When I first started Diamonds in the Library (more than four years ago – because I forgot to acknowledge DitL’s birthday this year!) I did a lot of auction posts: I would spend hours going through current and past auctions on Sotheby’s, Christies’ and Bonhams’ websites, saving and sharing the photos of my favorites. But I’d never been to any of these places: they felt removed from me, too venerated to imagine touching with my own hands.
A couple of weeks ago, Sotheby’s reached to me about the preview for their upcoming September 22nd Important Jewels sale. “We have a preview coming up!” they told me; “We’d love for you to come!”
Whaaat? Come to Sotheby’s? Touch the jewelry? Obviously yes.
I took the train up to NYC on Saturday morning and headed straight to the preview. The Sotheby’s building is tall and bright, with high ceilings and large windows, a breath of fresh air after getting lost inside Penn Station (which I always do, no matter how many times I’m there). I emerged onto the 6th floor and was greeted by an autumnal display: colorful foliage artfully strewn on the floor while a hidden lens projected swirling fall leaves onto a wide white wall.
I had vague intentions of playing it cool, pretending I visit Sotheby’s every day, but then the very first piece I saw was a Lalique ring (which I will soon show you in great detail) and I freaked out and then was graciously allowed to take it out of the case and take it away to a conference room to stare at it from every angle for 20 minutes. Staying chill around incredible jewelry has never been my strong suit.
The entire sale is perfect for early fall: the room felt full of a kind of magic, with luminous cabochon gemstones, deep sapphires and glowing citrines. The selection, coupled with the chill I’ve been feeling in the morning air recently, really drove home the fact that the seasons are about to change.
Let’s look at a few of my favorite pieces:
Lot 151: 18 Karat Gold, Molded Glass and Enamel Ring, René Lalique, France, circa 1900.
Designed as a greenish blue glass face of Medusa, with blue and green enamel sales applied to the snake, gross weight approximately 10 dwts, size 8, signed Lalique, with French maker’s mark; circa 1900.
I can’t describe to you how exciting it was to handle this ring in person. Just look at the enamel the way it fades seamlessly from blue to green to blue along the side of the snake. That and the perfect contours of Medusa’s face – and the way the glass catches the light – are my favorite elements of this piece. It’s a treasure, and I hope it goes to someone who will appreciate it properly.
Lot 145: Gold, Hardstone and Colored Diamond ‘De la Mort et de La Vie’ Necklace, Codognato.
Designed as an ivy vine decorated with seven carved skulls composed of hardstones including amethyst, agate, bloodstone and carnelian, suspended by multiple gold strands, with additional ivy leaves on the clasp, set with rose-cut diamonds of brown hue, gross weight approximately 84 dwts, length 15 inches, unsigned; circa 1955. With signed box.
This necklace is surprisingly joyful for a piece with that many skulls. It really brings home the “live each day as if it’s your last, but that’s not a bad thing” message of memento mori jewelry.
Lot 57: Platinum, Sapphire and Diamond Bracelet, Black Starr & Frost.
The highly flexible line bracelet designed as a serpent, centering a pear-shaped sapphire measuring approximately 11.3 by 7.2 by 4.5 mm, accented by French-cut sapphires and two cabochon sapphire eyes, completed by round, old European and single-cut diamonds weighing approximately 3.50 carats, length 7 1/8 inches, partially signed & F., numbered 5387; circa 1925.
You already know have a thing for snakes and a thing for Art Deco bracelets…when they’re combined in a piece this good, there’s no way I can resist it. I held this snake and petted its sapphire head gently before returning it to its black velvet cushion.
Lot 216: Silver, Gold, Diamond and Enamel Cruciform Reliquary-Pendant.
Centered by six Dutch rose-cut diamonds, accented by smaller rose and table-cut diamonds, the reverse applied with polychrome enamel floral motifs against a white enamel background and completed by a concealed compartment, the lid counter-enameled in pale blue; circa 1660. Suspended from a patinated white gold chain weighing approximately 53 dwts, length 32 inches, signed Bulgari.
Hang on, here’s a closer look:
That compartment in the center is where you’d put your bones of a saint or fragments of the true cross or whatever relic you were looking to preserve: because this isn’t just a pretty pendant, it’s a reliquary. Meant to house the sacred in beauty.
It’s on a silver Bulgari chain, which is a nice chain, but the chain pales in comparison to what it’s suspending.
As much as I loved the Lalique and wanted to add the snake bracelet to my personal collection…this was my favorite piece of the sale. Crosses aren’t my favorite motif, but this thing is so incredible I couldn’t mind the shape. I’ve always had a weird fascination with reliquaries and to handle a piece like this – 400 years old and in such incomparable condition – was an experience I won’t soon forget.
Lot 146: Gold, Rock Crystal and Colored Diamond ‘Pierrot’ Necklace, Codognato.
Centering three rock crystal reverse intaglios depicting skeletons, within a flexible bib composed of ivy leaves, accented by four gold skulls, decorated by rose-cut diamonds of brown hue weighing approximately 4.30 carats, gross weight approximately 121 dwts, internal circumference 18 inches, signed Codognato; after 1940. With signed box.
This piece is somewhat similar to the previous skull necklace – it’s by the same maker – but here you see both skulls and complete skeletons, almost camouflaged in a bed of golden ivy.
Lot 191: Platinum, Moonstone, Lapis Lazuli and Diamond Necklace, Tiffany & Co., Designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The drop-style necklace of slightly graduated design, composed of variously-shaped moonstone cabochons, each decorated with lapis lazuli segments, further set with round, old European and single-cut diamonds weighing approximately 2.90 carats, length 16 inches, signed Tiffany & Co.; circa 1915.
Here’s a detail shot of the necklace above – those moonstones glow in person like nobody’s business. The lapis really brings out the blue flash.
In the close-up, the necklace was photographed alongside another Tiffany & Co piece – a sapphire and diamond ring. Here’s its info:
Lot 190: Platinum, Gold, Sapphire and Diamond Ring, Tiffany & Co.
Centering an oval-shaped sapphire measuring approximately 7.8 by 6.7 by 4.7 mm, within an openwork mounting of scrollwork design, set with old European and single-cut diamonds weighing approximately 1.15 carats, size 5½, signed Tiffany & Co.; circa 1905.
Check out my Instagram today for a look at what I played with when I visited! For more of the lots from tomorrow’s Important Jewels sale, please visit the online catalog here.
All images and info are c/o Sotheby’s. Thanks to Sotheby’s for having me to visit, and most especially to Catharine Becket for showing me around so patiently (and for letting me take the Lalique to better lighting).