Back on the block: JAR topaz earrings

Topaz earrings designed by JAR in diamond surround with ruby clusters (Christie's Images)

One of the JAR jewels made famous at the 2006 sale of Ellen Barkin’s jewelry is up for grabs again – four years later and in the same showroom, Christie’s announced yesterday. Those who didn’t make the winning bid can try again in October, if they still have the funds.

These earrings created a stir when Barkin put them up for sale, along with more than 100 jewels from her ex-husband, Ron Perelman, including 17 by Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR). But no one predicted these would sell for $710,000.

In fact, many people thought the $60,000-80,000 estimate was excessive. “People talk about the topaz earrings in the Barkin sale and question the price,” said Ralph Esmerian, then owner of Fred Leighton, before the 2006 sale. “But the interesting thing about Joel is that he doesn’t evaluate stones from a normal dealer perspective. Other people focus on certificates, lab reports. Joel makes sure it’s natural but he will tell you the perfect cut, the type of color. He’s thinking conceptually from start to finish. He’s looking for a certain palette, the look of 19th century jewelry or Russian jewels.”

(Esmerian would make headlines himself in 2008 by declaring Fred Leighton bankrupt and having the Christie’s sale of his famous jewelry collection cancelled at the last minute, only to see most of it sold there a year later.)

Hundreds (including me) showed up for that Barkin sale, where lovely women in long, black gowns modeled the actress’s jewels while a well-heeled crowd bid furiously (a scene parodied in the first Sex & the City movie). A signature JAR thread ring with an oval-cut 22.76ct diamond sold for $1,808,000 and a delicate pair of diamond bangles, estimated at $350,000–$500,000, went for $1,136,000.

Christie's sale of Ellen Barkin's jewelry in October 2006 (photo Cathleen McCarthy)

No one expected the topaz earrings to sell for ten times their estimated value, however, not even François Curiel, who organized the sale.

“These will bring a lot of money, probably $150,000,” Curiel said when he showed me the toffee-colored danglers the day before the 2006 sale. “JAR had the topaz beautifully cut in this long, elegant marquis shape inspired by a window of a palace he loved. What are they worth really—$10,000, $15,000 at most?”

Four years later, Christie’s has upped their own estimate to $300,000-500,000 for the October 2010 sale but a spokesperson for the auction house admits it’s conservative. Times have changed since the heady days of late 2006, when art and jewelry were setting world auction records, but JAR jewelry still brings hefty prices at auction. We’ll see this fall if JAR still carries the cachet to make a topaz jewel worth three-quarters of a million, recession or no recession.

UPDATE: JAR’s earrings sold for $650,500 on Oct. 20, 2010, twice the low estimate but about $60k shy of what Ellen Barkin got for them three years before.

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