A diamond tiara. Sold for £22,800 inc. premium. Photo: Bonhams.
LONDON – Art Deco jewellery has made a stunning comeback thanks to the influence of period films and TV shows like Downton Abbey – with the stars of the show becoming vintage style icons, according to one of Britain’s leading auction houses.
Bonhams said the increasing popularity of period dramas had created a vogue among buyers for jewellery from the Twenties and Thirties – with customers trying to emulate the style of Downton’s Lady Mary among others.
The auctioneer, which handles and sells more art deco pieces than any other auction house in the world, said Downton’s global success had opened up new markets – especially in the Far East and Asia where rare vintage jewellery has soared in value.
As a result, investors and collectors alike are increasingly seeking out original art deco jewellery by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron, Chaumet and Bulgari among others and a number of record sales have been made.
The ITV1 show returned to the screens on September 21 for a new series and is expected to inspire a fresh round of interest in unique period jewellery.
Jean Ghika, head of jewellery in the UK and Europe at Bonhams, said: “The Downton series has highlighted the art deco style and jewellery is one element that viewers can see on screen and then incorporate into their own look.
“This is obviously more difficult to do with the fashions. But the result is a definite increase in interest in all things art deco in relation to jewellery.
“When it comes to Downton Abbey, Lady Mary and Lady Edith are the obvious on-screen style advocates.
“They provide a wonderful insight into how the beautiful pieces from the art deco era were worn, for example Sautoir necklaces, clip brooches and hair ornaments.
“These are pieces that come to life on screen, which allows potential buyers of similar work to see how they might be incorporated into an outfit today.”
Many of the most incredible pieces feature diamonds – it was the era of so-called ‘white jewellery’ – but others contain stunning combinations of coloured stones including onyx, coral and jade among others. Pearls were also popular in this era given their rarity and the fact that they could be worn with multiple outfits.
Bonhams’ Jean Ghika highlighted the genuine 45-carat floral diamond tiara that Lady Mary – played by actress Michelle Dockery – wore during her eagerly-anticipated wedding to Matthew Crawford in the third season of the show.
Having originally been sold at auction by Bonhams, the spectacular piece is now owned by London jewellers Bentley & Skinner of the Burlington Arcade who reportedly hire it out for £1,750 a day with a deposit of £125,000.
The tiara worn in the show’s Christmas special by the Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith, is also for hire at £5,700 a time.
Ms Ghika said: “Lady Mary’s tiara has been one of the most popular on-screen pieces and sparked a lot of interest among buyers and sellers after the episode.
“But in general, the simplicity in the designs of the art deco movement has an enduring appeal and has certainly stood the test of time.
“Because there is a finite quantity of items from this period, good examples of art deco jewellery command strong prices at auction.
“The consistent rise in prices over the past 10 to 20 years has led many collectors to seek them out not only as a wearable item but also as a long term investment.”
While the big jewellery houses were at their zenith during the Twenties and Thirties, and any items by them are highly sought after, Bonhams said there was also a growing interest in the smaller ‘artist jewellers’, for example Rene Boivin, Suzanne Belperron and Georges Fouquet.
Illustrating the increased interest in art deco jewellery, Bonhams recently sold a Cartier ruby and diamond necklace, circa 1925, to a private collector in Hong Kong for a record sum of nearly £390,000 having failed to make its estimate when it was last offered for sale by another auction house in 1994. It also recently sold a natural pearl ring, circa, 1920 to one determined buyer for an astounding £72,100 – more than 12 times its pre-sale estimate of £4,000-£6,000.
Interest in art deco jewellery has also led to jewellers creating contemporary pieces that are period-themed. Tiffany is going back into its Thirties archive for period jewellery inspiration for its 2014 collection.
Highlights include an Aquamarine Bow Bracelet which has been inspired by archive sketches dating back to the 1930s and set with an emerald-cut aquamarine and diamonds.
Jean Ghika adds: “It is fascinating to see retailers producing modern jewellery in an old style. They produced a series of jewellery to coincide with the release of the film version of The Great Gatsby last year.
“These were inspired by original designs from their archives. I suspect that it was a huge success and they are continuing in the same vein.”
Bonhams, which was founded in 1793, provides free valuations of jewellery for owners thinking of selling or looking for more information on family heirlooms as many do not realise the significance of the pieces they own.
Ms Ghika explains: “The quality of the setting and the metal content often give a clue to whether the piece is real or costume. “For example if silver or a base metal are used this gives an immediate indication about the quality of the item, the very finest pieces are in platinum or gold.
“It is worthwhile looking at any stones under 10x magnification to see if there any small spherical bubbles, this is a good indication that the stone is glass rather than a naturally occurring gemstone. Equally glass is often softer than natural gemstones and excessive wear can also provide another clue to a stone being glass rather than a gem.”
Bonhams has a number of items from the deco era coming up in its forthcoming jewellery sales in New York, Hong Kong and London. These include:
An art deco jadeite jade, enamel and diamond compact, Cartier, French, circa 1930. Estimated £3,000 –£4,200. Fine Jewellery Sale, New York, 7th October 2014 (L21). Photo Bonhams
the hinged black enamel form set with a carved jadeite leaf and rose-cut diamond accents, opening to a lidded compartment and lipstick, with onyx thumbpiece; signed Cartier, with maker’s mark and assay mark; mounted in gilt silver and eighteen karat gold; dimensions: 3 1/4 x 2 1/8 x 1 3/4in. (enamel loss)
An art deco aquamarine and diamond clip brooch, by Cartier, circa 1935: Estimated £2,500 –3,700. Fine Jewellery Sale, New York, 7th October 2014 (L26). Photo Bonhams
set with rectangular-cut aquamarines, enhanced by round brilliant, transitional, old mine and single-cut diamonds; signed Cartier; mounted in platinum; length: 1 1/8in.
Note: For an example of aquamarine jewelry produced by Cartier in the mid 1930s to meet the strong demand for this style, see Rudoe, Judy, Cartier 1900-1939, London and New York, 1997, p. 284.
An art deco diamond and platinum bracelet, circa 1925: Estimated £3,700-4,900. Fine Jewellery Sale, New York, 7th October 2014 (L17). Photo Bonhams
the line bracelet comprising fifty-nine French-cut diamonds; estimated total diamond weight: 9.00 carats; length: 6 3/8in.
An art deco jade, pearl, onyx and diamond jabot pin, by Cartier, circa 1925: Estimated £10,200-16,000 Fine Jewellery Sale, Hong Kong, 26th November
An art deco diamond pendant, by Tiffany, circa 1920: Estimated £5,000-7,000 – Fine Jewellery sale, London, 4th December 2014