LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Christie's Twinkling Treasures


JAR and Van Cleef & Arpels light up the fall season in a trans-Atlantic trio of auctions at Christie's.

Diamond lust and insatiable desire fuel the fall gem feast of sparkling rarities at Christie's.

Straddling the Atlantic, with one foot in New York and the other in Geneva, Christie's is lighting up the fall sale scene with blinding bijoux, taking in a century of excellence from Van Cleef & Arpels and the largest collection of pieces by JAR ever to come on the market. With some of the most important items of jewelry to come up for sale in recent years going under the hammer almost simultaneously – including three pieces created especially for the Van Cleef & Arpels double sale – buyers will be dazzled by an Aladdin's cave of glorious gems over the next two months.


The actress Ellen Barkin is a member of a very tiny and very privileged member of society: she's a client and friend of Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the man dubbed as "the greatest living jeweler", better known to gem aficionados as JAR. On October 10th Christie's in New York is holding a headline-grabbing sale of Barkin's jewelry, a sale that includes an unprecedented number of JAR pieces – 17 in total – all sure to break records and far exceed their estimates.
What makes the sale so special is the inner-sanctum secrecy and exceptional design that the JAR name evokes. Rewriting the rule book, "the sorcerer of stones", as Vogue deemed him, is notoriously private, accepting a tiny clientele schooled in the art of appreciating exceptional jewels, and creating breathtaking, one-off pieces that frequently mix what are usually known as 'semi-precious' stones with old-cut diamonds of inestimable rarity, pieces can sometimes take years to make.

Amongst the most memorable pieces a camellia ring, its petals glittering with hundreds of tiny diamonds, could be mistaken for a brooch as it is big enough to shield a number of fingers from view. Then there are the large diamonds, set high on airy mounts as in the case of an elongated white oval diamond set atop two circuits and a band of thread-like platinum and pavé diamonds, or a pavé diamond bonnet ring with a pear-shaped diamond marooned in the middle, or a pair of fine bracelets with a backless cushion-cut Golconda diamond set into the center of each. Or pearl ear pendants with clusters of antique diamond beads. Or a mismatched pair of earrings in pink morganite and aquamarine inside a dramatic frame of tiny diamonds. From a pillow pavé of twinkling emeralds soars a big, sugarloaf cabochon emerald, dark as the forest, its interior sparkling with flashes of light trapped there from millions of years ago. It's a ring, but the effect is like looking into a crystal ball – in other words spellbinding.

Van Cleef & Arpels

The very essence of great jewelry is its rarity and splendor. While JAR is a name the cognoscenti know, the Paris-based house of Van Cleef & Arpels is a global reference for sumptuous gems, and in celebrating the house's centenary with a pair of sales, one in New York, the other in Geneva, on 11th October and 16th November respectively, Christie's is bringing to the fore some of the best of its storied output. That output will include the famous Millennium Brooch of white diamonds and Burmese rubies in the house's signature Mysterious Setting. The result of over 2,800 hours of workmanship, it will be offered for sale in Geneva. As if that wasn't enough, two other pieces have been created expressly for the landmark sales: a diamond and pink sapphire fairy clip and a jadeite and diamond necklace, to be offered in Geneva and New York, respectively.

But it's sometimes the most overlooked and underappreciated pieces that are, in a sense, the most valuable. In both sales a tiny sprinkling of objects testifies to another age when the jeweler was more than just a maker of decorative jewelry and instead the outfitter to a certain kind of lifestyle. This is illustrated by the exquisitely decorated little boxes that served as vanity cases, minaudières, and cigarette cases in an era that prized such things far more than our own. An evening bag was not so much an "it" bag of the season as a proper investment, something crafted by hand in the most precious metals and stones, something to treasure, as poignant inscriptions remind us. All antique pieces come with the history of their previous owners but one can't help but wonder about who it was that had a glorious blue enamel, jade and diamond vanity case in the Roaring 20s – probably not the same person who had another decorated with mother-of-pearl and gold knights on horseback within a diamond frame made in the same year. Two minaudières – one in black lacquer with diamond-accented gold Art Deco fans, the other etched with gold marguerites studded with diamond clusters – traverse two generations, two epochs of elegance, and are as covetable today as they were prized way back when.

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