When it comes to jewels, the value of pieces in your jewellery box can be pleasantly unexpected. Suspense, revelation and the delight experienced through discovery are the thrills of buying and selling at auction. Often, clients bring their jewels and share the history and personal significance of them.
Sotheby’s experts then research, catalogue and set estimates, ultimately helping clients to realize their jewels’ true – and at times astonishing – value. Here, a few remarkable stories about six surprising showstoppers that came to auction.
1. What’s in a Name?
In 2011, while visiting a client in Boston, Senior Specialist Catharine Becket came upon a 1920s tutti frutti style bracelet. Without a visible signature, the jewel was given an estimate of $20,000–30,000. Determined to identify a maker, the entire New York team pored over the bracelet until the letters ‘ier’ were found faintly engraved on the clasp.
Further research confirmed the piece to have been made by Cartier in 1928, and the estimate was raised to $200,000–300,000. The bracelet graced the cover of our September Important Jewels catalogue and achieved $842,500, or $280,000 per letter.
2. True Blue
Members from three generations of a Midwestern family brought in an emerald-cut diamond ring, originally purchased by the family’s grandfather around the time of the Great Depression. A local jeweller originally thought the stone was an aquamarine before noting it was, in fact, a diamond, prompting the family to have the ring appraised.
After meeting with Senior Specialist Robin Wright, the family agreed to send it to the Gemological Institute of America for a detailed analysis. The GIA determined the stone was a 3.02 carat Fancy Grayish Blue Diamond. After reviewing the gemological report, the estimate was finalised at $650,000–850,000, and the ring sold for $1,445,000 in our 2014 December Magnificent Jewels auction, about 1,000 times more than it would have had it been an aquamarine.
3. Walk Like an Egyptian
Thanks to an introduction from a gallerist in Southern California, Carol Elkins met a descendant of Lady Abdy. Though she knew many of the jewels she had inherited were by Cartier, she had no clue as to their rarity and value. The collection turned out to be an extremely rare group of Egyptian-Revival jewels made by Cartier during the Egyptomania that followed the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.
Carol instantly recognised many of the pieces from images featured in books on Cartier, and the present ‘Pylon’ brooch was even traced to an advertisement in a 1928 issue of Vogue. The estimate for the brooch was set at $50,000–70,000, and it sold for $221,000.
4. A Great Estate
Following the sale of a portrait by Amedeo Modigliani, one of the many pieces from the legendary Collection of Alex and Elisabeth Lewyt, specialists Kendall Reed and Quig Bruning were invited to Long Island to appraise the estate’s jewellery. Though the Lewyts – two of America’s most important philanthropists and patrons of early Modern art – had an extraordinary collection of paintings, their insurance policy didn’t list many jewels, so the specialists assumed they would be mostly costume or lower value pieces.
Once at the house, however, the first item brought out was a stunning sapphire bead necklace, which was immediately recognised as an important work by René Boivin. A coloured diamond brooch in the form of a Golden Retriever, also by Boivin, followed. This exceptional collection of glamorous mid-century jewels was sold in our 2013 September Important Jewels auction. The total estimate for the collection was $654,000–940,000, and it sold for $2,028,750.
5. New York Minute
Specialist Quig Bruning met with a New York collector who had acquired some jewellery from her father, a pawn shop owner in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. A colourful brooch resembling the famed Tutti Fruttidesigns by Cartier caught Quig’s eye, and he discovered that the piece was in fact signed. Its owner knew neither that the brooch was signed, nor that it had any value, remarking she often wore it to the movie theatre.
The brooch was offered in our December sale of Magnificent Jewels in 2013 with an estimate of $80,000–120,000 and sold for $100,000.