It’s not the record-breaking 18-piece JAR collection that went on the block last year or the legendary 17 actress Ellen Barkin sold off in 2006, but seven rare jewels by bespoke designer Joel Arthur Rosenthal hitting the market at once is something to see. That’s what’s happening at Christie’s Geneva next week.
I’ll show you every last one here, but as anyone knows who made it to NYC for the Jewels by JAR exhibition that closed at the Met in March, seeing these pieces live and up close is a whole ‘nother bauble game. Let me remind you Christie’s is not a museum, it’s an auction house. Which means there’s a preview, which means… do I have to spell it out? You can try these jewels on! If you can make it to Geneva, that is.
In fact, I already tried on one of the pieces that’s up for sale – eight years ago at Christie’s Manhattan headquarters in Rockefeller Center when actress Ellen Barkin was auctioning off her jewels from Ronald Perelman after a pretty brutal divorce. Here it is in silhouette today and on my hand, the day before it sold for 4x estimate.
As you can see, it dwarfed my hand. I was shooting with a bulky SLR and it was a juggle balancing this ring (Ellen has large fingers) while taking the photo. I remember thinking, “Too bad I don’t have a jewelry blog to post this on.” François Curiel, then Christie’s international head of jewelry and showing me around for a JCK story, was probably thinking: “Drop that and I will kill you.” (Curiel is Parisian, so picture that with a strong French accent.)
Here is how the gardenia ring looks from the back, stunning in itself. Rosenthal is famous among jewelry connoisseurs for the beautiful detail on the backs of his pieces, and this is no exception. Note the diamond accents only the wearer can see.
High estimate on the ring this time is more than 3x what it was then, but still $100,000+ short of what it sold for. Safe bet based on precedent. Another piece from Barkin’s collection, her iconic topaz earrings hit the market again soon after and did not quite hit its previous sale price. [Update 11/11/14: Gardenia ring sold for $1.5mil (on high estimate of $385,000), more than 3x what it sold for at the 2006 Barkin auction. Wow.]
So the woman who ended up with Barkin’s gardenia ring is putting it back on the market. This is the ring that inspired the subplot in the first Sex & the City movie where Samantha bids on a similar ring. It’s worth noting that Rosenthal chose the gardenia as a motif of the limited-run fashion jewelry he designed for sale at the Met. The man obviously loves flowers but this particular flower is either close to his heart or his best guess at what JAR-coveting NYC museum goers would shell out $4,000 for (in resin), based on Samantha.
Bejeweled gardenias are not the only JAR floral up for sale next week. There is also a gold tulip bangle I would love to try on. I can’t quite picture how the lower petals attach around the arm to form the cuff. It appears to be another of those engineering feats JAR likes to take on. [Update 11/4/14: After reading this post, Christie’s jewelry department archivist Vanessa Cron sent her own fabulous images that solve that mystery. I’ve posted them below.]
This 1994 creation was in the Met show, a beautiful example of the realistic detail at which Rosenthal excels, right down to the wilt, the little split in the petal, the matte patches in satin-finish of the gold, and a hint of what is known in his studio as “tweed,” playing out in the green garnets sprinkled into the diamond pavé. (You can find a bit more on JAR’s tweed effect in my review of the Met exhibit and a lot more in the Jewels by JAR catalog.)
That tulip gets a $200,000-300,000 estimate, as does this pair of emerald and diamond pavé spiral ear clips. It’s just a photo, of course, but you can tell he used amazing quality gems for this. What you can’t see is that the diamond spirals are actually separate pieces that float above the emerald pavé. Play the video at the bottom of this post to see what I mean.
[UPDATE 11/11/14: The emerald and diamond spirals went for well above estimate at $373,357 but the gold tulip brooch went for more than $3.1 million – more than 10x the high estimate and the second highest price ever paid for a JAR jewel. The normally restrained audience of live bidders were shouting “Ohh!” as a mad bidding war heated up, broke into applause when François Curiel finally banged the gavel, clearly enjoying himself. “We can applaud the artist who is in the room tonight,” Curiel said, “without whom we would not see these extremely high prices.” Alas, the camera for the live auction webcast stayed on the podium instead of panning back to reveal the ever-mysterious Joel Arthur Rosenthal in the flesh.]
This next creation is primarily aluminum, another material we saw a lot of in the Met show. Rosenthal often uses aluminum to amazing effect when he wants a hit of color he can’t pull off in gems or precious metals. This one has Japanese origami flair.
The collector who’s selling off her JAR this time has nice taste, don’t you think? Experimental but particularly fond of the classic JAR diamond pavé on blackened metal. Here is another example of that, a jewel we saw at the Met, best of the “String” earrings. (Was she planning to sell before they tapped her for the exhibit, I wonder? Or just taking advantage of the recent surge of attention her jewels fueled.)
And more diamond pavé on blackened metal, surrounding lovely natural pearls, a fine example of JAR’s sea-life, another theme we saw lots of at the Met. On the back is a diamond-set crescent moon, one of JAR’s little secrets for the wearer. I love these.
[Update 11/11/14: “Etoiles de Mer” ear clips sold for $176,360, more than double the high estimate.]
Last, but not least, another JAR signature, the diamond pendant ring. I tried one on at Sotheby’s a couple years ago and Lily Safra had a funkier double-pendant version.
I envy my Europe-based cohorts right now. If seeing seven pieces of JAR isn’t enough to get y’all on that train, there is also an amazing Ceylon sapphire up for sale. At 392.52 carats, this is the fourth largest polished sapphire in the world, according to Christie’s, and it’s expected to fetch $7-10 million. Zowie!
Oh, let’s take a quick look at that one too, shall we? Here it is, in and out of its diamond tassel necklace.
That final image, snapped by Christie’s jewelry archivist in her own hand, is particularly thrilling. You can almost feel the weight and color. Next best thing to being there! How I would love a trip to Switzerland right now. If you go, let me know.
In the meantime, for those of us who won’t be in Geneva but long for a more three-dimensional look at these jewels, Christie’s has kindly provided a video. Enjoy.
Update 11/11/14: I watched via live webcam as Rahul Kadakia, Christie’s head of jewelry for Switzerland and Americas, sold off the Belle of Asia sapphire for $15.6 million, double the low estimate and most ever paid for a sapphire. A diamond brooch belonging to Empress Eugenie sold for $2 million, an Art Deco necklace of natural pearl and diamond from the collection of the Baroness Edouard de Rothschild sold for $5.2 million, and a serpent brooch of carved horn, pearl and glass by René Lalique sold for $176,00, 3x the high estimate. All the JAR pieces went for well above estimates, as usual, some way more. More than 600 buyers from 30 countries registered for the auction and by the end of the day, Christie’s had sold more than $150 million – highest total ever for a jewelry auction. (!!)
All photos (except my hand) courtesy of Christie’s
Photo credit for JAR Gardenia ring back, detail shots of JAR Tulip bangle, final Belle of Asia image: Vanessa Cron/Christies