trembler pin in the form of a cuckoo clock, with metallic enamel, rhinestones, and a pearl at the end of the chain, sold for $3375 (est. $2000/3000).
This hard-to-find 1941 Marcel Boucher 4" high x 3" wide metallic enamel figural dragonfly pin with pavé-set rhinestones has slight loss to the enamel, but that didn’t hinder bidders from pushing the price to $3000 (est. $1000/2000).
Pull the chain of this Marcel Boucher Siamese dancer movable pin clip, and the figure does a little dance. The 3" long vermeil, enamel, and rhinestone pin clip brought $3125 (est. $1000/2000).
The success of these sales is due to good old-fashioned hard work and inspiration. “We just love it, so we really gave it a high priority…. Dan [Ripley] spent twenty years getting this trusted reputation and has a lot of contacts in the antique world—and a lot of them are jewelry people. All of that together made us able to really be trusted to sell the Portzline collection. We’re actually working on other major collections of costume jewelry, so we won’t be stopping anytime soon.”
Hastings said that costume jewelry collectors view objects in this category “more as little sculptures, more like little pieces of design, and little pieces of history,” whereas fine jewelry buyers often buy an object based on the value of the stones, the cuts, the precious materials, etc.
“These designers you see, like Marcel Boucher and Alfred Philippe, who designed for Trifari, they’re the top notch. They’re the designers that everybody was trying to emulate, and both of them were fine jewelry designers.” (Philippe had previously designed jewelry for Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels; Boucher studied under Pierre Cartier in the 1920s.) After the Depression and during World War II, “They started making jewelry that was accessible to everybody. These pieces are put together in the same way that a piece of fine jewelry would be constructed; it’s just the materials are not precious.”
This 1941 4" high x 3" wide double flower pin clip by Alfred Philippe for Trifari with Lucite flowers, red cabochons, and sapphire-blue crystal leaves sold for $3375 (est. $1500/2000). Andrea Hastings said, “The leaves on that flower—the little blue crystal leaves—they look like they’re invisibly set gems, but it’s just one piece of crystal that’s carved.”
This 2" high x 1 1/8" wide Fairyland jelly belly snail figural pin by Alfred Philippe for Trifari with rhinestone baguettes, red jeweled antennae, and blue cabochon eyes brought $531.25 (est. $200/300).
This DuJay 2" high x 2 3/8" wide pin of love birds on a branch, rhodium-plated enamel and pavé rhinestones, brought $375 (est. $150/250).
This Eisenberg original Art Deco 3 1/8" high sterling vermeil desert flower pin with rhinestones and green crystal jewels sold for $500 (est. $200/300).
In the U.S. during World War II, there were restrictions on some raw materials that were needed for the war effort. As Judith Miller writes in Costume Jewelry(2003), “manufacturers had to improvise, and they did so with tremendous success. Materials such as Bakelite and Lucite came into their own, but the most significant change was the substitution of sterling silver for the various base metals. By 1942, silver was the only metal that was allowed for costume jewelry.”
Marcel Boucher (1898-1965) is a favorite of Hastings. “He’s just a real original. So many people tried to copy him, and if you see one of these pieces in person, you just know when it’s him. And it really goes the same for Alfred Philippe, from Trifari. You just really can’t beat their eye for shape, construction, color—everything.”
Three Marcel Boucher pins made it into the top five at the sale. A cuckoo clock birdhouse mechanical trembler pin sold for $3375 (est. $2000/3000) with buyer’s premium; a 1941 enamel dragonfly pin with pavé-set rhinestones brought $3000 (est. $1000/2000); and a Siamese dancer figure with pull chain, in vermeil, enamel, and rhinestones, brought $3125 (est. $1000/2000).
This unsigned Mazer 2" wide crab pin/brooch with a faceted green crystal jewel belly and cabochon eyes realized $250 (est. $150/300).
This Trifari Art Deco 2 1/3" high Clip-Mates buckle pin, brooch, and clip, with emerald channel-set baguette jewels and pavé-set rhinestones, realized $437.50 (est. $300/400).
This rare 3" high x 3" wide koi pond pin by Alfred Philippe for Trifari, with gold wash, a pale amethyst crystal jewel, faux pearls, and rhinestones, sold for $1375 (est. $800/1000).
This Trifari 1 1/2" wide x 7" long demilune floral bracelet with green enamel and pink crystal jewels and rhinestones brought $2250 (est. $1000/2000).
The top lot of the sale was a tree pin clip by Alfred Philippe for Trifari with aqua and pink demilune leaves and pavé-set rhinestones, in the Cartier style, that sold for $4000 (est. $3000/4000). Hastings said this and other top lots were “showstoppers—where not everyone might want the Trifari demilune tree, but everybody wants to see what it goes for.”
A 1941 double flower pin clip by Alfred Philippe for Trifari, with Lucite flowers, red cabochons, and sapphire-blue crystal leaves, brought $3375 (est. $1500/2000); a rare koi pond pin by Alfred Philippe for Trifari with gold wash, a pale amethyst crystal jewel, faux pearls, and rhinestones sold for $1375 (est. $800/1000).
Where the Action Is
These sales are held live, but most of the bidding is not happening in the showroom. Hastings said, “It’s mainly over the phone and online buyers. The buyers are all over the world.” Costume jewelry is “a hugely desirable thing, not only in the U.S. but in other countries—there are Russian buyers, there are Chinese buyers—they’re just everywhere.”
Elzac jelly belly perching owl pin with sterling vermeil, missing cabochon eyes, $200 (est. $100/200).
This Kreisler unsigned 2 3/4" high brooch, a gold-washed cherub kneeling on an amethyst-faceted square jewel, with dangling aqua poured-glass hearts, sold for $281.25 (est. $150/250).
This rare Art Deco diamante brooch by Oreste Agnini (1885-1959) for Ora, Chicago, “Moon over Miami,” 2 1/8" diameter, realized $281.25 (est. $200/300).
One can get the feel of the live auction virtually. “We stream live audio and video. It’s on Invaluable. That’s why our audience isn’t very big, live, for this, because it is so specific, and these people are spread out all over the place. So sometimes we just have a few people here. We have plenty of activity going on elsewhere.”
Keeping current with the buying habits of the collecting public and adjusting to those trends can be challenging, but that’s what the auction house must do to succeed in the marketplace. Hastings noted that “things are always changing because of how people buy now. They don’t really care what the value is supposed to be; they just want it, and they’re going to compete for it. And we keep picking up more and more buyers every time, so we’ve been really happy. We think this is a very good way to present a collection and to sell it, because everyone can participate, and I really think that we get the current market value, and sometimes we exceed it.”
Looking Back, Coming Up
When I asked if there was anything she’d like to add, Hastings said, “Just that it’s been an honor to work with this caliber of collection, and that Dan says it best, about how we got to this point: ‘it only takes twenty years to be an overnight success.’”
Sessions seven, eight, and nine of the Portzline collection of costume jewelry will be held April 16, May 14, and June 11. Check the website for the online catalogs and information about participating in the auctions at (www.ripleyauctions.com).
Originally published in the May 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest