Purchase Story

Year-End Jewelry Auctions Bring Holiday Cheer, Investment Possibilities

 Antique Jewelry & Gemology

A roundup of auction results from sales held at the end of 2017 brings highlights, prices realized for rare antique pieces, and trends that have endured this past year.

Grogan & Co.

First up was Grogan & Company’s 30th anniversary auction in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 5, 2017, (covered extensively in a separate M.A.D. feature by Frances McQueeney-Jones Mascolo). With 152 lots of jewelry on offer, the auction “affirmed that as buyers get even more selective in their tastes, they are willing to pay top dollar for the most desirable items in a sale. For jewelry, this translates to items that are rare because of age, quality, provenance, and maker,” according to Lucy Grogan, vice president and jewelry director.

This circa 1850 gold, silver, ruby, diamond, and natural pearl brooch was the second-highest-priced jewelry lot at the Grogan sale. It came in a purple velvet fitted case by Harry Emanuel, London. Accompanied by a GIA report stating that the largest pearl drop is natural, saltwater, Pinctada species, with no indications of treatment, the brooch was first noted in the collection of Eugénie de Montijo (1826-1920), wife of Napoleon III and the last empress consort of the French court, reigning from 1853 to 1871. Mrs. Ernest Raphael (née Flora Cecilia Sassoon) subsequently acquired the brooch, and John Singer Sargent painted a portrait of Mrs. Raphael wearing the brooch in 1905. Grogan said, “This brooch had it all from age, rarity, quality, and provenance. The competitive interest from institutions, the trade, and private collectors alike spoke to the collectability of this unique piece, as well as the final selling price, which far exceeded my expectations. The large natural pearl drops and deeply saturated Burmese rubies drew in collectors of these rare gems, while the royal French provenance and its inclusion in Sargent’s portrait of Mrs. Raphael excited historians. In today’s selective market, it takes a standout piece such as this to incite such competitive international bidding.” The brooch sold for $170,800 (est. $10,000/15,000) to a phone bidder in California who flew to Boston to pick it up the next day. Grogan & Co.

Jewelry highlights of the Grogan sale include a circa 1850 gold, silver, ruby, diamond, and natural pearl brooch that with buyer’s premium brought $170,800 (est. $10,000/15,000); a 19th-century yellow gold, silver, and diamond rivière necklace that brought $146,400 (est. $30,000/50,000); and a Mauboussin Art Deco platinum, diamond, and emerald lapel watch that sold for $36,600 (est. $6000/8000). These came from a South Carolina collector’s descendants.

This yellow gold, silver, and diamond rivière necklace with 40 graduated old-mine-cut diamonds mounted in silver-topped yellow gold came from a South Carolina family. Lucy Grogan said, “To have a complete diamond rivière necklace from the nineteenth century is a rare thing, especially of this size and quality. Over fifty carats of diamonds with several of the largest stones weighing three-plus carats, this necklace caught the eye of many. It ultimately sold to someone in the trade for $146,400 [est. $30,000/50,000], which works out to be just about $3000 per carat. This is relatively high for the color of these stones [approximately M/N/O/P], which proves that much of the value is in the age of the piece.” Grogan & Co.

Grogan’s winter auction will be held February 11, and the catalog for it will be online at (www.groganco.com) by January 19.


Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers, Toronto, Ontario, held its fall auction on November 19, 2017. Duncan Parker, vice president, said in an e-mail, “It was an excellent auction for antiques. The antiques in the auction sold very well and reached well beyond their pre-auction estimates in almost all cases. A nice thing about antiques sold at auction is that it is pretty likely that the jewels will not be dismantled for parts, but people are buying them for their own integrity.”

A natural pearl and diamond necklace, with 65 natural graduated pearls, 5.0 mm to 7.7 mm, sold for U.S. $35,229 (est. $6400/9600) to benefit SOS Children’s Villages; a circa 1870 memorial pendant/brooch with an oval old-mine-cut diamond weighing approximately 1.75 carats, surrounded by smaller old-mine-cut diamonds with a total weight of approximately 10.50 carats, mounted in silver and gold, brought U.S. $16,636 (est. $8000/9600); and a circa 1870 pair of emerald and diamond “day/night” ear pendants sold for U.S. $14,678 (est. $3200/4000).

This circa 1910 Cartier emerald, diamond, and platinum ring with a central oval emerald weighing approximately 3.0 carats was accompanied by an AGL report stating that the origin would be classified as classic Colombian, with insignificant clarity enhancement (very rare). According to Duncan Parker, “The emerald was pretty much as lovely as it gets, the colour was extraordinarily vivid (almost impossible to show in a photograph), and the clarity was very fine, with almost nothing visible to the eye. The ring was signed Cartier and was quite lovely and delicate.” It came in the original box, and it sold for $156,570 (est. $40,000/64,000).

The storied provenance of the ring was “equally interesting” and described in an e-mail from Parker. “The ring was offered at Dupuis after passing from mother to daughter for three generations in an important Canadian family. The ring was purchased in the 1920s when the family was visiting Cartier in Paris. The family story states that while they were at Cartier, they were introduced to Russian Prince Felix Youssoupoff. The prince was said to have been consigning the ring for resale at Cartier. The Youssoupoff family reportedly sustained itself by selling jewels and other assets after arriving in Paris.

“Youssoupoff was exiled to Paris from Russia after his involvement in the assassination of Grigori Rasputin, famed mystic and member of the court of Czar Nicholas II.

“The Youssoupoff family was known to have acquired jewels at Cartier. The ring is certainly by Cartier and is a jewel that would not be out of place on the hand of royalty.” Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers.

Parker said this antique diamond and natural pearl corsage brooch mounted in silver and gold is “really made up of eight unique parts; each can be used as a brooch, and with its own pin fittings. The parts all hook together, providing a great amount of flexibility, both as separate pieces, and also as a nicely articulated long brooch.

I described this as ‘diamonds by the foot’—it was just over one foot long. If all the parts are attached together, they make a very large jewel. The brooch was made in the later 19th century and features rather substantial diamonds, with a total of 45 carats, and at the base is a natural pearl that measures 13.5 x 9.0 mm long.

Several viewers tried it on the back of their outfits, and it looked great. It is the type of jewelry that requires an assistant to put on, but it’s worth it.

The brooch sold, but, honestly, there were not many bidders, I guess because it is a rather specialized jewel. There probably are few people who need a brooch of over a foot in length. It is the kind of jewel that I could see mounted decoratively in a shadow box.” Accompanied by a copy of a GIA report stating that the pearls are natural and of saltwater origin, it sold for $48,925 (est. $40,000/48,000). Dupuis Fine Jewellery Auctioneers.

Selling for U.S. $244,645, the top lot of the sale was a white gold ring with an emerald-cut diamond weighing 7.06 carats. Parker shared information about the diamond itself, as well as his keen insights on current market conditions regarding diamonds of this caliber: “Recently we’ve seen great interest in emerald-cut diamonds. This was a very nicely cut gem, and it was mounted in a ring, likely from the 1970s. The diamond was of fine grade, VVS-1 clarity, and F colour, according to a report that was prepared by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA); it’s nearly as good as it gets. The clarity was given by GIA with a potential grade of Internally Flawless, but the very slightly lower clarity was based on a tiny nick at the girdle of the diamond. The diamond had an earlier GIA grading as ‘flawless’ from way back, 44 years ago, in 1973, perhaps before the tiny nick occurred.

“There were numerous international bidders for this ring, including a number from Europe, Canada, Asia, and the United States. With a fine quality diamond, it is interesting to see a good number of potential bidders holding back, because though it is a rare diamond, it is costly due to the high quality. There are some who will hold off and opt for lesser quality, and thus lower price, for a look that is not substantially different to the casual viewer. I suspect that it really depends on whether the bidder is looking to wear it or to hold on to it speculatively.

“Emerald-cut diamonds really have such an elegant look that shows a unique geometry and is so different from the traditional brilliant-cut diamond. The demand for emerald-cut diamonds really seems to be holding well.”

Dupuis regularly posts upcoming lots as well as sale results on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/DupuisAuctioneers), which also provides helpful reminders of antique pieces that will be coming up for sale or have sold in a previous sale. An online jewels sale starts February 6 and concludes February 13, and a jewels auction will be held live on June 10. Check the website for auction catalogs (www.dupuis.ca).

Rago Arts & Auction Center

Fine jewelry was sold at Rago Arts & Auction Center, Lambertville, New Jersey, on December 3, 2017. The star of the sale was a 5.10-carat sapphire and Edwardian diamond Bulgari ring that was probably put together in the 1970s, according to Katherine Van Dell, who heads the jewelry department. It sold for $298,000 (est. $50,000/70,000).

The top lot of the Rago sale was this Bulgari bypass ring with a 5.10-carat pear-cut sapphire and a 2.50-carat pear-cut Edwardian diamond. It “came in on one of our walk-in appraisal days,” according to Katherine Van Dell. With a graduated curvilinear channel of baguette- and tapered baguette-cut diamonds weighing approximately 1.0 carat, the ring was accompanied by an AGL report stating that the sapphire is natural corundum blue sapphire, of Kashmir origin, with no heat or clarity enhancement, and a GIA report stating that the diamond is 2.5 carats, I color, VS1 clarity, with good polish, very good symmetry, and no fluorescence. Van Dell said, “Someone probably had the diamond and the sapphire and decided in the seventies to have Bulgari make a ring. So with that perfect combination of the two things that are really doing well in terms of jewelry in the secondary market right now, gemstones with important origins and signed jewelry,” the ring sold for $298,000 (est. $50,000/70,000). Rago.

It was all about the pen. Second fiddle was the Cartier 5" x 3¼" 14k yellow gold cigarette case engraved with geometric patterns on both sides, a buff top-cut sapphire thumbpress, and a garland-pierced clip on the interior inscribed “Christmas 1938.” The 4 1/8" long Japanese jeweled red raden (mother-of-pearl) lacquer pen with a takamaki figure, emerald and 14k gold mounts, and an 18k gold nib marked “Cartier” drove the price of the lot. Van Dell said she was “told by several people leading up to the sale that that pen retailed for something like $40,000 by Cartier. We knew the pen was quite good, but we didn’t know that it was that good and quite that rare.” The lot brought $32,500 (est. $3500/4500). “Cartier in particular is especially very collectible. Anything with an exotic or Japonism influence, in this instance, is so desirable.” Rago.

“We were lucky that we had a really nice local estate that fluffed out the middle market—wearable gold diamond jewelry—and that consistently did really well. And overall, the sale was about 90% sold, and the sapphire itself brought the most that we’ve ever achieved, as an auction house, for a sapphire. It was a good day.”

A French diamond and yellow gold link bracelet from the local estate that provided the “backbone of the sale” sold for $16,250 (est. $9000/13,000). Van Dell said the sentiment “If it’s not signed, if it’s French, it’s still very good” applied to this bracelet. Beautifully constructed, the circa 1965 bracelet was “so wearable and style relevant…. The middle-market stuff that’s fashion relevant does very well.”

The next fine jewelry sale will be held in April, and Van Dell said that although Rago has been cautiously growing that sale over the last five years, in the past year “we kind of threw caution to the wind and put everything in the auction that came in before April.” Look for the catalog online at (www.ragoarts.com).


Oh, to be a fly on the wall when a natural pearl and diamond 1¼" drop pendant in platinum, from the estate of American philanthropist Mary Clark Thompson, sold after a “frenzied bidding war” for $1,452,500 (est. $30,000/50,000) at Bonhams’ December 4, 2017, auction in New York City. Susan Abeles, head of jewelry for Bonhams U.S., said in a post-sale press release, “Really good examples of natural pearls of exceptional quality [with this] size, symmetry, rich luster, and blemish-free skins do not appear on the market as often as they used to. Indeed, pearls such as this are a rare commodity, and it is nearly impossible to find these gems. As a result, we were pleased to be able to offer this important pearl to our global client base, and we were delighted at how well it performed in the sale.”

This natural pearl and diamond 1¼" drop pendant mounted in platinum is from the estate of American philanthropist Mary Clark Thompson. Composed of a single drop pearl measuring 14.1 mm, with a rose-cut diamond surmount, the pendant was “the subject of a frenzied bidding war, and it finally went under the hammer for $1,452,500 [est. $30,000/50,000], making it the highest price paid for a natural pearl at auction in the last six years and also the third most valuable single natural pearl ever sold at auction,” according to Bonhams. It was accompanied by a GIA report stating that the pearl is natural, saltwater, with no indications of treatment, a special letter from the GIA, and an SSEF report and appendix letter stating, “A natural pearl of this size and quality can be considered rare and exceptional.” Bonhams.

Thompson, one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was also a benefactor to the Bronx Zoo and Woman’s Hospital. Another strong antiques result from the Thompson estate was a circa 1910 Edwardian diamond and platinum bracelet that sold for $137,500 (est. $50,000/70,000).

This 1964 Harry Winston 14 13/16 " long diamond rivière necklace was formerly owned by actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor (1917-2016). Composed of 45 graduated round brilliant-cut diamonds (the five central diamonds weighing 8.07, 6.34, 6.33, 5.35, and 4.88 carats), with a remaining total diamond weight of 66.21 carats, the necklace was accompanied by numerous GIA reports stating the color and clarity of the diamonds and a certificate of authenticity from Harry Winston, dated August 23, 2017. Susan Abeles said in a press release, “It is amazing that a piece that is so elementary in design and elegant can still be so show-stopping. During the previews, it was one of the most tried-on pieces of jewelry…. The provenance and Harry Winston signature ensures the necklace will feature as one of the central pieces in a notable jewelry collection.” It sold for $1,272,500 (est. $1.2/1.5 million) to an Internet buyer. Bonhams.

Breaking the million-dollar mark was a 1964 Harry Winston diamond rivière necklace, formerly owned by Hollywood icon Zsa Zsa Gabor (1917-2016). The catalog description noted, “It is not surprising that she frequently visited ‘the King of Diamonds,’ Harry Winston. It was there that she felt at home in the salon surrounded by jewels. Zsa Zsa Gabor was patron of this important diamond maison. This magnificent diamond necklace acquired in 1964 represents one of her largest purchases…. Her love for jewelry and lavish adornment is legendary; and this necklace was undoubtedly a favorite jewel, as it is seen in many photographs.” The necklace sold to a buyer on the Internet for $1,272,500 (est. $1.2/1.5 million).

For a schedule of the many jewelry auctions offered globally by Bonhams in the next several months, visit the website (www.bonhams.com).

John Moran Auctioneers

John Moran Auctioneers’ fine jewelry sale on December 5, 2017, in Monrovia, California, offered “a wide array of jewelry lots dating from the 19th century to the contemporary, in a range of styles and materials.” A large audience attended, and “online registration was strong, but in-person and telephone bidding seemed much preferred among buyers.”

This circa 1890 natural Burmese spinel and 18k yellow gold necklace suspending a detachable Renaissance Revival pendant/brooch centering a cushion-cut red spinel weighing 4.27 carats was accompanied by a GIA report stating that the center stone is natural spinel, of Burmese origin, with no indications of heating. Further set with six diamonds and with an 18" long chain, it sold for $9600 (est. $8000/12,000). John Moran Auctioneers.

The auction began with antique jewelry, a highlight of which was a natural Burmese spinel necklace that “inspired stiff competition amongst phone bidders” and sold for $9600 (est. $8000/12,000).

A Van Cleef & Arpels necklace and pendant/brooch, an assembled set (the necklace was Van Cleef & Arpels, New York, and the pendant/brooch was from Van Cleef & Arpels, France), was “one of the most anticipated lots of the auction” and the cover lot of the sale catalog. After “a frenzy of phone and in-person bidding,” the set sold to a phone bidder for $90,000 (est. $30,000/50,000).

“A full bank of phones was bidding” for a 1.02-carat pink diamond, “probably cut in the 1950s,” according to Mollie Burns Keith, jewelry director. The stone was natural fancy pink color and I1 clarity, according to the GIA report, and Burns thought it could be recut to “pop to a fancy intense pink.” It brought $75,000 (est. $10,000/12,000).

The next fine jewelry auction is slated for May 22. Visit the website (www.johnmoran.com) for the catalog.


The presale press for Skinner’s December 5, 2017, sale in Boston promised that “collectors and buyers who wait in anticipation of this auction will be pleased with its breadth and content, featuring over 500 lots of diamonds, colored stones, and antique and period jewelry.”

This Hammerman Brothers 7" long platinum and diamond bracelet, with approximately 75 carats of round brilliant-cut diamonds, sold for $116,850 (est. $60,000/80,000). Skinner.

Antiques results included a circa 1900 Art Nouveau 18k gold, opal, diamond, and enamel peacock pendant/brooch by Lucien Gautrait that realized $28,290 (est. $10,000/15,000); an approximately 11.63 mm natural pearl pendant with a diamond-set cap that sold for $33,210 (est. $25,000/35,000); and a pair of diamond earrings with two old-European-cut diamonds with an approximate total weight of 4.00 carats, in silver-topped gold mounts, that sold for $12,300 (est. $8000/10,000).

The next Skinner fine jewelry sale will be March 20. Visit the website (www.skinnerinc.com) in the weeks before the sale to peruse the auction catalog. Skinner’s blog is also informative (www.skinnerinc.com/news). There you will find news of Skinner’s “Lot Alert,” which will “help you save time searching for fine art, antiques, and collectibles at auction,” according to a blog post on December 27, 2017, by Kerry Shrives, senior vice president, director of information and technology.

Doyle New York

Doyle New York’s jewelry auction on December 13, 2017, saw competitive bidding in the salesroom, on the telephones, and via the Internet, according to the auction house, and the auction totaled $4,024,625, surpassing the total estimates of $2,177,700/3,096,800, with 89% sold by lot and 93% sold by value.

The top lot of the Doyle sale was this 11.12-carat rectangular step-cut emerald from the estate of “a distinguished collector,” accompanied by an AGL report stating that the emerald is classic Colombian origin, with insignificant to minor traditional clarity enhancement, and an AGL appendix letter stating that the emerald is of special distinction because of its superior degree of transparency, with very fine and richly saturated green color representative of emeralds of the Muzo mining district, commonly known as “old-mine,” and noting that these emeralds are rarely in excess of 11.00 carats. It sold for $705,000 (est. $200,000/300,000). Doyle.

Topping the sale was an approximately 11.12-carat Colombian emerald, property from the estate of a collector that “attracted an international audience of bidders.” It sold for $705,000 (est. $200,000/300,000).

This 1" x 1 1/8" platinum, emerald, and diamond brooch was from the same collector’s estate as the top lot of the sale. The rectangular step-cut emerald weighing approximately 6.43 carats is flanked by two round diamonds weighing approximately 1.30 carats, with 32 round diamonds and 16 baguette diamonds, with a total weight of approximately 3.00 carats, and was accompanied by an AGL report stating that the emerald is of Colombian origin, with insignificant traditional enhancement. It sold for $162,500 (est. $50,000/70,000). Doyle.

Also from that estate were an emerald and diamond brooch centered by a 6.43-carat Colombian emerald that brought $162,500 (est. $50,000/70,000) and a classic cultured pearl necklace with a Colombian emerald clasp that realized $93,750 (est. $10,000/15,000). Doyle noted the trend in colored gems in its press release: “The international jewelry market has experienced growing demand for quality colored gemstones over the past few seasons. These include the finest examples of Burma rubies, Kashmir sapphires, and Colombian emeralds. Quality emeralds in particular have performed especially well over the past year, as international demand increases for the finest stones possessing a superior degree of transparency and a richly saturated color.”

A Doyle fine jewelry sale will be held on February 21. Check the website for the auction catalog (www.doyle.com).


Fortuna Auction, New York City, held its 75-lot jewelry auction on December 12 and 13, 2017, achieving results that “shattered” previous sales records. The sale realized a total of $2.3 million, selling 70% by value, according to a post-sale press release. The sale had strong interest around the globe, with registered bidders from 41 countries across six continents.

The highlight of the Fortuna sale was this Van Cleef & Arpels 10.33-carat diamond ring, with round brilliant-cut diamonds weighing a total of approximately 2.60 carats, mounted in platinum. It was accompanied by a GIA report describing the quality characteristics of the center emerald-cut diamond and an EGL report stating that the 10.33-carat diamond is a Type IIa diamond and noting, “Type IIa diamonds are the most chemically pure type of diamonds and often have exceptional optical transparency.” The ring came in a signed Van Cleef & Arpels box and sold for $994,000 (est. $800,000/1.1 million). Fortuna.

A rare Van Cleef & Arpels 10.33-carat, D-color, internally flawless emerald-cut diamond ring was the breakaway top result at $994,000 (est. $800,000/1.1 million).

An Art Deco Oscar Heyman Brothers diamond and platinum bracelet, with approximately 15.00 carats of diamonds, realized $27,500 (est. $8000/12,000), the result of competitive bidding.

John Saxon, president, said, “Excitement and energy filled the auction room. Many of the lots garnered very intense bidding, going far beyond the opening bid. It was a phenomenal sale for us to end the year with, and we look to 2018 with confidence and optimism.”

Seth Holehouse, CEO, said, “This magnificent jewels sale is a major milestone for us. The performance of this sale and the caliber of jewelry and gemstones we sold has shown our strength in selling very important jewelry. We have already seen an increase in private clients contacting us to sell their higher-value items.” Fortuna’s “no-risk” sales approach for consignors has also been a factor in its success.

Three of the six top lots sold to Asian private collectors. Anna Lin, director of fine jewelry, Asia, said, “There is a burning desire for important jewelry and gemstones in Asia that far surpasses what we see in the American and European markets. Many of our Asian clients are actively building large private collections and are very proactive in acquiring large flawless diamonds, gem-quality untreated colored stones, and rare signed pieces. We consistently sell our cover lots and sale highlights to these collectors.”

See the website for information about upcoming sales at (www.fortunaauction.com).

Originally published in the February 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest.

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