Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Estate Jewelry: Ruby Roses and the Memento Mori

Wow. Okay, here goes: this is a modified cushion-cut 9-carat fancy vivid purplish-pink diamond, set in platinum with single-cut diamond prongs, gallery, and shoulders. The color is natural, and the stone is GIA-certified to be a Type IIa, which (as you’ll remember from my past ravings about Golconda diamonds) means it's the most chemically pure and transparent form of diamond. The Type IIa designation is common to famous stones such as the Cullinan I (a.k.a. the Great Star of Africa) and the Koh-i-noor, both of which are part of the British Crown Jewels.

The ring dates to 1910 and was made by Dreicer & Co., which, for a short time (1904 – 1923), was one of the top luxury jewelry companies in the United States. They were particularly renowned for their ultra-high-end diamonds and pearls, but sadly the company was liquidated two years after the death of the founder’s son in 1921, and Cartier bought all of their remaining stock.

This ring (estimated at $6-8 million) is one of the highlights of the Magnificent Jewels auction to be held at Christie’s New York on April 17. It's part of the estate of the reclusive heiress Huguette M. Clark, and the stone itself is believed to have originally belonged to Clark’s mother. Huguette’s story is odd but fascinating: she inherited millions from her father’s copper business and owned various amazing properties, but she removed herself from society while she was in her early thirties and was basically never heard from again. (You can read her obituary here.)

Sotheby’s is holding their Magnificent Jewels auction in New York on April 18. There are a great variety of items in this sale, with lots of 19th-century pieces mixed in with the usual mind-blowing gems (especially Cartier; don’t miss the c. 1920 carved emerald brooch).

This bracelet stands out to me, though, because it’s fairly recent Tiffany. Tiffany & Co. is a hugely polarizing brand these days; people either love it or hate it. Yes, their prices are insane, but that’s because they’re selling their name on that blue box just as much as the jewelry inside of it. They are, however, an extraordinary company, and a great American success story. I don’t think I’ve gone into their past too deeply here — one day I promise to tell you about Paulding Farnham, because OH MY GOD PAULDING FARNHAM — but to this day, Tiffany continues to produce some beautiful original jewelry.

This bracelet only dates to 2004. A sinuous rose of calibré-cut emeralds and buff-top rubies sits in a ruby vase, against a backdrop of the sapphire evening sky. The rest of the bracelet is set with round diamonds (total weight 21.28 carats), and the “moon” is a 2.53-carat oval rose-cut diamond. The stones are set in a flexible platinum band.

On April 19, Philips de Pury & Company are holding their “Jewels” auction. Again, there’s a ton of great stuff here, but I particularly love this necklace. Because you never know when you’ll need a little something to wear to dinner, right? Nothing too ornate or anything. The necklace is by Hammerman Brothers, a New York firm currently nearing their 75th anniversary (check out their website, if you’re a glutton for glorious punishment). This stunning cultured pearl and 18k tassel design highlights a central openwork panel of circular-cut diamonds and two cabochon emeralds. Swags of pearls lead up to a diamond-surrounded oval-cut sapphire at each shoulder, and finally culminate in a diamond-set clasp.

FYI, Doyle, Bonham’s, and Rago Arts are also holding jewelry auctions in April, so check them out. The Rago one is unreserved, so good buys could be made, and non-jewelry items (SUCH AS AMETHYST GEODES, EDITH) are also included.

Okay, enough with the auctions! These late 18th-century earrings are an example of the “provincial” or country style that was once popular in Italy, Spain, and France. Made of gold, they feature a floral swag hanging within a large hoop.

They’re HUGE but hollow, and as a result are very light, and they’ve been ingeniously designed to stay in place on the ear by a small loop that prevents the earring from shifting forward.

This whimsical little bird brooch is actually loaded with symbolism. During the German occupation of World War II, the “caged bird” became a common theme in Paris, as the residents of the city identified with the image of beautiful winged captives. Following the war, many of the luxury jewelers — Cartier, Boucheron, etc. — hailed the liberation of the city by creating pieces that featured an open cage. This Art Deco “Freedom of Paris” brooch is by Cartier, and features a 4.5-carat ruby bird perched on the edge of an open platinum cage set with 4.5 carats of diamonds and three cabochon sapphires.

They’re not quite Cartier, but these flexible brass buckle rings are cute and vintage and they’re only $35! They’ve also been soldered closed, so they won’t fall off and make you sad.

news item recently got me daydreaming about turn-of-the-century Russian jewelry ... Not all of it was made by Fabergé, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful. Look at these earrings! Circa 1908-1917, they showcase four natural rubies (3.2 carats total weight) alongside 74 antique-cut diamonds (6.1 carat t.w.) in a 14k setting with a floral motif. They’re stamped with the mark of the workmaster and of the St. Petersburg assay office.

This beautiful Art Nouveau choker is by Koch, a successful family-run jewelry company that was popular with European royalty around the beginning of the 20th century. Founded in 1879 and based in Frankfurt, Germany, the Koch story ended in 1938, when the firm was “aryanized” and “sold” according to the Nazi policies of the time. This is almost unbearably sad, especially when we see the quality of their work.

Circa 1902, the choker is comprised of a rectangular silver-over-gold plaque that's suspended by twelve rows of natural pearls, terminating in a diamond-set clasp. The plaque, which is bordered by rose-cut diamonds, depicts a beautiful spring landscape in enamel, with birch trees set against a backdrop of a lake and mountains, and an opal sky.

This variation on a memento mori skeleton ring features the skeleton on a black ground beneath the central crystal (rather than the usual skull or hair seen in rings of this type).

The band is a high-carat gold in a beautiful scrolled design with black enameling, and it memorializes the deceased: “J. Gardiner Ob. 19 May 1764 AE 51.” Two smaller crystals bookend the central crystal.

More whimsical little hand earrings! Oooh, I love it. These are circa 1770, with rose diamonds set in gold. The hands (with cuffs!) hang below beautifully fashioned off-center ribbon bows. Since the hands aren’t holding or pointing at anything, or positioned in any specific way, I think they’re probably simply decorative.

Previously: Witch Hearts and the Victorian Onyx Mystery.

Monica McLaughlin’s eyes get really tired during auction season.

77 Comments / Post A Comment


Not gonna lie, I thought that Tiffany bracelet was an extremely ostentatious bookmark at first.

Jen Alien-Spouse@twitter


Moi aussi!
And I would love that bookmark SO much.


@frigwiggin ME TOO. But let's be honest, Tiffany probably does make extremely ostentatious bookmarks.


@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher If a store makes sterling silver telephone dialers....

Dirty Hands

@frigwiggin I thought it was a fancy snap bracelet, myself.


@frigwiggin I thought they were mezuzah covers. sigh.


@stonefruit ME TOO!


@frigwiggin Yep! Though, to be fair, diamond bookmarks really are a Pinner's best friend.


HOLY SHIT that ring oh my God.


@thebestjasmine: That and those Russian ruby earrings. Holy cow, come to mama...


Can I trade my historical losing MegaMillions ticket for those hand earrings?

I know a lady who requires them.


@atipofthehat oh no i couldn't possibly accept those, they look expensive!


@atipofthehat oh well, if you INSIST


Why did you link me to that Weiner jewelry page?!? I am going to be there forever and always surrounding myself with delightful quirky jewelry.


@area@twitter Right?!? A lot of things there look like favorites I've had on Etsy (particularly the hummingbird skull necklace), so now I'm all over it.


@area@twitter I have a number of things from Erica Weiner... they're super affordable and fun and i love love love her.


@teenie I want them! I want all of them! (But maybe especially the beetle earrings)

but i'm a bird

@area@twitter Oooh Erica is a friend and awesome and yes for her success!


@area@twitter Did you see the animal print necklaces????


@but i'm a bird Please tell her we think she is amazing because SERIOUSLY, AMAZING. I just pinned a crapton of things from her website in the hopes that someone will take the hint and buy me some for my birthday in June.


@area@twitter Glad I'm not the only one that fell down that rabbit hole! Monica, how many adorable jewelry sites have you been hiding from us?!?!?


@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher Totally amazing. Before the storefront existed, they let me come over to their studio with broken earrings and fixed them! Plus I love her stuff, duh.


@thisisunclear I was having a grumpy morning and I definitely just hopped over to her website to cheer myself up with pretty jewelry. yay!

Katie Heaney

Oh, Monica. I don't do pink. I could do pink for that ring.

ms. alex

@Katie Heaney Same here.


Damn, I wish I knew millionaires, because my birthday is 10 days after that Magnificent Jewels auction (*hinthint millionaires! ;))

Time Platypus

@Megan Patterson@facebook
Or aliens.

H.R. Vixen

@Megan Patterson@facebook
or jewel thieves

The Lady of Shalott

If I could have those ruby diamond earrings I would ask nothing more from life.


Monica, can regular schmoes attend these auctions just for the spectacle?


@Clare Not sure if you need to register to bid to get in the actual saleroom on the day (I've only gotten in with a press pass), but for the serious auctions they usually have exhibitions beforehand, so you can see the stuff then.



They also stream the auctions live... I recommend listening with headphones or ear buds - it's unexpectedly delightful to have a Frenchman recite numbers in your ear all day.


Is the stone in the Dreicer ring cut a bit lopsided / unevely, or is it just at a weird angle in the photograph?


@liznieve A bit of both, maybe? Earlier stone cuts weren't as insanely symmetrical as the cuts we're used to today. But the 3/4 angle of the shot probably makes it appear a little off, too.


The Memento Mori ring! I need it! Even though I don't wear rings!

Edith Zimmerman

I need the memento mori ring so badly it is hard for me to talk about it.


@Edith Zimmerman me too. i. i just. ::knuckle bite::


@Edith Zimmerman I am actually having phantom ring syndrome as we speak.

Faintly Macabre

@Edith Zimmerman ME TOO. And the little skeleton ones she posted a while ago. And I don't even usually like goth-y/skeleton/skull stuff! (Though I do have a necklace with a real dead starfish in it)


@Edith Zimmerman Oh my god Edith, me too. ME TOO. AGHHHHH


MEMENTO MORI RING. Please and thank you.


That rose bracelet is a-mazing.

Tiffany doesn't suck because they don't design and sell beautiful jewelry. They suck because they pander to the logo whores.


I do not like yellow gold at all, but those giant loop earrings (with the chained charm inside) are exactly my style of earring. I would rock those suckers ALL THE TIME. Gahhhh, I want.


@olivebee : I'll leg wrestle ya for them!


@olivebee Also, I LOVE THIS COLUMN SO MUCH IT HURTS. I remember, right before my wedding, I read one that featured these white, green, and violet earrings that represented the women's suffrage movement (I forget exactly how, but those three colors stood for something), and I got so excited because those were my wedding colors. I immediately told my feminist husband that our colors, which were chosen because green and purple are my favorites, now meant something totally awesome.

@OxfordComma Can we not do legs? Mine are so short, I would lose by default. Same with my thumbs, come to think of it...How about arms??


@olivebee : I have short legs, too! (28" inseam)



@OxfordComma 28" twins! Finding pants that don't wrap around my feet and then some is a nightmare.


@olivebee : Twins!

And seriously, GAP ankle length jeans are my friends.


that, and I will eventually learn how to hem a damn pair of pants.


@olivebee I think I'm in love with those earrings in the same way that that woman is in love with the Eiffel Tower. I will do anything for them.


@olivebee Suffragette wedding colours sound great! There was an antiques shop where I went to university which had jewellery in the window, including a section of "Suffragette Jewellery" in those colours; I wanted it all so much. (Green is for hope, purple for dignity and white for purity.)


It is truly disgusting and thrilling the pull I feel toward those ancient giant hoops. Giant hoops! FROM HISTORY! Clawing at my computer screen!!!!


@leastimportantperson Oh my Gaaaah Yesh!
Also, I was trying to figure out how those lil' loops at the top kept the earring from sliding and realized that the back part UNHINGES and the loop is like...a stopper!
So much want for earring stoppers FROM HISTORY!


Oh so pretty. If anyone wants to give that rose pink ring a home, I will happily remove my Egyptian knot ring from my right ring finger to make a space for it.

barbara millicent roberts

Monica, is the "cage" in the caged bird brooch meant to be shaped like an outline of the German eagle?


@barbara millicent roberts Well spotted! I bet it is. Brilliant, right? This kind of thing is EXACTLY why I love jewelry.

barbara millicent roberts

@monicamcl, So cool!! For my reward, I will accept the enormous pink diamond ring.


@barbara millicent roberts Ok, as long as you promise not to stick it in a safety deposit box for 80 years.

A big part of me is hoping Huguette spent all those reclusive decades repeatedly blowing on that thing and buffing it on her robe, like Grace Kelly did with her (real!) engagement ring in High Society.


@barbara millicent roberts I hadn't even caught that at first glance, but I think you're right about the German eagle. Now that's cool.

It seems like we have a lot of fans of the pink ring here. Perhaps we could pool our resources and work out a timeshare arrangement?


That choker pulls at my heart.


@sovereignann@twitter Me too. I gasped when I saw it. My god, the birches, the opal sky...

Edith Zimmerman

@sovereignann@twitter Doesn't it? God, I can't stop coming back here and looking at it. And the memento mori ring. And the choker. And the MM ring. And the choker. And the ring. AHHALSDfjakdlfjkladsjfal;dsjf


@SuperGogo I think the part of the opal sky that is shining through the trees on the right and the shimmer of the trees in the lake is what gets me. It completes the dreaminess of it or something.

@Edith Zimmerman They are both just amazing.I want to reach through the screen and pluck them out and be all "My precious" about them.


Nnnggguuuuhhh I covet those big-ass earrings. Yessssss. The classiest doorknockers in all the land!

ms. alex

Okay, that pink diamond ring and the Russian ruby earrings? Usually those colors aren't my thing, but OH WOW, I need them.


Money doesn't buy happiness, right guys? Right? :(


@likethestore Maybe not, but man can you own the hell out of some beautiful jewelry.


@likethestore I'm going to buy all of this jewelry and then loudly complain about how miserable I am, but you won't be able to kill me, because I'll have so many bodyguards (also decked out in opulent and interesting jewelry).


@likethestore As Lauren Bacall said in "How to Marry a Millionaire": Money doesn't buy happiness, but it doesn't automatically depress me.


Fell down the rabbithole of reading about Huguette Clark - reclusive heiress stories are my favourite kind! Fascinated!


@crookedlegs Isn't she the source of much doll-related news, as well? I would've sworn she's shown up on the 'Pin before, in the relatively recent past. Something about the fight over her estate, and all the lying that's being done by her representatives... Anyone?


@candybeans Totally. I forget which article it was, but something in the obit linked above or in the MSNBC series on her (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38810137/ns/business-huguette_clark_mystery/) talked about how she loved dolls and gifted a dollhouse worth $10k to her doctor's daughter (or maybe her accountant, can't remember).


@crookedlegs doll news and estate jewelry news, a match made in Hairpin heaven. We all knew they'd combine forces at some point.
that obit was fascinating. crackers and sardines, while watching the flintstones! oh, and the New Canaan house is on sale, guys--it's been reduced from $24 to $19m. What a steal!


If I ever get engaged, my partner can thank the hairpin for my creepy request of a memento mori ring JUST LIKE THAT ONE. and if he/she doesn't like it, well, clearly he/she is not for me anyway.


I am in a Magnificent Jewelry Auction rabbit hole, and now my sister is too. We want to dress up like deposed Russian princesses and attend the auctions, hoping someone will buy a piece and then drop it in our vicinity.


NOOOOOOO Erica Weiner! My fingers are too fat for your awesome ring. :(


It is a rare stone. I like this one. It is so valuable. Personal loans Roanoke Rapids If i can manage money I will buy one for my wife.


I came here by the recommendation of one of my friends. I will come here soon for more details.

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