Jewelry and Wearable Art Sold at Auction
March 2018
By Ettagale Blauer
  • Invisibly set ruby earrings $7500
  • Charles Loloma bracelet and earrings $35,000
  • Star sapphire and diamond ring $4,687
  • Tony Duquette Mabe pearl necklace $15,000SEEN RIGHT
Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Jewelry and Wearable Art Sold at Auction
Art & Object is pleased to present jewelry and other wearable art recently sold at auction. Since the beginning of time, jewelry has proven to be a medium of expression that defines our tastes, our resources, and our sensibilities. Jewelry extends into decorative arts and has become a defining statement of culture. Our column is presented by Ettagale Blauer, author and authority on jewelry design.
Invisibly set ruby earrings

Magical mystery tour

Invisibly set ruby earrings, $7500

Fortuna, New York, February 21, 2018

These exquisite ruby and diamond earrings exemplify the technique known as invisible setting or mystery setting. This pair, set in 18k gold, are unsigned but probably French made. Each comprises hundreds of square French-cut rubies totaling 50 carats. The centers of the multi-petal flowers and caps on the drops are set with 1.20 carats of brilliant-cut diamonds. The petals appearing to have just opened to their full bloom, this pair embodies the floral style of many invisibly set pieces.

The magic and mystery of this setting is in the total absence of visible metal between and among the closely fitting rubies. Patents for this technique were acquired by three French firms: Chaumet in 1904, and both Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels in 1933. Of the three, only Van Cleef & Arpels pursued the technique and perfected it, calling it ‘Serti Mysterieux’ or mystery setting.

The solution to the mystery lies beneath the surface. A grid of parallel channels is created with tiny rails running along the sides of each channel. Each stone is placed on a cutting wheel and ever so carefully, two grooves are created along the sides. These grooves allow the calibré cut stones to be slid onto the tracks of the channel. Each successive stone is then trimmed to fit precisely against every stone it abuts. Not a glimmer of metal can be seen anywhere on the surface. In addition, the tables of the stones must be aligned so that no top facet is higher or lower than another.

To an extraordinary degree, the lapidary and the metalsmith must work hand in hand, both engineering the curves to create the soft look of the flower petals as well as the fullness of the drops. The process begins with the gemologist who sources stones that are perfectly matched in color to achieve the desired effect. Jewelers usually choose to work only with rubies and sapphires for invisible settings. While the rate of breakage during the grooving process is extremely high for corundum (ruby and sapphire), it is stratospheric for beryl (emerald) which is softer and has a more fragile inner structure. The setting is nearly always 18k gold. Platinum, a stiffer and harder metal would put excess pressure on the stones.

Courtesy of Fortuna Auctioneers.

Charles Loloma bracelet and earrings

Hopi vision

Charles Loloma bracelet and earrings, $35,000

Christie’s, New York, December 6, 2017

Hopi jewelry artist Charles Loloma imbued this bracelet and matching earrings with the colors, structure and architecture of his home. The blues, greens and deep red colors echo the landscape of his native Arizona. Loloma pioneered the technique of combining contemporary goldsmithing with traditional materials of Native American jewelry. This 14k gold wide cuff bracelet, one of a series, combines sections of lapis lazuli, turquoise, coral, wood and gold strips, all of it mounted in 14k gold. Turquoise is particularly important to the Hopi as well as to the Navajo. It evokes the sky that envelops the land and the people. Living in low-rise dwellings, the sky is ever-present in their everyday life, as is the sun-baked brown earth around them. The geometry of the bracelets suggests the look of a Hopi village, with vari-level buildings set close together. His inlay work, setting sections of varied hard stones against one another, has often been described as architectural.

Loloma was born to a family of craftspeople and followed in their footsteps to become an artist. His varied career included working on murals for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Since his death in 1991, very little of Loloma’s work has come to auction. This bracelet and another in the same sale, both consigned by an Oklahoma collector, offered a rare opportunity for collectors.

Courtesy of Christie’s.

Star sapphire and diamond ring

A star is born

Star sapphire and diamond ring, $4687

Doyle Auction House, New York, February 21, 2018

This elegant platinum ring by Cartier features a gray star sapphire weighing 7.15 carats, set in a wreath of 32 round diamonds with a total weight of 1.70 carats. Star sapphires are rare and intriguing works of nature, created when rutiles (needle-like inclusions) formed within the sapphire are aligned to intersect perfectly, creating the star effect. Known as asterism, the star is a subtle phenomenon that is best observed when a direct light source is held above it. When the stone is rotated and tilted, the star effect is more pronounced. Just as sapphires occur in a wide range of colors, star sapphires may also be found in various colors. While deep blue is the most desirable color and the one seen most often, this gray star sapphire is a subtle version with quiet appeal. The stone is always cut in a domed, smooth style to allow the asterism effect to be seen.

The most famous star sapphire is the remarkable Star of India, weighing in at 363.35 carats. This enormous grayish blue gem can be seen in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. It was mined in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), a traditional source of fine sapphires and was part of the collection donated to the museum by financier J.P. Morgan.

Courtesy of Doyle Auction House.

Tony Duquette Mabe pearl necklace

Gift of the sea

Tony Duquette Mabé pearl necklace, $15,000

Sotheby’s New York, December 7, 2017

This remarkable necklace by Tony Duquette is fashioned from 14 mabé pearls, each set in an 18 karat gold frame. Both the designer and the pearls can be said to be one-of-a-kind creations. Mabé pearls are natural formations that attach themselves to the inner shell of a mollusk. They are irregular by their very nature. The stunning range of colors displayed here shimmers with the iridescence of the nacre along with rose, aubergine and green overtones. Each setting was made by hand to follow the curves of the individual pearls. These natural colors result from the type of algae the mollusk was feeding on as the pearl was being formed.

Mabé pearls can form against the inside of any mollusk including Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian and freshwater species. The size and color range of the pearls in this necklace suggest they might be from abalone shells but Duquette did not document them in his design work.

Tony Duquette was an interior designer as well as a renowned and celebrated costume designer. His fertile imagination can be seen in the costumes for the original Broadway play, “Camelot,” as well as Hollywood films. He traveled extensively to decorate the homes of a wide range of clients. His jewelry work with collaborator Hutton Wilkinson expressed his love of color, shapes, and unique gems, every piece an individual work of wearable art.

Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

About the Author

Ettagale Blauer

Ettagale Blauer is an author and authority on all aspects of jewelry design, wristwatches, as well as diamonds and gold, and is the author of Contemporary American Jewelry Design, the seminal book on the subject.  She has also written extensively about Africa, including a series of books for Grolier Publishing.  She is a native New Yorker.