Jewelry and Wearable Art Sold at Auction
December 2017
By Ettagale Blauer
  • De Grisogono Necklace 
  • Paul Newman Rolex Watch 
  • Van Cleef & Arpels diamond "Zip" necklace 
  • Dragonfly brooch 
Extraordinary jewelery and wearable art recently 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.
De Grisogono Necklace

Perfectly clear

De Grisogono Necklace, $33,705,994

Christie's Geneva November 14, 2017

A diamond and emerald necklace featuring a record-shattering 163.41 carat "D" flawless diamond, designed and offered by de Grisogono, was sold at Christie's Geneva, for $33,705,994. The emerald-cut center stone is suspended from an asymmetrical necklace comprising of a double row of precisely matched pear-shaped emeralds, opposite a row of calibré-cut rectangular diamonds, in diminishing sizes. The design offered a perfect frame for the monumental center stone, the largest stone of this quality ever offered at auction.

While there are technical ways to describe a diamond that are set down scientifically, these rubrics are still open to interpretation via the judgment calls of human graders. A "D" color diamond has no discernible body color, while a flawless diamond has no visible imperfections under 10-power magnification. Yet not all "D" flawless diamonds are beautiful. The art of a skilled cutter and the quality of the original piece of rough diamond both play their roles in the creation of a truly beautiful diamond. These qualities are rarely found in polished diamonds weighing more than 100 carats. Rectangular cut diamonds do not offer the brilliance or fire of their multi-faceted cousins. Indeed, it is their broad planes that entice the viewer to peer deeply into the stone, to understand its perfection. This diamond was cut from a 404.20 carat rough, mined in the African nation of Angola. Losing more than half their original weight after cutting is typical for diamonds. Yet the price paid for the final necklace appears somewhat modest, considering that the rough was purchased for $16 million.

Paul Newman Rolex Watch

Watching the Race

Paul Newman Rolex Watch, $17,752,500

Phillips Auction, New York, October 26, 2017

Paul Newman's personal Rolex, the Paul Newman Daytona mechanical watch, sold for $17,752,500 at Phillips in New York, under the auspices of the firm's new watch division, Bacs & Russo. This watch was the holy grail of its type for collectors. The opportunity to own the watch that Paul Newman wore in the film "Racing," as well as in his daily life, was more than irresistible. According to Phillips' watch expert and senior vice president Paul Boutros, the auctioneer asked for an opening bid of $1 million. The next bid offered was $10 million, the biggest one-bid increment ever seen at a watch auction. Once the auctioneer recovered his composure, bidding proceeded with three competitors driving the price up to the record $17.7 million.

The watch, a Rolex mechanical model that went out of production in 1987, was owned for decades by James Cox, the one-time boyfriend of Nell Newman, Paul's daughter. According to the legend that turned out to be true, Paul Newman gave Cox the watch one day when Cox said he didn't know what time it was. Through the years that followed, during Paul Newman's lifetime and beyond, the watch was whispered about but scarcely seen and at one point, was believed to be lost.

Auctioneer Aurel Bacs gaveled the watch down after coaxing bids from telephone buyers over a very long 12 minutes. He called it the "Paul Newman Paul Newman," the only way to indicate that this particular watch with the coveted Daytona dial was the actual namesake of the Paul Newman Daytona dial that watch connoisseurs dreamed of.

Van Cleef & Arpels diamond Zip necklace

Zip it up

Van Cleef & Arpels diamond "Zip" necklace, $443,695

Sotheby's Geneva, November 15, 2017

Behold the humble, utilitarian zipper. This ingenious device has been pulling us together with nary a slip of the teeth on every manner of clothing, handbag and luggage for more than a century. Though now seen as primarily functional, ironically, the zipper started life as a fashion accessory, making its debut in 1893 as a more practical device for fashioning high-button boots. Today, a zipper is sometimes seen, when it becomes a fashion statement, but is mostly tucked away, quietly doing its job. But, when it's made by Van Cleef & Arpels in precious materials, it soars above its practical purpose and becomes an item of remarkable craftsmanship and beauty. One of the very few "Zip" necklaces made by Van Cleef & Arpels was recently sold for $443,695.

The idea for a zipper necklace is said to have originated with the singular style icon of the 1930s, the Duchess of Windsor. Translating the device into a piece of elegant jewelry proved devilishly difficult. The master craftsmen at Van Cleef & Arpels worked on the idea for ten years before they conquered the design and fabrication challenges of the first "Zip," created in 1951. Since then, only a few have been created, not surprising considering that it takes anywhere from 400-1200 skilled man hours to produce. It is rare for one to come to auction, even a modern one such as this from the Van Cleef & Arpels workshop.

The piece functions like an ordinary zipper, starting with a series of interlocking teeth. Each link is handmade, then set side by side adjacent to a "tooth." Once the piece is assembled, the diamonds are set within collets, or collars, holding them firmly in place. Though set with hundreds of round and princess cut diamonds, its real value lies in the brilliant engineering and workmanship that gives this necklace its true zip.

Dragonfly brooch

Fly by night

Dragonfly brooch, $2,812

Fortuna Auctions, New York, November 2, 2017

A stunning work in enamel, this unsigned dragonfly brooch perfectly evokes the Art Nouveau period that inspired it. The evanescence of the creature is beautifully captured in this piece which measures a full four inches across. The skills of an entire workshop were called upon to carry out the goldsmithing, enamel work, and stone setting that were required to fulfill the designer's vision. Here, the wings are spelled out in delicate blue enamel, each section of enamel sprinkled with pave-set round diamonds. The entire brooch is fashioned of 18k gold that washes over the tips of the wings, which are embellished with blue cabochon sapphires that perfectly match the enamel. The delicately curved tail is highlighted as well by cabochon blue sapphires. The glow of the tiny eyes comes from two cabochon rubies.

Winged creatures such as this brooch were extremely popular during the height of Art Nouveau, from about 1890 to 1910. The curves and movement of the brooch, typical of the vogue for curving lines and asymmetry in Art Nouveau, captures the spirit of a dragonfly in flight. The period offered a dramatic and bold break from the rigid lines of the design era that preceded it. Bursting onto every area of the design scene from furniture to posters, Art Nouveau flamed very brightly, but briefly. It required a bold sense of style and a willingness on the part of women to completely abandon the dress, hairstyles and ornaments of the previous era, which limited its longevity as a style. The hand work needed to apply the enamels and bend the metals also limited its manufacture, and kept the cost of pieces like this one out of the reach of many consumers.

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. Most recently, she published Woodstock 1969, The Lasting Impact of the Counter Culture, with photography by Jason Lauré, available now from the author.

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