Best of 2013: vintage jewels

Vintage has never been more in vogue, with jewels achieving record prices at auction alongside antique treasures at shows, art fairs and exhibitions.


Interest in vintage jewels reached a sparkling zenith with the opening of the exhibition 'Cartier: Style and History' in Paris this December. The exhibition gathers together 600 jewels that show the evolution of jewellery design at the maison over the past 150 years.

The exhibition gathers together 600 jewels that show the evolution of jewellery design over the past 150 years. This is the chance to see for yourself the famous Panther brooch and Flamingo that belonged to the Duchess of Windsor, the Maharajah of Patiala's famous diamond necklace as well as the tiara Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge wore down the aisle. With so many iconic pieces on show be sure not to miss the 1925 Tutti Frutti bracelet that belonged to Linda, Cole Porter's wife of Barbara Hutton's languid panther brooch.

Though the main auctions were dominated by the impressive amount of rare diamonds that broke almost all known records, there were some impressive jewels in the sales too. One of the most significant for 2013 was the Walska Briolette diamond brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels, which belonged to opera singer Ganna Walska. From the bejewelled bird's beak hangs the historic Fancy Vivid yellow weighing 96.62ct known as the "Walska Briolette Diamond". With a pre-sale estimate of US$8 million, it sold at Sotheby's Geneva for US$10,555,778 making it the highest price paid for a Van Cleef & Arpels jewel at auction (read more here).
Although there were no blockbuster sales of major private collections of jewels on a par with the Elizabeth Taylor or Suzanne Belperron auctions of the past few years, the sale of Gina Lollobrigida's jewels was big news. Star of the auction was a pair of natural pearl earrings  - said to have belonged to the historic collection of the House of Habsburg - which sold for CHF 2,285,000 (US$2,391,321). They set an auction record for a pair of natural pearl ear pendants, achieving above even the figure set by Elizabeth Taylor's pearl earrings in 2011 (read more here).

Other stellar vintage jewellery highlights were spotted at Masterpiece London, where houses such as Siegelson, Verdura, Symbolic & Chase and Susan Ollemans showed their antique treasures. I tried on a 1925 Art Deco emerald and sapphire necklace by Cartier and felt like several million dollars for a few happy minutes. Other highlights from Siegelson included an aquamarine and ruby belt necklace (circa 1935) by Fulco, Duke of Verdura for Flato, that is as stylish as the day it was made.

The Hong Kong Fine Arts Fair was another highlight for jewellery lovers. Hancocks of London showed an exquisite Chinese-style carriage clock with an elaborate blue and green Oriental scene in enamel and an exquisite pair of carved jade earrings by Liberty & Co dating from 1925.

Though not strictly vintage, by dipping into their archives, jewellers are able to offer recreations of famous designs, including Schlumberger at Tiffany to Seaman Schepps, Grima and Verdura, bringing great designs from the past to life.

One of the most fascinating insights into the history of jewellery was the opening of the Cheapside Hoard exhibition at the City of London Museum (until 27 April 2014), which offers a journey back through time by revealing a hidden cache of jewellery never before seen together. The watch set into an octagonal emerald the size of a walnut is one of the most remarkable jewels I have seen this year.

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