Jewelry and Wearable Art Sold at Auction
By Ettagale Blauer
December 2018

Pretty in Pink

Pink diamond ring, $51,074,708

Christie’s, Geneva

November 13, 2018

Pretty in Pink

Pink diamond ring, $51,074,708

Christie’s, Geneva

November 13, 2018

Superlatives flow like sparkling pink champagne when experts describe the 18.96 carat fancy vivid pink diamond sold by Christie’s in Geneva on November 13, 2018, for $51,074,708, a world auction record per carat for a pink diamond. Seizing the spotlight, the buyer revealed itself to be Harry Winston whose own slogan is, ”Rare jewels of the world.” This stone certainly fits that description. The firm immediately dubbed the diamond “The Winston Pink Legacy.”

Color is often said to be in the mind’s eye but in the case of fancy color diamonds, the expert eye is that of the graders at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). The descriptive, “fancy vivid pink” indicates a stone that is intensely saturated with color. In a stone of this size this is extremely rare. The main color in most colored diamonds is modified by another color, such as purple, orange, brown or grey. This stone is purely pink, through and through.

While color in diamonds can be traced most often to the presence of another element such as boron for blue diamonds or nitrogen in the case of yellow diamonds, pink diamonds are unique in the way they achieve their tone.

Although nature provides the raw material, it is the diamond cutter who coaxes the most color from a pink diamond. The elusive quality of color in diamonds stems, in the case of pinks, from their internal structure. According to the GIA’s John King, “Color seems to form along the slip planes. There’s a deformation of the structure. We often see this occur in the pink to brown range. The orientation of the rough [during polishing] can make a difference in the internal reflections and refractions and you can lose some of that color.”

Rarity, size and purity of color all combined with the hand of that unheralded cutter to bring this piece of diamond rough to its maximum potential. The stone was cut in a rectangular shape, modified by cut corners, and set in a ring with white or colorless side diamonds. It remains to be seen if Harry Winston will re-set the ring.

Photo courtesy of Christie’s

Flight of Fancy

Sterle bird brooch, $37,500

Christie’s, Geneva

November 13, 2018

The central gem at the heart of this bird of paradise seems to have been made for just this jewel. Yet only a designer with the imagination of Pierre Sterle could have seen how perfectly the cabochon aquamarine would anchor the gaudy creature that seems to have been caught in mid-flight. The brilliantly colored birds occur in many colors in life, and this stone beautifully evokes the color of a true bird of paradise, native to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. The exceptionally long tail feathers of this brooch do not exaggerate the magnificent plumage of the male bird, but rather captures the flamboyance of this species. Sterle, a French jeweler who was at the height of his success in the 1940s and 1950s, created designs for individual clients as well as other jewelers. In this brooch, his skills are evident in profusion: look at the finely engraved lines on the feathers, the precise modeling of the ruby-set head, and use of small diamonds to evoke the splendor of the bird in flight. The finely made head, set with small round rubies and tiny diamonds, perfectly captures Sterle’s expertise as a maker and as a designer. This is a true collector’s piece as evidenced by the selling price, double the pre-sale estimate.


Sea Spray

Retzignac, Caracas clip, $5,000

Bonhams, Los Angeles

November 19, 2018

This unique brooch, by Retzignac of Caracas, Venezuela, perfectly evokes the sea. The limpid aquamarine, measuring 24.27 x 19.94 mm, that forms the central motif of the clip, suggests the color of the clearest ocean water. The translucent stone is set within a frame of diamond-set rays, with diamonds set in seemingly random spaces along the spikes, all of it suggesting a spray of water. The diamonds weigh an estimated total of 7.00 carats. The charming piece was made by Retzignac, a firm established in Caracas in 1949 by a couple who emigrated from their native France.

The balance of the piece suggests a master jeweler at work: though the center stone is quite large, it is perfectly in tune with the surrounding 18k white gold setting, and the alternating placement of the diamonds is carefully calculated to give a sense of movement along the rigid rods. The choice of white gold instead of platinum may have originated from a desire to lighten the framework, since platinum is much denser than gold. Or, it may stem from a scarcity of platinum at the time the piece was made. Though the origin of the aquamarine is not known, neighboring Brazil has long been a source of the finest of these sea-green stones.

Photo courtesy of Bonhams

White on White

Van Cleef & Arpels brooch, $20,625

Heritage, Beverly Hills

October 1, 2018

The elegance of this brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels, France, begins with the gleaming mother-of-pearl petals. Full cut, high quality white diamonds, weighing a total of 1.50 carats, form the center of the blossom, with a spark of color emanating from the 18 gold spikes that form the central setting. The diamonds are individually prong set, and the brooch measures just 2 ¼ inches in height and width.

The organic feeling of the brooch echoes the origin of the six mother-of-pearl elements that create the overall shape. Mother-of-pearl forms naturally within the shell of oysters and other mollusks, a way to protect itself from foreign objects that might invade the inside of the creature as it feeds in the sea. The material is a unique coating of nacre within the shell and is naturally curved, making it an ideal choice for this flower. While Van Cleef & Arpels continues to use the material in its wildly popular Alhambra collection, this brooch is truer to the natural beauty of mother-of-pearl. The extraordinary quality, evenness of color, and warmth of the nacre combine to give this brooch its glow. The piece doubled its pre-sale estimate.

Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions
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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