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.