Today, however, the wares of an increasing number of private jewellers have almost immediate currency on the secondary market.
Arguably the most famous of these is the New Yorker-turned- Paris-based design vanguard Joel Arthur Rosenthal. JAR, as he is better known, trades on exclusivity from a blacked-out atelier at the Place Vendôme, creating a mere 70-80 pieces annually for a waiting list of patrons. Any chance to ‘jump the queue’ offered by an auction purchase or a discrete private sale is grasped with both hands.
The Geneva-based Italian jeweller Michele della Valle keeps a similarly low profile, but his approach to secondary market sales in the latter part of his career has been rather different. It is primarily through the wide reach of increasingly privatebuyer- oriented auction rooms in New York, Geneva and Hong Kong that his brand of colourful pavé set jewels has prospered.
Let the market decide
Not every jeweller would be so willing to let the auction room decide on the value of their work. But the public has been asked to vote and, by and large, they have said yes.
Sotheby’s alone has sold more than 800 pieces by della Valle across its various international rooms since 2000. They include an example of the Anemone necklace set with 47cts of diamonds sold for $120,000 (£80,000) in New York in 2013, an auction record, and, in the same sale, a pair of chalcedony and diamond jellyfish ear clips that are among della Valle’s best creations ($35,000/£23,300).
By way of comparison, the comparable number of jewels by JAR across the same period is under 60 – and most of those were the aluminium floral and fan ear clips issued as limited editions alongside the artist’s exhibitions.
The closing hour of Sotheby’s first ‘Fine Jewels’ sale in Geneva on June 1 offered the largest tranche of della Valle jewels yet.
The 82 lots provided a crosssection of the artist’s ‘retro’ output, from whimsical chick ear clips and giardinetto brooches to the multicoloured pavé set necklaces of the kind pictured in the 4kg coffee table book Michele della Valle, Jewels and Myths, published in 2014.
‘Original and creative’
David Bennett, worldwide chairman of Sotheby’s international jewellery division, describes della Valle as “one of the most original and creative contemporary designers”.
He declined to confirm if the designer himself consigned the many lots (understood to have happened in previous sales). Bennett commented only that it was “clear that there was exceptional demand for the pieces in this collection: 98% of the jewels sold and overall, the result for the group nearly tripled the pre-sale estimate”.
Leading the selection at SFr55,000 (£44,000), just over the top estimate, was a necklace designed as ivy leaves set with circular-cut tsavorites and stems highlighted with brilliant-cut diamonds. Typical of della Valle’s work, it combines both precious stones and semi-precious gems of little intrinsic value but great charm. Other pieces included tourmaline, amethyst, aquamarine, heliodor, peridot and even bakelite.
The ivy necklace was one of many entries that had been illustrated in Jewels and Myths. Another was the tutti frutti style Sassi open work bracelet set with cabochon emeralds and pink sapphires sold at a multiestimate SFr52,000 (£41,600).
If, on paper, lots were being offered well below retail, then most comfortably exceeded guidelines.
The SFr4.1m sale (with an 87% selling rate) was the first in Geneva under the Fine Jewels banner.
This small sea change suggests the auctioneers – seemingly reluctant to give up too much ground at any end of the market – are hoping to use the new Geneva premises at Rue François-Diday for more than the biannual sales of ‘important’, ‘highly important’ and ‘magnificent’ jewels.
Hammer prices started low at SFr300 (£240), with plenty of both ‘estate’ and period material available for under SFr5000 (£4000).
It’s certainly the more profitable end of the market. Rarely are major items sold with much in the way of vendor’s commission – and sometimes buyer’s premiums are given away too. It also allows Sotheby’s to offer clients a fuller service. Even the best jewellery boxes contain objects of modest value.
Buoyed by “huge enthusiasm from online buyers” and “strong interest from a broad range of bidders who might not participate in our Magnificent sales”, Bennett told ATG the plan is to move to two Fine Jewels sales per year in Geneva.