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Promising pedigree

Pieces with noble and royal provenance were the toast of the Magnificent Jewels sales in Geneva.

By David Brough
High-quality items surpassed expectations at the Geneva Magnificent Jewels auctions on November 9 and 10, with exceptional provenance driving up the prices of the top lots. These distinguished jewels included diamonds that once belonged to French Queen Marie Antoinette, and sapphire and diamond jewels with ties to the Russian imperial family.

The mood was buoyant at the sales, which took place just after the newly returned GemGenève show. Auction house executives privately welcomed the fair, as it brought leading collectors and retailers to the Swiss city during the period of the high-value jewelry auctions. These usually take place twice a year, in May and November.

In the run-up to the sales, participants in GemGenève were often seen inspecting lots in the salons at the two luxury hotels the auction houses occupied in downtown Geneva.

Christie’s: Marie Antoinette’s diamonds

A pair of diamond bracelets that Marie Antoinette once owned fetched CHF 7.5 million ($8.2 million) at the November 9 Christie’s auction, soaring above their CHF 4 million ($4.4 million) high estimate and underscoring the monarch’s appeal among collectors. The jewels achieved the second-highest price for a piece belonging to the last queen of France, who was guillotined in 1793; a pearl pendant of hers sold at Sotheby’s Geneva for $36 million in November 2018.

The sum the bracelets brought in “showed the huge and enduring fascination [with] Marie Antoinette,” Rahul Kadakia, head of international jewelry at Christie’s, told Rapaport Magazine after the sale at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues.

Exceptional white diamonds also saw impressive results, with highlights including a 43.19-carat, D-color, internally flawless diamond ring that fell within estimates at CHF 3.3 million ($3.6 million), and an exquisite diamond necklace that fetched $1.4 million ($1.6 million), comfortably above its CHF 1.2 million ($1.3 million) high estimate. A 1970s diamond necklace by Harry Winston sold for CHF 906,000 ($996,380), smashing its CHF 500,000 ($549,878) upper estimate.

In recent years, media attention has focused on natural colored diamonds attaining world-record prices. As a result, large white diamonds may now be seen to offer relatively good value, dealers said.

Not all items found buyers, even among pieces with impressive histories. An Art Deco ruby bracelet that the duke of Windsor gave his wife Wallis Simpson in 1938 received bids of up to CHF 650,000 ($714,843) but failed to sell, suggesting that the estimate of CHF 1 million to CHF 2 million ($1.1 million to $2.2 million) may have been set too high.

The former British king gifted the bangle to Simpson on their first wedding anniversary, with the inscription, “For our first anniversary of June third.” He had abdicated the throne in December 1936 to marry Simpson, a twice-divorced American. The two wed in France in June 1937. For years, they were a fixture of international society, and they are remembered for their stylish lifestyle and beautiful jewelry. While this provenance was a strong attraction for collectors, the rubies in the bracelet were not considered to be of exceptional quality, dealers in Geneva said.

“The rubies may have limited the bidding momentum,” said Geneva dealer Elke Berr of Berr & Partners, who attended the sale.

A ring featuring a heart brilliant-cut, fancy-vivid-purple-pink diamond weighing 6.75 carats also fell short of its CHF 7 million ($7.7 million) low estimate and failed to find a buyer. The highest bid it received was CHF 6 million ($6.6 million). The estimate may have been too high, as the stone had inclusions, some dealers said privately.

Several top-quality signed items by leading maisons outperformed expectations. One was a sapphire and diamond choker and earring set by Reza, which realized CHF 870,000 ($956,788), more than double its high estimate of CHF 350,000 ($384,915). A pair of Chaumet ruby and diamond earrings sold for CHF 312,500 ($343,674), beating its CHF 250,000 ($274,939) upper estimate.

“Top-quality gemstones, famous brands and historic antique jewelry with provenance bring the highest prices,” commented Martin Julier, head of the gem lab at fine jeweler Bucherer in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Several top-quality natural pearl jewels comfortably surpassed their presale estimates, indicating tight supply and robust demand.

A natural-pearl and diamond necklace by JAR — aka Joel Arthur Rosenthal — garnered CHF 1.7 million ($1.9 million), more than twice its CHF 750,000 ($824,818) high estimate. And a necklace with natural saltwater pearls, emeralds and diamonds far exceeded its upper estimate of CHF 270,000 ($296,934), bringing in CHF 512,500 ($563,625) and including a report from the Swiss Gemmological Institute (SSEF).

The most magnificent and high-quality natural pearl jewels will likely continue to dazzle in future sales, predicted Max Fawcett, head of jewelry at Christie’s Geneva, pointing to the resilient demand for such items among high-end retailers and collectors.

In total, the auction raked in $59 million, with 11 lots fetching more than $1 million each.

Sotheby’s: riches of the romanov dynasty

Exceptional pieces with noble pedigree were among the top lots in the November 10 Sotheby’s sale at Geneva’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. One such lot was a set of sapphire and diamond jewels that once belonged to a leading member of imperial Russia’s Romanov dynasty and were taken out of the country for safekeeping during the 1917 revolution. The historic sapphire and diamond brooch and ear clips from circa 1900 sold for CHF 806,500 ($884,972), skyrocketing past their CHF 480,000 ($500,000) high estimate.

The former owner in question was the formidable aunt of Emperor Nicholas II, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (1854 to 1920), who entrusted British diplomat and aristocrat Albert Henry Stopford with their safe passage to London.

“Jewelry linked to the Romanovs has captured the public’s imagination,” the sale’s chief auctioneer, Olivier Wagner, told Rapaport Magazine.

Another standout in the Noble Jewels segment of the sale was an emerald and diamond bandeau by Chaumet from circa 1924, which more than doubled its CHF 110,000 ($120,736) high estimate at CHF 277,200 ($304,172).

The piece was one of the highlights for Sotheby’s, according to Kristian Spofforth, who heads the jewelry division for Sotheby’s London. The bandeau’s success reflected the enduring popularity of high-quality Art Deco items and the leading Parisian maisons of the 1920s and 1930s, he commented after the sale.

“Top-quality Art Deco pieces are always much sought after,” agreed Berr. “Collectors love the designs.”

Several tiaras achieved strong results, highlighting a fascination with their histories, which may have been linked to royalty or aristocracy. This has been an ongoing trend at the high-value auctions in recent years. Diamond tiaras are particularly popular at prestigious Asian parties and events.

Among the headpieces that excelled at the sale was a diamond tiara from circa 1880, which beat its CHF 65,000 ($71,344) upper estimate at CHF 107,100 ($117,521). Another tiara, a mid-19th-century sapphire and diamond piece, garnered CHF 113,400 ($124,468), within estimates.

The auction’s top lot was a pair of earrings with perfectly matched diamonds. Each featured a square-cut, D-flawless diamond weighing 25.88 carats. The set sold for CHF 5.1 million ($5.6 million), just pushing past its presale high estimate of CHF 5 million ($5.6 million).

Indeed, white diamonds accounted for four of the five highest prices across the auction, reflecting robust demand for stones of the highest quality. They included a Mouawad diamond bracelet from a royal collection, featuring a pear-shaped, D, VVS1-clarity diamond of 59 carats at its center. The piece netted the second-highest price of the day: CHF 4.1 million ($4.5 million), within estimates. Other top sellers were a pair of pendant ear clips with pear-shaped diamonds, and a ring with a 33.62-carat, E, internally flawless diamond. They fetched CHF 2.3 million ($2.5 million) and CHF 2.1 million ($2.3 million) respectively.

Exceptional signed items were successful as well, such as a pair of Harry Winston emerald and diamond pendant ear clips (lot 296), which sold for CHF 1.6 million ($1.7 million) — twice their high estimate of CHF 800,000 ($878,080).

As in the Christie’s sale, some natural pearl jewels easily surpassed their estimates at Sotheby’s. One outstanding result came from a pair of natural saltwater pearl pendant earrings with diamonds, featuring detachable drop-shaped natural pearls accompanied by an SSEF report. They sold for CHF 927,500 ($1 million), more than triple their CHF 280,000 ($307,328) high estimate.

The extreme rarity of exceptional natural pearls has underpinned demand from collectors, Spofforth stated, noting that ocean pollution was interfering with the development of oysters and thereby affecting future supply.

In total, the sale came to $43.7 million.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - January 2022. To subscribe click here.

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