The S.B. Joel Diamond Corsage
There is an impressive Cartier jewel which deserves a mention: the Solomon Barnato Joel Diamond Corsage.
It is rare to see such an important Belle Epoque jewel still intact- most like this were broken up in the 1920s and 30s in order to re-set the stones and I assumed this is what had happened to this one. This corsage piece was last seen when it was sold at Christie’s Geneva in 1991 for 3,850,000 Swiss francs and it re-emerged at last year’s Masterpiece Fair in London, where it was reportedly sold for $20 million.
It was made by Cartier in 1912 and its swags of lily of the valley are simple and highly stylised, the flowery Garland Style already giving way to something simpler. Designed to be worn on the bodice, it must have been a gloriously ostentatious piece even in the excessive age of the Belle Epoque. As it is a particularly strong metal, platinum is used for very fine setting work and this is very much in evidence in this brooch, where the stones seem to almost float in space. The total carat weight of the main stones (the four central stones in the pendant element of the brooch) is 67.65 carats.
The stones were the property of Londoner Solomon Barnato Joel, who with his uncle Barney Barnato made his fortune in the South African diamond mining rush of the late 19th century. Having made his money, he returned to Europe not only to enjoy it but also to give large amounts away in various philanthropic gestures. He lived life to the full and these were the best diamonds in his personal possession, which he asked Cartier to set in 1912 for the woman he loved.