Posts tagged jewellery auction

The engraved eternity band given to Vivien Leigh by Laurence Olivier, nestling among two important bow brooches.  The brooch on the left is the most valuable item in the sale, estimated to fetch £35,000-£40,000.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier shorty after their marriage.  Their feelings for each other are plainly written on their faces.

To my mind, Vivien Leigh was one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen.  Her romance and marriage to Laurence Olivier fascinated the public- they had left their respective spouses for each other and the electric talent and good looks of each of them inadvertently made them one of the early power couples of showbusiness.

Vivian Mary Hartley was born in India in 1913.  She always wanted to become a great actress.  She married barrister Leigh Holman in 1933 and started taking on small film roles from then on, her agent having persuaded her to change her name to Vivien Leigh, which was thought to be more theatrical.  In 1935, she was cast in the lead for a play called ‘The Mask of Virtue’, for which she received rave reviews and became an overnight success in England.  In the audience had been the actor Laurence Olivier, already a famous actor in his own right.  She left Leigh Holman, and Laurence his wife the actress Jill Esmond, in 1937.

During this time, the race for the role of Scalett O’Hara was hotting up and Vivien was obsessed with getting the role, despite being considered by most to be a hopeless outsider due to her being relatively unknown in the United States.  She flew to the States to meet David Selznick, the director, who had already started filming.  Film legend has it that she walked in on the set while filming the burning of Atlanta and he was instantly captivated.  Vivien, as we know, won the role and was awarded the Academy Award for her portrayal of Scarlett.

Vivien Leigh's 19th century diamond bow brooch with detachable tassel.  

Vivien's important 19th century blue enamel, gold and diamond fob watch.

Vivien's important 19th century blue enamel, gold and diamond fob watch.

Vivien continued to work to critical acclaim, both on the stage and the screen.  Her second Academy Award was to come from her role as the troubled Blanche DuBois in the 1951 film version of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.  Sadly, her life was blighted by manic depression and her role of Blanche exacerbated it.  Laurence did not know how to cope with it and the couple divorced in 1960.  Vivien found love again with the actor Jack Merivale but Vivien died in 1967 at the age of only 53.

When she was well, Vivien was known to be a highly cultured woman with immaculate taste.  Her clothes and houses were always the last degree of elegance without seeming contrived.  As a child of Victorian parents, her taste in jewellery could be best described as ‘restrained British’, with a few very good pieces and a fondness for sentimental jewellery.  The most important piece is undoubtedly a 19th century bow brooch set with old cut diamonds, with a detachable diamond tassel.  There are also several pairs of earrings set with green stones such as jade and emeralds, no doubt worn to highlight her extraordinary green eyes.

Her charm bracelet is surely undervalued at £1000-£1500 and includes a gold charm of a ‘Gone With the Wind’, inscribed ‘Vivien Leigh’ and ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ on the inside.  A tangible testament to the passionate love they enjoyed is the engraved gold band, inscribed ‘Laurence Olivier Vivien Eternally’.

Vivien Leigh's charm bracelet marking important milestones in her life.  The gold 'Gone With the Wind' book charm opens to reveal the names 'Scarlett' and 'Vivien' engraved inside.

‘Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection’ is open to viewing at Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London, 22nd-25th September 2017.  The auction will be held on the 26th September 2017. 


The 59.60 carat Pink Star diamond. the most expensive gemstone in the world.

The Pink Star diamond last week became the most expensive diamond ever sold at auction.  Gem dealers had been looking at the sale, conducted by Sotheby’s, with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.  The excitement because of the quality of the stone: it is the largest pink diamond of its kind ever to be graded by the GIA.  The fabulous gemstone ticked every box: it is internally flawless and has been given the classification of Fancy Vivid Pink, the most sought after in coloured diamonds.  The icing on the cake for the stone was its designation as a Type IIa, meaning it is a chemically pure stone- a designation only given to 2% of gem quality diamonds.

The hammer comes down on the Pink Star diamond at Sotheby's Hong Kong.

Failed to sell: the Shirley Temple Blue diamond.

The apprehension came from the stone’s recent chequered history.  The stone had been auctioned relatively recently, in 2013, achieving a hammer price of $83 million- but the buyer defaulted on payment.  There has also been speculation recently on whether the eye watering amounts being fetched in the last few years by large coloured diamonds is sustainable.  After all, there aren’t that many people in the word who can afford such things, and within that clientele not all are interested, which makes the potential client base very small indeed.  The flop that was the sale of the Shirley Temple blue diamond was something Sotheby’s was anxious not to repeat again.  The prices achieved at auction for important coloured diamonds are the benchmark by which the industry sets the prices, so with colourless stones experiencing something of a lacklustre period at the moment diamond dealers were hoping for a whopper to underpin asking prices.

The stone was bought by the jewellery retailer Chow Tai Fook, who was bidding by telephone, who has renamed it the CTF Pink.  It is the stone’s third rechristening: it was originally named the Steinmetz Pink, after the group who bought the 132.5 carat rough gem.  They spent a cautious 20 months cutting and polishing the stone, unveiling the finished 59.60 carat gem in all its glory at a ceremony in Monaco. 



An impressive cushion cut Imperial topaz and diamond ring.

I have now worked in the jewellery industry for 15 years and the colours and hues available never cease to amaze me.  The delicate palette of pale orange and yellow through cherry to pale pink and violet found in imperial topaz is one such colour range.  Imperial topaz was particularly prized in the late 19th century, especially by the Russians.  The gem was given its Imperial denomination by the tsars, who coveted the sunset coloured stone and claimed exclusive mining rights.  As with many semi precious gems, they fell out of favour during the first half of the 20th century due to the rise of diamonds and platinum, and later on, the onset of Art Deco and its monochrome clean lines.

Deposits of Imperial topaz from the Ouro region in Brazil.  Even in its natural state, one can see the impressive colour they are going to yield.

The reputation of topaz took a bit of a hit in the last three decades because of the amount of over treated blue material flooding the market and used in cheap jewellery.  The blue is achieved by heating low grade material and these stones only fetch a few pounds a carat, where is often ends up in jewellery advertised at the back of newspaper colour supplements.  Although most coloured stones are heat treated nowadays, Imperial grade gems are not.  To class as a true Imperial, they must have overtones of red when the stone is viewed from different angles, exhibiting a trait in gemmology known as dichroism.  This is why most Imperial topaz is cut as pear shaped or elongated ovals, as it is the cut that shows this quality to its best advantage.

The finest stones are now sourced in Brazil.  The 1990s has seen a rise in popularity in coloured stones, which has also been fuelled by an explosion of creativity by this century's artist jewellers. The price has risen accordingly, often far outstripping the price of diamonds and shows no sign of slowing down as demand in the Far East grows.  Imperial topaz is genuinely rare, unlike the artificial market of small and medium size diamonds, so their investment performance is good.  Fine examples of a good size can easily fetch up to $2000 a carat; heads were turned when a pair of Imperial topaz earrings by JAR was sold by Christie's in 2010 for $650,000.

The story I enjoy the most is a classic 'found-in-a-junk-shop' story: in 2011, Thea Jourdan, from Hampshire, was having her engagement ring re-valued.  The insurers spotted a brooch with an odd coloured stone surrounded by what she had thought were paste diamonds.  Having been told what she really owned, Mrs. Jourdan put the stone up for sale at Bonhams, whose experts had identified it as an Imperial topaz and diamond brooch once owned by the Tsarina Alexandra.  It duly fetched £32,000.  She had bought it in a junk shop for just £20.  A fitting metaphor for a gem the colour of a sunset, whose fortunes were high, fell and then rose again.

Imogen Jourdan holding the pink Imperial topaz brooch her mother bought in a junk shop for £20.  It sold for over £33,000.

An important pair of Imperial topaz earrings by JAR.  It is usual for these stones to be cut in an elongated manner in order to show the colour off to its best advantage.

The Tiara That Survived the Shipwreck
The Lady Allan Cartier Tiara

The Lady Allan Cartier Tiara

With so many beautiful antique pieces of jewellery to have been broken up for their stones, this one has been luckier than most.  The tiara was made in 1909 for Lady Allan, wife of the Canadian banker Sir Hugh Allan.  It is a strikingly modern piece for its time and clearly Cartier was departing from the famous Garland Style that marked jewellery at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Lady Allan included it in her luggage on her voyage on the Lusitania when the fateful ship was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915 during World War I.

The Lusitania

The Lusitania

Lady Allan survived the disaster, but with severe injuries.  Her ladies' maid managed to save it by putting it in her bag when they were rescued- they were lucky to survive, as of the 1989 passengers on board 1198 died on the ship. It sank in only 18 minutes.

Lady Allan wearing the tiara.

Lady Allan wearing the tiara.

Having survived not only the Lusitania, but sadly her four children too, on her death Lady Allan bequeathed the tiara to Elspeth Patterson Dawes, her first cousin once removed.  Mrs. Dawes' granddaughter auctioned the tiara at Sotheby's last November, where it sold for $799,000.

PEARLS (Part 3)

One of the greatest bespoke pieces of jewellery ever made surely has to be the diamond and pearl hair ornament Faberge made for the Princess Irina Youssoupov at the turn of the century. Its greatness came not from the design (which was marvellous for its simplicity)but because the ornament housed two of the greatest pearls ever known, La Pelegrina and La Regente.

I have written previously on La Pelegrina’s exciting history, and that of La Regente is no less riveting. The pearl is the fifth biggest in the world and perhaps the biggest of a regular shape. It weighs 302 grains, down from over 346 due to peeling and re-polishing, yet it is still the size of a pigeon’s egg. It has an exceptional colour and lustre and is slightly flat at the back, a characteristic that has made it easy to identify in its journey through history

The Empress Eugenie wearing ropes of priceless pearls and her famous pearl and diamond tiara.  The tiara was sold by the Thurn und Taxis family in the 1990s and acquired by the Louvre.

The Empress Eugenie wearing ropes of priceless pearls and her famous pearl and diamond tiara.  The tiara was sold by the Thurn und Taxis family in the 1990s and acquired by the Louvre.

Also known as la Perle Napoleon, it came to prominence when Napoleon I bought it as a gift for his second wife, the Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, Marie Antoinette’s niece. He duly paid through the nose for it, 40000 gold francs, or the weight of 10 kilos of pure gold. Napoleon was trying to awe Europe with the trappings of his newly wrested power and bought jewellery for his new wife, partly to dazzle foreign courts and partly to replete the considerably diminished Crown Jewels. After his defeat at Waterloo La Regente remained with the French Crown Jewels and was worn by the monarchs of the Bourbon restoration. The tiara made by Nitot into which the pearl was originally mounted was dismantled by Napoleon III and he commissioned the jeweller Lemonier to design and make a magnificent devant de corsage in which to sit the pearl. It was a jewel worthy of the opulence of the Second Empire and a favourite of the Empress Eugenie’s, composed of swags of diamonds and pearls and highly stylised acanthus leaves. A matching tiara was also made, and this piece of jewellery was immortalised in Franz Winterhalter’s portrait of her.

The devant de corsage made for the Empress Eugenie by Nitot, with La Regente Pearl set in the centre.

The devant de corsage made for the Empress Eugenie by Nitot, with La Regente Pearl set in the centre.

With the fall of the Second Empire after the Franco-Prussian War the Ministry of Finance took custody of the French Crown Jewels (La Regente included)- Eugenie had been unable to take them with her into exile as they were not personal property. In a fit of historical vandalism, the National Assembly decided to auction off the Crown Jewels in 1887 in order to disperse the symbols of a decadent and discredited regime. From St. Petersburg, Peter Carl Faberge sent his agent to Paris specifically to acquire the famous pearl. It is very probable he had a very special client in mind, the fantastically rich Prince Boris Youssoupov, as that is who it was sold to (the devant de corsage, alas, was probably broken up).

The Youssoupovs could have anything they wanted and their possessions may even have eclipsed those of the Romanovs. Prince Boris’ only child and heir, Zenaida, wore the pearl simply, sometimes suspended off a row of matchless pearls, allowing La Regente’s beauty to speak for itself. Most notably, she sometimes wore it in conjunction with La Pelegrina pearl in a delightfully simple yet highly effective hair ornament. She gifted the pearl to her son Felix in anticipation of his marriage to Princess Irina, Tsar Nicholas II’s niece. They married in 1914, so Princess Irina probably had little chance to wear and enjoy it due to the rarity of grand society events after the outbreak of the First War. The Youssoupovs fled to Paris in August 1917 in the tumult of the Russian Revolution- Prince Felix took with him some of his most prized treasures, amongst them valuable paintings, the Polar Star diamond, La Pelegrina pearl- but not La Regente: that was holed up in his St. Petersburg safe as he assumed he would be able to return to Russia, which of course he never did. The immediate fate of the pearl after that becomes a little murky- it was most likely found by the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution after one of their ransacking of aristocratic palaces for valuable items. La Regente is not to be found in any inventories or the sales the Bolsheviks conducted in their desperation to raise hard currency.

La Regente Pearl in its last known setting.

La Regente Pearl in its last known setting.

The pearl came up for sale unidentified at Christie’s in 1987, the owners apparently ignorant of its provenance, but they did know it was Russian. It was identified by the buyer (who remained anonymous), one tell tale sign of what he had bought being its slightly flattened back. Firmly back in the spotlight, the pearl was set into an important sapphire, diamond and pearl necklace and was last seen in Christie’s Geneva in 2005- sold by an anonymous buyer to an anonymous buyer for the record price of £1.6 million: it remains the single most expensive pearl in history.

PEARLS (Part 2)


Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain, wearing La Peregrina Pearl in about 1606

Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain, wearing La Peregrina Pearl in about 1606

Elizabeth I, that lover of fine pearls who used their symbolic value to such great effect must certainly have envied some of the fine specimens her sister Mary wore while she was queen. As a wedding present her husband, Phillip II of Spain, gave her one of the most famous pearls in the world, known as La Peregrina (the Pilgrim). It is huge, and at the time of its discovery it was the largest symmetrical pearl found, weighing in at 55.95 carats. This gem of the highest quality almost came to a very undignified end. On Queen Mary’s death in 1558 the pearl reverted back to Phillip in Spain, where the stone remained part of the Spanish Crown Jewels for several hundred years. In 1808 Napoleon roundly defeated Spain during his attempt to dominate Europe, and installed his brother Joseph as King. Joseph raided the treasury, but after his brother Napoleon’s decisive defeat in 1815 he emigrated to America to settle permanently, taking with him several important gems, including La Peregrina. The pearl then passed on through descent to the Emperor Napoleon III, who sold it to the Marquess of Abercorn during his exile in England after his deposition. The gem was later bought by Richard Burton for Elizabeth Taylor. The pearl nearly arrived at its undignified en when Elizabeth mislaid the pearl not long after she was given it. The couple commissioned Cartier to design necklace from which to suspend the pearl and show it off to its maximum advantage- the result was one of the more daring and unconventional pieces they produced. The necklace became truly stellar in its fame when it was sold in 2011 as part of Elizabeth Taylor’s estate. The piece achieved £10.5 million dollars.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina pearl in the necklace designed for it by Cartier.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina pearl in the necklace designed for it by Cartier.

Another pearl of incredible Royal pedigree and often confused with La Peregrina was La Pelegrina (the Incomparable). Again, it was originally part of the Spanish Crown Jewels, and again it became part of the French Crown Jewels, on this occasion bequeathed to the Infanta Maria Teresa (or Marie Therese) when she married Louis XIV of France in 1660. Her father, Phillip IV was wearing La Peregrina in his hat when he handed over his daughter to the French King. Marie Therese died in 1683, when the fate of the pearl becomes uncertain. The most likely story is that La Pelegrina remained with the French Bourbons until the Revolution. The French Crown Jewels were stolen in 1792, the thieves managing to swipe several important stones including the Sancy diamond, the Tavernier Blue (now known as the Hope diamond) and most probably La Pelegrina. La Pelegrina somehow resurfaced again in Russia in 1826, in the hands of a gem dealer named Zozima. Princess Tatiana Youssoupov, the wife of the richest man in Russia, bought the stone from him, whence it passed by descent to Prince Felix Youssoupov, murderer of Rasputin. It was one of the few fabulous possessions Prince Felix managed to smuggle out of Russia with him in the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution. In 1953 he reluctantly sold it to the Swiss jeweller Jean Lombard, who had worked with Eugene Faberge (son of Carl, of the easter eggs fame) on various jewellery collections on his exile from Russia. La Pelegrina was then sold to a private collector, and it later reappeared for auction in Christie’s Geneva in 1989, where it sold for the then record sum of $463800. It was clear that in spite of the depreciation of pearls due to the impact of cultured pearls had not dented the fascination with natural pearls, and as seen from the sale of La Peregrina, the fascination with important stones of impeccable lineage and quality the price has only risen exponentially.