On 6 July, the Aguttes auction house will be holding its last jewellery sale before the summer break. With 141 lots, this catalogue is full of beautiful objects and exciting pieces for those who love stories, history and a little bit of beautiful stones. A few weeks ago, I discovered a large part of the lots in the company of Philippine Dupré La Tour to make this selection that I am offering you today. I have chosen jewels that I could wear, that I would dream of wearing if the opportunity arose. More generally, these are jewels that I simply like and that I hope you will like too.
Lot 8: Gold, enamel, diamond and ruby “snake” brooch. 19th century French work. Estimate between 2500 and 3000 euros.
The snake is absolutely everywhere in the history of jewellery. It has been well known since the Hellenistic period when it was used extensively by ancient Greek goldsmiths. For a long time, it was seen as the symbol of renewal, linked to the earth. Through its successive moults, the snake carries within it a symbol of regeneration and even of healing. It is not for nothing that it appears on the staff accompanying Asclepios, the god of medicine also known as Aesculapius. But the reptile also carries many other symbols throughout the ages: immortality, love, temptation… There is so much to say that one could write a book about it. On this 19th century jewel, what is also very interesting is the association of the snake with the knot. This motif was also inspired by Antiquity with the famous Heracles knot, a symbol of marriage, which symbolises an unbreakable union. Here, our snake is black, and we should note the impeccable condition of the enamel (perhaps the jewel has not been worn or only very little). He is also relatively smiling, which is perhaps what I also liked about him. As for the symbolism of this jewel, it is certainly a jewel of mourning or at least a jewel of feeling. By its subject and its state of conservation, it is clearly one of my absolute favourites in this catalogue.
Lot 18: Gold, diamond and opal bracelet. Late 19th century work. Estimate between 2000 and 3000 euros.
In the 19th century, opals did not necessarily have good press. And this for a very simple reason, it was considered to bring bad luck. As an apprentice, I remember hearing professionals on the verge of retirement say they wanted nothing to do with this strange stone with its changing reflections. So when I come across beautiful pieces set with opals, I am happy to handle them. Our bracelet is set with Australian opals, which places this piece at least after 1849, when the first opals were discovered in this country by the geologist Johannes Menge. Associated with magic, due to the lack of understanding of what causes the coloured fires in this gem, the opal is in fact associated with the supernatural, which was very much in vogue at the end of the 19th century. In the midst of the industrial revolution, good society was fascinated by questions about life after death. In a time of great change, spiritualism is a way of exploring to try to understand a changing world. We come across jewels with magical properties. And opals, loved but misunderstood at the time, figure among them. This bracelet, with its imposing opals, remains a rare piece for this period. The jeweller of the time had a system for removing them without damaging them. Perhaps they could have been replaced by a barrette set with diamonds or pearls? I personally agree!
Lot 20: Silver and gold brooch, diamonds, rubies and Essex crystal. Estimate between 400 and 600 euros.
It’s hard not to fall for the old-fashioned charm and kitsch of Essex crystal jewellery. Among the favourite subjects of these English pieces are horses and small dogs. The name of these pieces comes from a confusion between an artist adored by Queen Victoria – Mr. William Essex (he made miniatures) – and William Bishop Ford – his pupil – who made enamelled miniatures intended to be mounted on jewellery and more particularly pins. This jewellery began to spread in England in the 1860s. The Essex crystal with its British themes has found its audience but it is not very common to see it in French auctions. I was therefore delighted to discover this piece in the Aguttes catalogue. It seems to me that the dog represented here is a Cairn Terrier but I could be wrong. Of course, you will have to be a fan of small dogs to acquire this particular piece or have a lot of second degree, which can also be a very good thing. I’ll let you choose your reason, but for my part, I find these pieces as adorable as they are necessary in a jewellery landscape that sometimes lacks imagination and humour.
Lot 22: Gold, diamond and ruby brooch, late 18th or early 19th century. Estimate between 1800 and 2200 euros
I love it when jewels reach us. And when they have survived the turpitudes of time and events. As with this brooch, this little “devant de corsage”, dating from the whole of the 18th or the very beginning of the 19th century. I like to imagine the woman who wore it. Made of gold, diamonds and rubies, it is mobile, adorable and certainly slightly modified over the years. However, it is still very elegant and delicate. It seems that it is not a French work but there are no hallmarks so it will keep all its mystery and that suits me fine. There are quite a few brooches of this type and it tells a whole history of fashion. An era made of corsets, of female bodies sculpted by clothes, of jewels delicately placed at these strategic places such as the neck, the cleavage, the wrists. These jewels also speak of seduction, they drew men’s eyes to where they should be directed. These pieces also tell stories of women, those who show themselves, those who cannot afford sumptuous ornaments and therefore those who are less fortunate to win a good match, as they used to say.
Lot 30: Platinum and gold, diamond and emerald branch brooch. Cartier, circa 1910. Estimated at 2000-4000 euros.
This is probably a special commission from Cartier in the 1910s. The style, materials, delicate millegrain setting and overall aesthetic of the jewel are all indicative of this. This very small brooch, 3.5 cm in diameter, features, among other things, olive branches, the fruits being represented here by small emeralds. The olive branch, like the snake, is a mythological symbol that has been used in jewellery since ancient times. A symbol of peace, love and victory, it is also found in the Bible in the story of Noah’s Ark. Opposite this branch, another plant (most certainly laurel), more stylised, whose leaves are reminiscent of the Kashmir or Boteh motif, reminding us of the extent to which the house has been inspired by Persian culture for the design of these pieces. This motif can be seen at the feet of the two branches. What is interesting about the pieces from this period is the way in which the house was able to use multiple sources of inspiration that the in-house designers then re-used with their own codes. So, was this little object intended as a gift for some kind of victory or consecration? The hypothesis is probable. Personally, I am more inclined to think that it was a mason’s jewel. And this is quite possible because the laurel and olive wreath is also the very special Masonic symbol for the 4th degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
Lot 46: Chaumet platinum, diamond and ruby necklace. Circa 1980. Estimated at €100,000 to €120,000
As a rule, in my selections, I only talk about the top lots. The ones that should have no trouble finding a new owner to take care of them. But here I make an exception. Not for the design (simple and effective) but just for the stones and also – a lot, in fact! – for the workmanship which meets the best technical criteria for a piece of this type. Certainly made in the late 80’s or early 90’s, this necklace would be completely designed in CAD today. But this is not the case. When I got it from Aguttes, I simply loved it. I took great pleasure in observing the platinum parts, the brazing of the sticks, the handmade bezels perfectly adjusted to the Myanmar rubies (almost 37 carats, unheated) that make up this necklace, in admiring the quality of the irreproachable polishing, in gauging the flexibility of this necklace that adapts to all busts… etc. Take my word for it, this is very, very fine jewellery as we knew how to make it so well at the very end of the 20th century before the advent of computers. So don’t think I don’t like CAD. Far from it. It has brought a lot of very good things to the workshop but it is not always well used. For me this necklace is a textbook case that all young jewellers should study. So if you are a lover of this beautiful jewellery made to illuminate the best stones, this necklace is for you. And if the jeweller who made it reads me, well, bravo again!
Lot 65: Gold, platinum, diamond, ruby and turquoise brooch. Estimate between 6000 and 8000 euros.
This is a big, beautiful bird like the jewellers made in the middle of the 20th century. When we see birds, we inevitably think of Sterlé, who made such beautiful ones. But all the houses made them. And I never tire of admiring them. So when I come across a more discreet house than the usual big ones, it’s even better. This piece is signed by Auguste Paillette, a very fine jewellery house that was established in Paris from 10 February 1921 until 1938. Its administrative address was 109 bld Beaumarchais but the workshop was at 1 rue Saint-Georges in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. This firm is best known for having bought the Georges Bourdier firm and exploited the name. One day I will have to write an article about it because it is now totally forgotten. And for the record, the sister-in-law of Théodule Bourdier (Georges’ father) was married to Louis-François Cartier. The world of jewellery is a handful. What I particularly like about this brooch (in addition to its provenance) are the turquoise stones and the changing hue, which is indicative of natural, unstabilised stones. I like it, do you?
Lot 86: Gold, diamond and turquoise ring by Van Cleef & Arpels. Marked by Georges Lenfant, 1968. Estimate between 3500 and 6000 euros.
After the Paillette turquoise, I complete this selection with the turquoise of this Van Cleef & Arpels ring, which was made by the Lenfant workshop. Already the volume of the piece. Have you seen how this ring really dresses the hand? Then the colour of the stones. Perfect in my opinion. It is an opulent, greedy and also very happy piece of jewellery. It’s not a piece of jewellery that you forget about like those miniature, impersonal micro rings. I like the fact that it is in its juice as they say. With the patina that time has given to the gold. I love that it is a Lenfant, because it is one of my favourite workshops. In short, I like everything here and long speeches are not necessary. So, do me a favour, adopt it and don’t leave it in its box, this ring deserves to be worn!
See you soon!