This past Friday I had a quiet, uninterrupted view of the offerings from the upcoming Huguette Clark and Mrs. Lily Safra auctions. Chrisitie’s New York will be selling the jewels of Ms. Clark’s estate on April 17th. The auction previews were set up quite beautifully, as well as thoughtfully; each auction’s property has it’s own room and wonderfully presented vignettes. Ms. Clark’s presentation included vintage photographs of herself as well as a painting of her at her easel — she was a dedicated artist and had her own studio within her NYC apartment. Having spent more than sixty years in a bank vault, the jewels she was given and inherited from her family were personal, but not in a formal way. In fact, I was taken with the modernity of the pieces and their superb quality. A pair of Cartier natural pearl, gold, and emerald drop earrings from the 1920s were as wearable today as it was when they were made. The pink diamond Ms. Clark inherited from her mother was mounted in elegant setting by Dreicer & Co. although when I ask Christie’s head of jewelry, Rahul Kadakia, if the gem was older than its setting (it had a large, open culet, and the cut was of the old gem quality), he confirmed my observations and told me he thought the gemstone was likely cut during the mid-nineteeth century; the stone has a poetry to it that you really don’t see very often and won me over. Touchingly, the first case included two jeweled picture frames, one that included a fine watercolor portrait of her sister who had passed away as a teenager, a tremendous blow to Ms. Clark, according to Kadakia who gave a brief presentation. In her later years, Ms. Clark, a copper heiress, was reclusive, choosing to live a quiet life and died at the age of 104. The pieces were found all in their original boxes, which is rare in and of itself — jewelry kept in this manner remains, more often than not, in wonderful condition.
I made my way into the next gallery where the cases displaying the property of Mrs. Lily Safra, wife of banker and philanthropist Edmond Safra, I have to say that the difference between the two auctions is notably striking in character and feeling. The only way I can compare it is to ask you a cultural question: what’s the difference between a production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Sunday in the Park with George and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman? Both have amazing stories, both are authored by hugely accomplished writers, both are equally moving in theme and scene, and they are perennial favorites on Broadway. The difference isn’t even in audience. Plenty of people would see either, or both, me included. It’s mood. one is known for its thought-provoking language and symbolism, and the other for its haunting music and poetic representations. The Lily Safra auction is remarkable for not only the jewelry, eighteen pieces of which were custom orders made by Joel Arthur Rosenthal, also known as JAR, but also for the fact that all proceeds will benefit the philanthropies support by the Safras. Another notable fact about this sale is that it is the largest offering of JAR designs ever to come up on the auction block. The JAR Poppy Flower brooch up for sale was part of the 2002 exhibition held in London, which viewers could only view by flashlight; the brooch is also on the spine of the highly collectible book/catalog that accompanied the exhibition. One of the non-JAR highlights of the auction is the “Eglantine” necklace by Cartier. Made around 1906, the platinum, diamond and emerald design is one of the most beautiful necklaces I have ever seen in all the years I’ve spent looking at jewelry. I would have loved to see its reverse, which I have no doubt was equally resplendent technologically.
When I finally came up for air, after all, these are breath-taking exhibits, I walked over to the next gallery where on display were several jewels that will be sold in Geneva for Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale. A wonderfully informative guy offered to show me a few of the pieces and I was so interested in his explanations that I failed to ask him his name (shame on me and I am sorry, if he should read this). He took out an emerald ring which if my memories serves me correctly was roughly thirty-five carats, give or take, and it was un-oiled. For centuries, emeralds have been oiled to improve their appearance; this is an accepted practice in the industry. I have never seen an emerald that has not been oiled and this one wasn’t because the unique properties it possesses. It was an incredible color, more of a deep blue green than other emeralds I’ve seen. It was mounted in a simple ring setting that just happened to fit me perfectly and so I slide it onto my right hand ring finger. It was a large, exquisitely cut emerald shape, and I’m always so surprised how this elegant silhouette works on nearly every woman’s hand, regarding of the size of her fingers, and I, at 5’2″ have small hands and not particularly long digits. Well, if admiration counted as currency, then my husband would have an easy time adding this to my collection, but we have two more young men to get through college after our eldest graduated last year, so the color and clarity of that stone will have to be my lesson to take away from this experience. All in all, it was a memorable day at Christie’s, and afterward I met up with our son Joshua for his birthday lunch at Oceana. No matter how many fabulous jewels I see in the world, the ones most precious are those that really belong to me.