An object of beauty and desire, a jewel also provides a perfect reflection of the personality, lifestyle and tastes of the owner. Jewelry auctions are not a 20th-century phenomenon, but over the past few decades we have seen a wealth of the world’s most fabulous jewels, once owned by some of the most notable personalities of the century, pass through the salesrooms.
Earlier this week, Sotheby’s held an auction of “Magnificent Jewels”, which raised a rather magnificent $60.5 million. Not to be outdone Christie’s, in New York, held a jewelry auction the following day, amassing $65.8 million in sales — with one diamond ring alone selling for $10.9 million.
Many of these jewels were formerly in the possession of members of royalty, the aristocracy, high society and the stars of the screen.
In each instance, whether it was one piece or a whole collection, the designated jewelry gives us a fascinating insight into the life and times of the owner as well as the opportunity to see some of the finest gemstones and the most stunning jewels created in the 20th century.
This week, some of the most magnificent gems ever made will be sold at auctions from New York to Dallas for millions of dollars. At Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction on December 10, this art deco “Tutti Frutti” bracelet by Cartier sold for $2,045,000
Some of the jewelry on sale belonged to the most beautiful and celebrated women of the 20th century, such as Wallis Simpson, pictured here in 1936 wearing ruby and diamond creole earclips by Van Cleef & Arpels.
This magnificent platinum, 18 karat gold, emerald and diamond ring was sold for $4.6 million at the Sotheby’s auction.
Jewelry houses that made many of the objects on sale owed a great deal to a new set of glamorous women who emerged after the First World War.
Their glittering social lives required gems that would match it, and they often commissioned valuable pieces from venerated Parisian jewelers.
Among them was Daisy Fellowes, captured here by favorite society photographer Cecil Beaton, considered one of the best dressed women of the 20th century.
One of Daisy Fellowes’ favorite jewelers was Cartier who created extraordinary bespoke pieces just for her.
This elegant platinum and diamond brooch that the house created around 1925 was sold for $365,000 at the Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction.
Another famous patron of high-end jewelers was Countess Mona Bismarck, who like most women of her standing at the time, would update the setting for her gems as fashion changed. In this 1936 photograph she is wearing an aquamarine parure by Suzanne Belperron, the most fashionable designer of the period.
South India’s Golconda mines yield diamonds of the highest degree of transparency, the best of which were traditionally reserved for kings and rulers.
This week Christie’s sold this diamond ring for a staggering $10.9 million. It’s a spectacular 52.58 carat D-color internally flawless rock.
This picture shows Mona Bismark, photographed in Paris by Cecil Beaton in 1958. She is wearing her emerald and diamond cluster necklace and earclips by Cartier. On her right arm is her jade and diamond bracelet, on her left arm a her pearl bracelet with diamond and emerald clasp.
The roaring 20s saw a craze for all things Egyptian, which also reflected In jewelry design. This magnificent and rare Egyptian-Revival Faience and jeweled brooch made around 1923 was sold for $1 million by Sotheby’s.
However, not all jewels worn by the glamorous ladies of the art deco era were new. In the dramatic political landscape Europe after World War I, jewels once belonging to queens and empresses were purchased by wealthy wives of industrialists.
Here Lydia, Lady Deterding, wife of Royal Dutch Petroleum Company chairman is wearing a pearl and diamond pendant bought from the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia.
The period between the two world wars saw a fashion for colorful gems, such as this platinum fancy vivid yellow diamond and emerald ring which will be auctioned off at Doyle New York.
The Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda lived the life of indulgent extravagance, and amassed a spectacular collection of jewelry. Here she is with her son at Van Cleef & Arpels in 1960 admiring the famous “Princie” diamond from Golconda mines that was named after him, and sold by Christie’s in April for record breaking $39.3m.
This diamond pendant necklace by Leviev sold for $2.8 million at Christie’s ‘Magnificent Jewels’ auction on December 10. It’s a pear-shaped diamond, weighing around 22.12 carats.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the grande dame of the opera stage Maria Callas was sometimes lent priceless pieces by Parisian jewelry houses to wear for her performances.
This 18 karat gold, emerald and diamond necklace is from Cartier from 1947. The piece was sold for $1.2 million at the Sotheby’s auction.
American socialite Barbara Hutton was one of the wealthiest heiresses of her time. For her wedding, her father gifted her a precious pearl necklace that once belonged to Mary Antoinette, which she is wearing in this photo from 1939.
This magnificent fancy pear-shaped pink diamond ring was sold for almost $3 million at Phillips ‘Fall Jewels’ auction in New York on December 9.